By Alexis Dudden
On April 9, 2014 the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the “Japanese people who conserve Article 9” had succeeded in registering themselves as contenders for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. As of this typing, the group remains a loosely organized, broad-based cross section of Japanese society committed to saving the Japanese constitution’s famous clause outlawing war.
A number of groups in Japan have long worked to save Japan’s unique, legal forfeiture of a national right to war — especially prominent is Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo’s group — and recent polls demonstrate such efforts having wider reach than ever before: an opinion poll published April 14 in the Asahi Shimbun reports 64% of Japanese favor preserving Article 9. Those who support attracting international attention through a Nobel Peace Prize now have between their action at Earth Day in Tokyo (April 19) and May 5 when the Nobel Prize committee announces its short list (winnowed down from this year’s record 278 contenders). The race is on, and some of the effort’s participants have set their sights on Japan’s May 3 National Constitution Day as a metaphorically significant goal line.
The nomination is significant, moreover, because its proponents represent a wide swath of Japanese society and a small number of international figures, who would single out for praise not Japan’s political leaders but the Japanese people who support Article 9. Nominators and supporters currently include people that will never be famous, and also Oe Kenzaburo, in addition to Noam Chomsky, and Japan Socialist Party Diet representative Fukushima Mizuho. Equally important, there are a number of powerfully connected business people and former and current government employees (including several former ambassadors), some of whom define themselves as “supporters” of the current prime minister yet who are deeply disturbed by his “turn to the right” (as one of them wrote to me in an email).
Late last spring, Takasu Naomi (鷹巣直美), a self-described 37 year-old housewife from Kanagawa prefecture outside Tokyo, began to collect signatures on her personal web page to preserve Article 9 in an effort to garner a Nobel Peace Prize for it and publicize its meaning internationally. At the time, she was still trying to determine the rules for submitting such a proposal. The Nobel Prize committee explained that only people or groups could win the award — not a constitution. Moreover, only certain kinds of people are eligible to make a nomination — not including housewives. Takasu redirected her energies to new channels. Organizing her efforts around an amorphous group in Japanese society that has perhaps never been so aptly or collectively named before, she submitted an entry on behalf of a group of Japanese citizens who believe in a core post-1945 national value (“Japanese people who conserve Article 9”). Equally noticeable is the fact that this group appears to be almost entirely absent in today’s news, which is dominated by headlines trumpeting (or occasionally questioning) the current Japanese leadership’s militarist turn and revanchist attitude.
On January 3, the Tokyo Shimbun reported Takasu’s efforts. During the New Year’s holidays, Hamaji Michio, a businessman in Tokyo with 25 years experience in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States, read the newspapers carefully and responded enthusiastically to Takasu’s drive: “Shocked and so inspired,” as he puts it. Believing deeply in the drive’s core message, Hamaji immediately offered his political and business world connections.