Japan on Friday marked the 66th anniversary of the pacifist Constitution coming into force, at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to amend the country's supreme law.
Abe, whose Cabinet has been riding high in opinion polls since its launch last December, is keen to rewrite the current war-renouncing Constitution and create stronger defense forces, much to the dismay of neighboring China and South Korea that suffered Japan's wartime aggression.
The hawkish prime minister views the current Constitution as having been drafted under the strong influence of the United States during the postwar occupation of Japan. The Constitution has not been revised since it came into force in 1947.
Abe, however, needs to clear a set of challenges, including gaining greater public support for revising Article 96 to make it easier to rewrite the Constitution, before eventually rewriting the war-renouncing Article 9.
A Kyodo News survey late last month showed that 46.3 percent opposed Abe's push to ease the process for amending the Constitution, while 42.7 percent expressed support.
Abe is seeking to make revising Article 96 a key issue during the House of Councillors election in the summer.
Article 96 states that any initiative to revise the Constitution must be backed by at least two-thirds of the members in each house of parliament, before an "affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast" in a referendum.
On Friday, about 450 people took part in a rally in Tokyo calling for the Constitution to be amended. Jumpei Kiyohara, head of a group seeking constitutional revision, said he believes the current procedure to rewrite the Constitution is "too rigid."
Kiyohara expressed confidence that Abe will succeed in changing the Constitution, saying the Japanese people "woke up at last" and "will start following what the prime minister says."
Meanwhile, upper house member Masako Okawara of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan told a meeting in Tokyo of people supportive of the current Constitution, "Many people are proud of the pacifist Constitution. We should work together never to let Japan follow the wrong track."
She was referring to Japan's wartime aggression under the Meiji Constitution, which was in effect from 1890 to 1947.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party can rely on the support of the Japan Restoration Party and other political groups to achieve the two-thirds majority in the more powerful House of Representatives.
The LDP, which plans to push the change to Article 96 as part of its upper house election pledges, says the Constitution is insufficient to protect the country.
The ruling party is aiming for amendments that include making the Self-Defense Forces a full military and referring to the emperor as the "head of state" and "symbol" of the nation. The Constitution currently states the emperor is the "symbol" of the state.
The LDP is struggling with a lack of support from its junior coalition partner the New Komeito party, which remains cautious over revising Article 96.
The DPJ, which lost power to the LDP in the general election last December, meanwhile, released a statement opposing any change to Article 96 without prior public debate and consent.
Abe's stance has also triggered a debate over reviewing Article 9, with discussions by a government panel of experts set to get into full swing from autumn.
Based on Article 9, the government currently interprets the Constitution as not allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, meaning the SDF cannot come to the defense of an ally under armed attack.