Rights and Duties of Citizens

Japan Table of Contents

"The rights and duties of the people" are prominently featured in the postwar constitution. Altogether, thirty-one of its 103 articles are devoted to describing them in considerable detail, reflecting the commitment to "respect for the fundamental human rights" of the Potsdam Declaration. Although the Meiji Constitution had a section devoted to the "rights and duties of subjects," which guaranteed "liberty of speech, writing, publication, public meetings, and associations," these rights were granted "within the limits of law." Freedom of religious belief was allowed "insofar as it does not interfere with the duties of subjects" (all Japanese were required to acknowledge the emperor's divinity, and those, such as Christians, who refused to do so out of religious conviction were accused of lèse-majesté).

Such freedoms are delineated in the postwar constitution without qualification. In addition, the later constitution guarantees freedom of thought and conscience; academic freedom; the prohibition of discrimination based on race, creed, social status, or family origin; and a number of what could be called welfare rights: the right to "minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living"; the right to "equal education"; the "right and obligation to work" according to fixed standards of labor and wages; and the right of workers to organize. Equality of the sexes and the right of marriage based on mutual consent (in contrast to arranged marriage in the most traditional sense, in which families decide on the match) are also recognized. Limitations are placed on personal freedoms only insofar as they are not abused (Article 12) or interfere with public welfare (Article 13). The bestowal of the power of judicial review on the Supreme Court (Article 81) is in part meant to serve as a means of defending individual rights from infringement by public authorities.

Some United States origins of the constitution are revealed in the phraseology of Article 13, which states that the right of the people to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" shall be the "supreme consideration in legislation and other governmental affairs." It was with some awkwardness that such concepts were translated into Japanese. Yet the document goes further in enumerating rights than do the United States and many other Western constitutions. For example, the article pertaining to equality of the sexes (Article 14) bans sexual (as well as racial, religious, and social) discrimination "in political, economic, or social relations" as clearly as the proposed United States equal rights amendment, which failed to be ratified during the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike their Japanese counterparts, United States schoolteachers and university professors are not protected by a special provision on academic freedom (Article 23). Instead, American teaching and research activities are subsumed under the more general guarantee of freedom of speech in the First Amendment.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress