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HOME  > Past issues  > 2009 March 18 - 24  > 50 years after ‘Date Akio ruling’ we should think about possibility of Japan-U.S. relations on truly equal footing
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2009 March 18 - 24 TOP3 [US FORCES]

50 years after ‘Date Akio ruling’ we should think about possibility of Japan-U.S. relations on truly equal footing

March 23, 2009
Is it possible to develop relations with the United States on an equal footing with the Japan-U.S. alliance intact even though it is causing Japan to adhere to a many-layered subordination to the United States?

On March 30, 1959, the Tokyo District Court (Date Akio, presiding judge) ruled that the presence of U.S. forces in Japan is unconstitutional. The ruling was on people indicted on charges of trespassing on a U.S. military base in Sunagawa Town (present Tachikawa City) in western Tokyo.

The “Sunagawa incident” took place in 1957 when measures began to extend the runway of the U.S. Tachikawa Air Force Base, and anti-base protesters entered the base area.

The anti-base struggle was known for its slogan, “You can drive piles into the ground, but never into our minds.”

In September 1957, about 20 protesters were arrested for entering several meters into the U.S. base site through a broken fence. Seven out of them were indicted for being in violation of the Special Criminal Act.

In the Tokyo District Court ruling, Presiding Judge Date Akio questioned the appropriateness of the indictment of the seven under the Special Criminal Act, which was intended to be applied to serious crimes. He argued that they should be sentenced under the Minor Offense Act that is applied to ordinary criminal cases.

Emphasizing that the noble ideal upheld by the war-renouncing preamble and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is not just a rhetoric, Date pointed out that military action carried out outside of Japan by U.S. forces in Japan could involve Japan in U.S.-led military conflicts that have no direct relations with Japan and that it cannot be completely denied that the conflicts will cause damage to Japan.

Then, Date ruled that the U.S. forces in Japan are unconstitutional because they are “military forces” prohibited by the Japanese Constitution.

The Japanese prosecutors directly appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court instead of a high court as is usual. In December 1959, the Supreme Court overturned the Date ruling and ordered the district court to retry the case. The seven were sentenced to pay a fine by the district court.

New documents found by Niihara

In April 2008, Niihara Shoji, an international affairs analyst, discovered declassified U.S. documents at the U.S. National Archives, which brought the Date ruling to light again.

One of those U.S. documents showed that then U.S. Ambassador to Japan Douglas MacArthur interfered with the court ruling on this case and that Japan’s government soon accepted the U.S. demand.

MacArthur ‘privately’ met with then Foreign Minister Fujiyama Aiichiro the day after the Tokyo District Court ruling.

After the state made a final appeal, MacArthur had a ‘private’ meeting with Tanaka Kotaro, then Supreme Court chief justice (who presided over the trial of the ‘Sunagawa case’), in which Tanaka told the U.S. ambassador that the case had been given priority and that the sentence would be issued in just several months.

In March 5, 2009, Tsuchiya Gentaro, one of the plaintiffs of the Sunagawa case, together with his supporters filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Ministry, and the Supreme Court for cabinet meeting minutes, telegrams and other records related to Japan-U.S. consultations at the time, and all other documents concerned. Later they held a meeting in the Diet building to advance their cause.

At the U.S. National Archives, Niihara also found various other formerly classified documents, including those regarding secret Japan-U.S. agreements on Japan giving up the right to try U.S. soldiers for criminal offenses, and denounced these arrangements. Such secret arrangements know no limits.

The texts of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) show that the U.S. forces are given many privileges. The U.S. Forces are allowed to establish their bases anywhere in Japan, and they have the freedom to use the 133 bases in Japan (including those for joint use with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces) indefinitely. The U.S. forces enjoy various extra-territorial privileges such as exemption from the application of Japanese laws and legal jurisdiction.

What is more, there are minutes and agreements of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee (on the SOFA) meetings which are not made public, and separate secret agreements. Niihara said, “In this context, Japan’s subordination should be described not as two-layered, but going deeper, three-fold or even four-fold.”

Some Japanese politicians are arguing for Japan-U.S. relations on an equal footing. The argument was recently made in Democratic Party of Japan President Ozawa Ichiro’s call for “Japan-U.S. relations on an equal footing.” He has said that the U.S. 7th Fleet would be sufficient for defending Japan and that Japan could then play a greater military role in the Far East. Alleging that Ozawa’s remark is a call for a withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party is attacking him, saying that it ignores Japan’s security.

However, Ozawa’s remark should be taken as matching his agreement to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance in his recent talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ozawa’s theory is that “bilateral relations” should be developed by Japan sharing a greater military role.

Is it possible to develop relations with the United States on an equal footing with the Japan-U.S. alliance intact even though it is causing Japan to adhere to a many-layered subordination to the United States? This viewpoint is completely absent in arguments by Ozawa as well as LDP politicians. If Japan shares a greater military role without changing the structure of subordination, the consequence would be none other than a policy of arms buildup in which Japan plays a major part in strengthening U.S. global military strategy.

Sakata Shigeru, one of the accused in the Date case, said in the rally on March 5, “Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the present Japan-U.S. Security Treaty coming into effect. Our struggle is linked with the struggle to abolish the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.”

Truly equal Japan-U.S. relations might be developed only after the Japan-U.S. military alliance involving many secret arrangements are removed.

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