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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #206: April 8, 2004

Court says Koizumi shrine visits violate Japan's Constitution

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Court says Koizumi shrine visits violate Japan's Constitution"
(AP) Taipei Times


The court ruling hit the headlines of most of Japanese media. So it could be assumed that the news is worth reporting. But so many of the articles appeared in foreign media (admittedly along with some Japanese media) have been so wrong in reporting the basic facts, such as the one introduced here, a word of caution and correction might be called for in order to avoid unnecessary quarrels and unproductive debates later on.

Many foreign media reports, as exemplified by the article introduced above, explains that the court ruled, "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi violated the Constitution when he visited a religious shrine", and that the government, "did not announce whether it would appeal the decision."

The facts are as follows. They are just the facts, without in any way attempting to get involved in legal or political discussions in the issue it purportedly represents.

A group of people, 211 to be exact, filed a suit in Fukuoka District Court, claiming that there was an infringement upon their property as a result of an illegal act by a government official. The plaintiffs claimed that the Prime Minister's visit to a certain shrine violated the Constitution which has caused damages, and each asked 100,000 yen, or about 900 dollars, for compensation.

The court rejected (or dismissed) the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs had incurred no discernible damage. To elaborate, the plaintiffs lost, or the court would not even take up the suit for real trial. Then what is the fuss?

It has been customary for judges to, at times, add sideline-opinions to their rulings, often to explain how the decision was reached, in an ordinary language rather than strict legalese. Sometimes they preach to criminals, and sometimes they lament on what they consider antisocial activities. This time, the judge, in the attached sideline-opinion, expressed his belief (or impression) that the Prime Minister's visit to a specific shrine was unconstitutional. The opinion has no relevance to the ruling of the court, legally, logically, or contextually since this time the court decision was that there was no cause for the plaintiffs to file the suit in the first place. It would not affect other court decisions on the similar subject that may follow.

As to the "appeals", there is no way possible for the government to seek further opinion of higher courts since the government won the suit. In fact, it is the plaintiff side who lost and thus has the right to appeal, to which they say they would not because they are overjoyed to have obtained a comment by a judge judicial statement that the visit to a specific shrine by the Prime Minister is unconstitutional. So the matter is closed, leaving behind a controversial "comment" by a judge at one of fifty or so courts of first instance in the country.

Having said all this, there is a good reason for the event to hit the headlines because there is a very contentious issue involved behind the suit. And that is precisely the reason why every caution is necessary in acquiring the basic facts correctly. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the Japanese people, with whom resides the sovereign power of the state, to thoroughly discuss the issue and guide the course of the country, by conforming to, and reviewing when necessary, the Constitution.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications