Arms Control

05.14.14

Japanese Women Tell Their Men They Have to Choose Between Love and War

A sex strike is among the protests launched by Japanese opposing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to change the constitution and build up his country’s military.

TOKYO, Japan — The Abe administration’s attempts to turn Japan from a pacifist nation into one that can wage war and export arms more freely is meeting with some undercover resistance. Or, to put it more accurately, under-the-covers resistance. A Tokyo based group known as Women Who Won’t Have Sex With War-mongering Men has launched a full-scale sex strike just in time to block Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party as they make a push for militarization. Or so the women hope.

On Thursday Abe’s hand-picked panel of right-leaning experts is expected to announce its findings on Japan’s constitutional reform. Large-scale overt protests and demonstrations already are under way. On May 13 outside the Diet building, 2,500 people formed a human chain around the facilities to protest Abe’s plan to reinterpret the post-World War II constitution so as to allow Japan to use its armed forces overseas.

For Japan’s hawks, the increasingly tense stand-off with China and the erratic menace of North Korea give ample reason for building a stronger defense posture. But Article 9 of the constitution renounces war as a sovereign right of the Japanese nation, and forbids the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. Japan has maintained a “defense-only ” policy that is based on the principle that if Japan is invaded, it will repel the invasion with the minimum necessary use force--and only when there are no other means to repel the attack. The "peace-loving" Japan image has certainly helped reform world opinion of the nation in the post-war years, especially among Asian nations that were subject to Japan's brutal colonial rule.

In 1972 and 1981, the Japanese government adopted the constitutional interpretation for a ban on the use of collective self-defense. This severely limits Japan’s ability to use force overseas and participate in some peacekeeping missions.

The conclusions of the advisory report were spoon-fed to a friendly group of Japanese political reporters two days ago. It is expected to include a recommendation for Japan to lift its ban on using collective self-defense and also urge that Article 9 be revised or interpreted very broadly. According to a Diet member close to the prime minister, if Abe had his wish, Article 9 would be obliterated along with the “Nanjing Massacre” or “Comfort Women.”

Without the support in the Upper House of New Komeito, a traditionally pacifist political party, Abe does not have the numbers to push forward constitutional reform, which requires two-thirds support of both houses of the Diet, and the approval of more than 50 percent of the voters in a nationwide referendum. Temple University Professor Jeff Kingston, author of Contemporary Japan: History, Politics, and Social Change since the 1980s says, “Prime Minister Abe’s approval ratings slipped after he pushed through the odious Special Secrets Act despite massive public protest. By going through the motions of having his hand picked panel debate Japan’s interpretation of the constitution—he lays the grounds for widening the interpretation to a more aggressive stance.”

On April 1, the Abe Administration revised Japan’s arms embargo policies to make it easier for Japan to sell and export weapons. Many considered the timing of the decision and the decision itself to be rather foolish, in terms of international diplomacy. The report to be submitted today also is expected to propose conditions under which Japan would be able to engage in combat together with the United States or other forces in the event the constitutional ban on warfare is deleted.

However, a group of women are taking a stand against the overwhelmingly male-dominated government, in a country that also ranks 105 out of 136 countries in gender equality. They’re striking men where they’re most vulnerable: below the belt.

The group, which was officially started on May 3, 2014, proclaims on its website in large letters: "We will not have sex with war-loving men. We will thoroughly protest to politicians, entrepreneurs, and businessmen who support the road to war and promote arms exports, in addition to men who support these politicians.”

The move echoes Lysistrata, a bawdy Greek comedy by Aristophanes, in which the women of Greece hold a large-scale sex strike to put an end to the Peloponnesian War. As a result, men from both sides, who were all sporting painful erections, gathered together to negotiate a peace treaty.

The play may be vulgar, but there have been cases in which sex strikes have had a real impact.

In 2011, for example, a group of women in Barbacoas, Columbia managed to have a road built connecting their small, remote town to the rest of the province after a highly publicized sex strike. On the other hand, the announced intention of some Ukrainian women to shut out Russian men has had little discernible impact reducing tensions in that part of the world.

"Among the women around me, there is not a single one who supports a nation that can go to war,” says Akari Morino, a member of the Japanese group. “Women should speak out more and their voice should be reflected in politics."

According to Morino, women who wish to sign up for the sex strike have to do one simple thing: "First you need to ask and discuss with your partner his thoughts on war. This alone helps to raise awareness of people and public opinion sufficiently," she said. "I cannot say that many Japanese are aware that the Abe Administration is promoting the creation of a country that can go to war."

“This particular protest has caught the eyes of some by its playful humor, but also drawn some criticisms from both feminists and offended men,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University. “I do not endorse this group personally, although I think it should be permissible for people to explore novel ways to raise awareness by diverse means of protest.”

These particular protesters (Twitter handle @sexstrikejapan) are just a small fraction of the many people who oppose Abe’s plans to change or reinterpret Article 9. In fact, a grassroots campaign started by a housewife has led to the nomination of Article 9 for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Abe may be making a smart move in pushing for a wider constitutional interpretation rather than engaging in a losing battle to scrap Article 9 altogether. Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, and a former US Marine Corps liaison with the GSDF, says, “Japan’s pacifism is faux pacifism. Article 9 has long since been re-interpreted out of any possible connection to its original meaning.  Read it and think about what the text means.  Either disband the Japan Self Defense Forces entirely and scrap all hardware, or be quiet.  Anyone who complains about Abe re-interpreting Article 9 has their head wedged up their rear end. The bottom line: Abe's critics should either grow up or start studying Mandarin so they can speak with their new masters.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it.

In anticipation of the foregone conclusions that will be officially announced Thursday, even as large street protests build momentum, the most powerful demonstrations may be taking place behind closed doors. And the ones protesting the loudest may be the war-mongering men forced into pacifist celibacy.