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MacArthur's Japanese Constitution


As the second day of the Golden Week national holiday in Japan, 憲法記念日, Kenpō Kinenbi is a day to celebrate the 1947 enactment of the Japanese constitution. Although Japanese in its final form, the constitution as it stands today is the result of an interpreted translation of a draft written by General Douglas MacArthur.


MacArthur’s Japanese Constitution: A Linguistic and Cultural Study of its Making (U Chicago Press, 1991) is a book I reviewed (American Anthropologist, 1992) about what it took to make the translation. In the book, Professor Inoue Kyoko demonstrates how the same language and cultural differences that hampered negotiations were also the very things that allowed both sides to finalize the constitution two years later, and without ever fully agreeing the meanings of foreign concepts, such as ‘democracy’ and ‘rights.’ A fascinating and important study of the world’s longest standing unchanged constitution.

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