Japanese man sets himself on fire due to updated Article 9

Drastic demonstration

Self immolation is an expression of high discontent which is usually tightly connected to political affairs. This kind of resistance is extremely dramatic therefore when it occurs attention from the public is almost inevitable. Acts of politically motivated self immolation are quite common among Tibetan monks although similar instances are seen in manifestations at Tiananmen square on 23 January 2001 or even in Lithuania when Romas Kalanta set himself alight in 1972. However, self immolations occur not only in states with a strict political setting. Such instances can be seen even in Japan.

Political context

The last days in Japan are relatively intense because of an ongoing process of reinterpretation of the Japan Constitution article 9. Firstly, the  whole of Japan’s Constitution may be said to be a forcibly imposed act. It was created by American lawyers after Japan had lost WWII and at that time was occupied  by USA till the San Francisco treaty. Secondly, it was designed to be a Constitution of Peace because Article 9 renounced any abilities to use armed forces for military purposes. This made Japan a unique country in the context of the after war period when the Cold War had approached. In part, military power was not useful for Japan because USA has always been a great contributor to Japanese matters in any needed case. But things are changing.

Recently, Japan is facing a new wave of a trending political approach which is called neoconservatism or  the neo-defense school. According to it, Japan no longer needs a pacifist Constitution because the world order is changing so the defense approach of Japan has to change as well. This perspective is unanimously negatively accepted by other states in the region – South and North Korea, China. They claim that the changing interpretation of the Constitution may bring back the prewar threat of military Japan. Nevertheless, the process of changing the policy is ongoing and the 1st of July marked a crucial point – in a Cabinet meeting the Article 9 of the Constitution was decided to be reinterpreted by The Abe administration.

Japanese man sets himself on fire VS. the welcoming words of the US

This decision was followed with ambiguous reactions. The media burst with photos and videos from demonstrations and massive public discontent in Japan while US officials welcomed this point of turn. Nevertheless, the Japanese did not limit themselves to simple demonstrations with placards. Even before the decision was officially announced an unknown 60 year old Japanese man set himself on fire in the middle of a busy Shinjuku station leaving everyone stunned as this happened. The real motives of this act are still unknown but according to the Japan Times, some people tweeted that the man was denouncing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution so Japan can legally engage in collective self-defense. Setting alight in Japan is not a common means to show your discontent therefore there can be a few questions raised – is the Article 9 (which was artificially imposed) so deeply rooted in the mentality of Japanese people and they are really looking forward to continue the pacifist way in international community? Is neoconservatism only important to today’s government, not for the people? Or is this unlucky person simply an exception? Future will show as the situation develops.


Written by Arvydas Kumpis

Edited by Šarūnas Šalkauskas



Author: Arvydas Kumpis

Interest in East Asian countries began while still in high school. Now, having graduated from East Asia Region Studies (MA), he continues to explore Japanese history, culture, politics, and social structure.

Share This Post On