Officially, Japan does not have a real army, but only ‘self-defense’ forces, and this provision has been established in the Constitutional Charter. Shinzō Abe is clearly intent on changing the Constitution, but is unable to secure the necessary two-thirds majority in both chambers. In 2015, however, the premier managed to get a historic provision approved that authorizes the armed forces to participate in “collective defense actions” and changes the rules of engagement. Already in 1992, the Diet had approved a law that today allows soldiers to be sent as part of international multilateral missions, albeit with limited rules of engagement. The law was passed after the first Gulf War of 1990-91, in which Tokyo limited itself to contributing through financial aid. In 1992, Japan sent soldiers as part of the United Nations mission to Cambodia. In 2004, at the request of Washington, Tokyo sent a contingent of about 600 soldiers to Iraq, a particularly controversial choice since it was not a United Nations mission, but a real theater of war.
According to getzipcodes, the internal debate about whether to establish a proper military structure has to do with the area of Japanese influence in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The contrast with Beijing on the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese), whose surrounding waters could hide important reserves of gas and oil, led in 2012 to the purchase of three of the five islets by the Japanese government and the municipality of Tokyo. The fierce protests from China were followed, at the end of November 2013, by the Beijing declaration of an air traffic control area which includes the disputed island group. The visit and mediation of Vice President Joe Biden, in December 2013, was followed by the opening of negotiations in September 2014, to establish a special line of communication to avoid the outbreak of new incidents. Negotiations are still ongoing.
The contrast with Seoul, on the other hand, concerns the Takeshima Islands (Dokdo in Korean and Liancourt in English) and has a less intense character, although the announcements of bilateral dialogue have not yet been followed up. The guidelines of the national security program approved by the government in December 2010, with a ten-year duration, provide for a shift of some important Japanese military resources from the north to the south of the country, to face any danger coming from the Kuril islands. To this end, the Japanese government has foreseen greater investments in naval and air forces, decreasing those directed to ground troops. The same program provides for a strengthening of the anti-missile defenses, in order to counter any attacks by North Korea.
The US plays a decisive role in maintaining the status quo in Asian waters and is the main partner of Japanese imports. In the period of the creation of the Chinese area of control, American fighters flew over the area, confirming the role of the United States in the region. The alliance, dating back to the San Francisco Treaty (1951) and the Defense and Mutual Cooperation Agreement (1960), does not prevent a growing debate around the Okinawa base and the renewal of authorizations. Abe’s policy is decidedly in favor of pointing in this direction, as the new military cooperation agreement of 2015 would seem to indicate.
Internally, Japan deals with one of the largest criminal organizations in the world in terms of numbers: the so-called Yakuza. This term identifies an organization, also commonly called the ‘Japanese mafia’, whose illicit activities range from the control of prostitution to that of gambling, up to the exercise of the racket. According to some estimates, the Yakuza, which itself is divided into various groups, has more than 100,000 members and is active not only in Japan, but also extends its reach to other countries in the area and even to the United States. In the latter case, its presence is relevant above all in Hawaii, used as a sort of intermediate base between Japan and the United States itself. In addition to being engaged in criminal activities, members of the Japanese Yakuza are often present in society, as happened for example during the last earthquake in 2011, after which the organization made available accommodation for the displaced and sent goods. of primary necessity to the populations most affected by the tragedy.