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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 May 14 - 20  > U.S. ambassador pressed Japan’s top court to reject lower court ruling that U.S. forces in Japan are unconstitutional
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2008 May 14 - 20 [US FORCES]

U.S. ambassador pressed Japan’s top court to reject lower court ruling that U.S. forces in Japan are unconstitutional

May 11, 2008
Declassified U.S. documents show that 50 years ago the U.S. ambassador to Japan pressed the Japanese Supreme Court chief justice to overturn the Tokyo District Court ruling that the U.S. forces' presence in Japan under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty violates Article 9 of the Constitution.

Niihara Shoji, an international affairs researcher, discovered this historical fact from 14 telegrams which he obtained at the U.S. National Archives, 13 of which were sent by then Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II to the U.S. Department of State in 1959 and one that was sent by the Department of State to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

In 1957, seven people were indicted on charges of trespassing on the U.S. Tachikawa Base when they staged protests against the planned expansion of the base located in the Sunagawa district of Tachikawa City in western Tokyo.

On March 30, 1959, the Tokyo District Court (Date Akio, presiding judge) acquitted the seven.

In the ruling, Date stated that the U.S. forces’ presence in Japan violates the war-renouncing preamble and Article 9, paragraph 2 of the Japanese Constitution, on the grounds that their military action in the “Far East” outside of Japan could involve Japan in U.S. wars since their presence in Japan would be regarded as “military forces” prohibited by the Constitution.

The revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, slated for 1960, was a major political issue in Japan at that time.

The Japanese government was so shocked by this ruling that it directly appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court instead of a high court.

On December 16 the same year, the Supreme Court scrapped the ruling and ordered the district court to retry the case.

In his March 31, 1959, cable to the secretary of state, U.S. Ambassador Douglas MacArthur reported on his “private meeting” with Foreign Minister Fujiyama Aiichiro the day after the lower court ruling and prior to a cabinet meeting. He wrote that he had expressed his view that the ruling “MAY CREATE CONFUSION IN MINDS OF PUBLIC,” and stressed “IMPORTANCE OF GOJ TAKING SPEEDY ACTION TO RECTIFY RULING BY TOKYO DISTRICT COURT.” He also wrote, “IT WAS MOST IMPORTANT FOR GOJ TO APPEAL DIRECTLY TO SUPREME COURT.” There had been only one case in the past that a district court decision was appealed directly to the Supreme Court in Japan.

In a cable on April 24, MacArthur reported to the secretary of state that he 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 “WHILE CASE HAD BEEN GIVEN PRIORITY, UNDER JAPANESE PROCEDURES AFTER DELIBERATIONS BEGIN IT WOULD TAKE AT LEAST SEVERAL MONTHS FOR DECISION TO BE REACHED.”

The Supreme Court, which had about 3,000 cases pending at the time, gave the Sunagawa case top priority. It exerted an extraordinary effort to meet the U.S. demand in dealing with the case by limiting the number of lawyers per plaintiff to three.

These telegrams show that the U.S. government was very afraid that the Date ruling might give rise to public criticism and opposition to the Japan-U.S. security treaty. They also show the fact that the U.S. government, hand in hand with the Japanese government, worked directly on Japan’s highest court and undermined the independence of the judicial system. - Akahata Sunday Edition, May 11, 2008
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