Japanese Constitution Rewrite Places Human Rights in a Precarious Position

Susan Elizabeth Thomas

Japanese Constitution signing page
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have reaffirmed their desire to rewrite the Japanese constitution. The Japanese constitution has remained unchanged since written in 1947. Under the influence of American General Douglas MacArthur, the “Peace Constitution” was drafted after the end of World War II, during the American led occupation. Many powerful politicians consider the document a form foreign interference. This long held issue led the LDP to present a redraft of the constitution. Conservative politicians considered the rewrite more in line with Japanese culture and values. Critics claim it undermines the definition of human rights.

The LDP rewrite presents a multitude of changes. The role of emperor would move from figurehead to head of the state, and public officials would be prohibited from entering labor unions. The line separating church and state would be weakened. The article most targeted for change is Article 9, which restricts the Japanese military. Revisions would allow Japan to create an active military, as opposed to their current defense force. After two Japanese journalists were beheaded by the Islamic State in 2015, the pacifistic article was given a broader interpreted without an official rewrite to the constitution. This recent change indicates the constitution’s delicate position.

Although much of the media has reported on these potential amendments, fewer have noted the implications to human rights defined by the constitution. The LDP party regards the concept of inherent human rights as a foreign notion in conflict with Japanese traditions. The idea of natural born human rights originated in the Western world and emphasizes protection for individuals. The Japanese culture, like other Eastern cultures, places more importance on the group.

It is not surprising that, in the LDP redraft, human rights would change from inherent to authorized by the state. Furthermore, freedom of speech, assembly and association will be maintained as long as it does not interfere with “interest and order.” This is a looser interpretation. The current constitution states these rights should only be restricted when interfering with public welfare, which many interpret as the rights of others. In Article 97, the authority of the constitution is defined by the rights and protection it gives to Japanese citizens. This definition of the constitution has been deleted with no explanation.

Human rights are the authority behind the current constitution. Obligations are the new force behind the LDP’s version. The recent draft lists law bound obligations to the Japanese people. The flag and anthem must be respected. Family members have a duty to each other, and citizens must follow the state’s commands during an emergency. Most importantly, freedom and rights are only given if obligations and responsibilities are met.

Four new rights were drafted in the LDP constitution. Citizens would have a right to privacy, state accountability, environmental protection, and safety after being victimized in a crime. However, the Japanese government is only vaguely held accountable for these new rights. The new draft only requires the government to guard these rights in good faith.

Despite strong political pressure, the Japanese constitution remains unchanged because of Article 96. According to Article 96, all amendments to the constitution require a two thirds majority vote in both houses of the Diet. The LDP redraft aims to change that number from two thirds to a majority. To achieve his goal of constitutional change, Prime Minister Abe must alter Article 96, the lock that closes off the constitution. Article 96 has been a hard lock to crack, and Abe has not yet been successful in pushing changes through the Diet. Time will only tell if the document will continue to be shielded from current political trends.

Sharpen Your Language Skills with Linguistic Puzzles

Wrapping your brain around a new language is similar to physical workout. It changes the structure of your brain, providing a stronger network, greater efficiency and a faster learning process. When immersed in a second language, learners must find ways to make connections. They adapt the rules and grammar they have learned to the new words and structures that rush at them like a river of slang, syntax and complex conjugations.


When relaxing at home, why not keep your grey matter active with some puzzles from the Linguistics Challenge. Each puzzle features translations from real languages, present and historical. With the example translations and some detective skills, linguistic nerds can make connections and form new phrases in the previously unknown language. While exercising your brain’s analytic skills, you will learn the rich, cultural features of another language. No dictionary required.


Beginner – Central Cagayan Agta

Central Cagayan Agta is an endangered language from the Central Cagayan Valley on the Island of Luzon in the Philippians. Only 6oo Agta speak the original language, although around 10,000 people speak similar dialects of the same name. Presently, the Agta also speak a newer Austronesian language that arrived after the native Agta had settled the region.

1. wer

2. balabahuy

3. talobag

4. bakbakat

5. palapirak

6. bahuy

7. bag

8. walawer

9. balabag

10. takki

11. labang


‘little pig’



‘little money’



‘little creek’

‘little loincloth’



Now you have enough information to translate the following words into Central Cagayan Agta:

12. _______________ ‘little leg.’

13. _______________  ‘money’

14. _______________ ‘little beetle’ (this is the word for ‘lady bug.’)

15. _______________  ‘little patch’

16. _______________ ‘little granny’

Adapted by Tom Payne from Healey, Phyllis M. 1960. An Agta grammar. Manila: Bureau of printing.

Beginner – Chicksaw

The Native American language Chickasaw is spoken by 3,000 people, mostly in Oklahoma. Originally, the speakers of this Muskogean language came from the region of Alabama and Mississippi. Other languages in the same family are Natchez, Seminole and Choctaw.

The sound ã is similar to the “a” in father, but with a more nasal tone, like the French word “ban.” Air should pass through your nose when you say this “nasalized” vowel.

1. Ofi’at kowi’ã lhiyohli. ‘The dog chases the cat.’
2. Kowi’at ofi’ã lhiyohli. ‘The cat chases the dog.’
3. Ofi’at shoha. ‘The dog stinks’
4. Ihooat hattakã hollo. ‘The woman loves the man.’
5. Lhiyohlili. ‘I chase her/him.’
6. Salhiyohli. ‘She/he chases me.’
7. Hilha. ‘She/he dances.’

Now you can translate the following into Chickasaw. Don’t for get to use the nasalized “ã” and apostrophe (‘) when appropriate. These are very important when speaking Chickasaw.

The man loves the woman. _______________
The cat stinks _______________
I love her/him. _______________
Translate the following into English:
_______________ Ihooat sahollo.
_______________ Ofi’at hilha.
_______________ Kowi’ã lhiyohlili.

Puzzle by Tom Payne, with thanks to Catherine Willmond and Pamela Munro.

Intermediate – Archi

In the mountainous region of Daghestan in the Russian Federation, Archi is spoken by less than 1,000 people. It is one of 25 languages that survive in that region. The locals speak the language daily, preserving cultural traditions of storytelling and mythology. The language features a grammar system different from English or the Latin languages.

Here are some Archi sentences with English translations. The character “I” and the apostrophe are sounds specific to Archi:

1. Diya verkurshi vi. The father is falling down.
2. HoIn h’oti irkkurshi bi. The cow is seeking the grass.
3. Boshor baba dirkkurshi vi. The man is seeking the aunt.
4. Shusha erkurshi i. The bottle is falling down.
5. HoIn borcirshi bi. The cow is standing.
6. Diyamu buva dark’arshi di. The mother is left by the father.
7. Buvamu dogi birkkurshi bi. The donkey is sought by the mother.
8. Dadamu h’oti irkkurshi i. The grass is sought by the uncle.
9. Lo orcirshi i. The child is standing.

Translate these Archi sentences to English:

10. Lo hoIn birkkurshi vi. ______________________________
11. Diya boshor vark’arshi vi. ______________________________

Now, translate these English sentences to Archi:

12. ______________________________ The uncle is sought by the aunt.
13. ______________________________ The donkey is falling down.
14. ______________________________ The mother is leaving the father.

Puzzle by A. E. Kibrik

Difficult – Georgian

Georgian is the official language of the Republic of Georgia, a former member of the Soviet Union. This Eastern European language has a 5,000 year old writing system. Despite being ancient, this language is known to be extremely efficient. More than 5 million people use this language system every day in the Caucasus region.

Here are four phrases written in Georgian system:


Now, here are two of the translations, selected at random:

good friend of handsome sons
bad sons of handsome friends

Translate all four phrases

Original puzzle by M. Alekseev, adapted by Yakov Testelets.

Check out more language puzzles at the International Linguistic Olympiad: http://www.ioling.org/
They have everything from Basque Numbers to Japanese Braille.

Happy April…Fish Day?


By the end of April the first, my back was covered in fish. In France, April the first is Poisson d’Avril or April Fish. On April Fish, mischievous people pull the customary “April Fool’s Day” pranks, but in a fishy way. Children secretly put paper fish on the backs of their unsuspecting friends and relatives. It’s extra fun if they manage to put fish on their teacher’s back. Once the joke has been unveiled, everyone shouts, “Poisson d’avril!”


French teacher sporting her catch of the day.

Although much of the holiday is aimed at children, everyone can join in the jesting. In 2014, French president François Hollande claimed he was going to change his last name to “de France,” since “de Gaulle” was already taken. Traditional foods for this holiday are eggs, in celebration of the upcoming Easter holiday, and chocolate fish.

Why fish? The legend begins when King Charles the IX changed the beginning of the new year from April the first to January the first. The French were accustomed to giving New Year’s Day presents and had problems adjusting to the changed calendar. Poking fun at those slow to adapt, people began giving fake gifts and exchanging jokes. A popular fake gift, due to the season of lent, was fake fish. Now, April the first is the day for gifts of laughter … and lots of fish.


Everyone get on the fish bus… wait what?

Playing Board Games Abroad: A Great Way To Improve Your Second Language

By Susan Elizabeth Thomas

“You’re a traitor!”

“No, it’s him!”

“Don’t you trust me?”


After our babbling conversation, the mission leader pointed out a few suspected traitors and passed out the mission cards for Avalon: The Resistance*, a party game of bluffing and identity detection. On each mission, the selected members play one card: a pass or fail card. If everyone plays a “pass” card, the mission will be successful. If one traitor has infiltrated the mission and plays a fail card, the mission will sink.

I slowly flipped over each card: pass, pass, pass and fail. Our group wailed together in a combination of surprise and mock surprised. It was a normal game of Avalon: The Resistance, except the game was being played entirely in Japanese. Our group was a mixture of Japanese and English native speakers passing the evening at Jelly Jelly Cafe, a board game bar in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Jelly Jelly in Tokyo

Jelly Jelly Cafe in Shibuya, Tokyo

The game bridged cultural and language divides, and I found myself intensely practicing Japanese conversation. Nothing will kick the language side of your brain into action like the panic of knowing a traitor has snuck onto a mission, and only you can convince the others to stop him. More importantly, this mismatched group of strangers felt closer. Befriending native speakers in Japan is not always easy. Many Japanese people say they are “hazukashi” or shy and are hesitant to talk to “gaikokujin” or international people. The hazukashi barrier was completely removed during the game.

Sadly, that evening at Jelly Jelly was during my last week in Japan. It taught me a lesson – playing board games is a great way to practice a language and make new connections in another country. Unfortunately, I never had the another chance to play more games with my new Tokyo friends. It was time to have another international adventure, this time in Niort, France. I hoped my adventure would involve as much gaming as possible.

Niort, despite being a small city, has a surprisingly active tabletop gaming scene. When I first arrived in my new city, I was elated to find the board game bar “L’As qui Court” had just opened. It was as if they knew I was coming and would spend a lot of my free time and money there. I made friends with the “patron,” a professional chess instructor. We occasionally play chess, and he crushes me in jovial manner.

Once or twice a month, the city media library and a popular bar near my apartment have game nights. A local company, Association Virtual, manages the events by bringing tons of games and hosts who provide rules explanations. I usually leave each night exhausted from the language immersion, but happy, having played tons of games and met new people.


Game selection at the local media library in Niort, France

Tabletop games are great for improving your second language, because they keep things simple. Think about most of the conversations you have with your friends every day. The topic can go off in every direction – politics, religion, local news and more. For example, last night, I had a conversation in French about if it was possible for prostitutes to be halal.* These topics contain complicated phrases and vocabulary a second language learner may or may not have studied. You might touch on some of these topics while playing a game, but the conversation will always come back to the game. “Move forward two spaces,” “draw a card,” “it’s your turn” – these are all easily understood phrases for board game conversation. Just avoid games like Archipelago or Battlestar Galactica, unless you are very familiar with the game beforehand.

If you want to improve your second language while living in another country, I encourage you to seek out your local board game community. This may even involve starting one yourself. I recommend bringing at least one friend who can communicate in your native language. At the very least, bring a cell phone with an internet connection in case you missed something during the rules explanation. I don’t think anyone would hold it against you if you quickly verified the rules before playing. If you know what game you will be playing beforehand, it will not hurt if you learn the rules in advance. It might save you some stress later.

International Friends Playing The Resistance: Avalon in Niort, France

International Friends Playing The Resistance: Avalon in Niort, France

Joining a gaming scene for immersion in another language may be stressful at times. However, it is important to be involved in your community, as much as possible, when living in another country. You will have a fuller, richer experience. If this experience involves rolling dice, paper money and strategic thinking, so much the better.

Great Games to Play When Learning a Second Language

* The Resistance or Avalon: The Resistance are bluffing games similar to Mafia or Werewolf. The “good” players  weed out potential traitors in order to be successful at missions. Traitors deceive their way into other players’ good graces.



Like The Resistance, this game is a party game of hidden identity. There is more roleplaying involved, because a player can be either a sheriff, deputy, bandit or renegade. Player elimination is key as the sheriff and deputies work together to kill the outlaws. The bandits work together to kill the sheriff. The Renegade only wins if he is the last man standing in a final battle with the sheriff.

Mogel Motte or Mito

This is my new favorite card game, mostly because it involves a lot of cheating. Really, cheating is perfectly legal and a legitimate strategy to win the game.


This is another great bluffing, hidden identity party game. Hmm, a theme might be developing here. Well, party games like these are such great conversation starters. This one happens to involves more strategic moves, memorization and general chaos.

King of Tokyo

In this high luck, dice rolling game, players control kaiju monsters in their battle for Tokyo. It’s fun play, easy to learn and allows you to be a knockoff Godzilla, which is always a plus.

The Hare and the Tortoise

Based on the classic fable, players “bet” on fairlytale creatures as they run a race. Cards are played to boost speed and spur the creatures on. The creatures’ speed and special powers determine the winner.


Each card in Hanabi has a different colored firework that gamers must to play in ascending order. In a fun twist, the players cannot look at their own cards. Everyone must rely on helpful hints in this cooperative, communication game.

Any Speed or Dexterity Game (Beginner)

These games won’t add much to the conversation, but they are great fun. If you’re a beginner looking to make friends in your city, these games are for you. Some good examples are Jenga, Dobble, Riff Raff and Bazar Bizarre.

Once Upon a Time (Advanced)

This story telling card game will definitely provide a challenge, especially if you play with native speakers. Native speakers are not necessarily aware of the difficulties of their own language. Once Upon a Time will give you a chance to use new vocabulary while maintaining a story structure. If you play the game, I recommend asking the group beforehand to keep the language simple.

These games are just the tip of the iceberg. Have you ever played a board game in another language? Which board games would you recommend to second language learners? Leave a message in the comments. Happy gaming!


Cracked Vision

Recently, I ended a friendship. G and I had been friends for quite a while, and I thought I could tell him anything. We spent a lot of time talking on Skype or messaging on Facebook while I was living abroad in Japan. Although he was only an acquaintance in America, our friendship seemed to grow through the interwebs, as these things sometimes do. The friendship had a price. Slowly over time, I came to realize that my relationship with G was poisoned. With well-timed mind-games, he would build me up and put me down. He was critical of my hair, my clothes, even how often I manicured my nails. Side-shots at my self-esteem came in many forms and in many conversations. This was quite an accomplishment for someone with whom I was not in a romantic relationship.

My self-esteem was too low for this power-struggle. I accepted G’s criticism and often tried to fix my perceived faults. This even included the expense of a wardrobe upgrade when he declared I dressed like a grandma. He told me to add more colors like red and black – despite the fact he was red/green color blind. When G and I eventually met in France, his hidden, controlling personality came into sharper contrast. He made plans during our outings without asking my opinion. As a French man, he was overly critical of my accent when I spoke French. He condescendingly corrected much of what I said.

Only when G went too far in his game, I realized the relationship for what it was. Everything was about control. I was his “friend” on some levels, but mostly I was a toy to be played with. My soberly hair, clothes, nails and French may have had flaws but putting importance on these indicates something festering under the surface. At best it’s shallow; at worse it points to something malicious – enjoyment of dominance and manipulation.

I believe we should never reject a potential companionship, no matter how different the background, culture, political belief or religion. Everyone on this earth has a story to tell. We can learn so much from the people who challenge our beliefs and alter our world-view. However, there’s a line. We have to see people for what they are and what they mean to us.

Everyone looks at the world in a different way – but sometimes with cracked, distorted vision. The flaws of others can become magnified to the point where the viewer can’t see under the surface, to the root of the person. In return, the viewer can’t see their own failings. The faults they bear remain unseen.

I will never reject a friendship, unless it becomes detrimental to me. Though first, I will wipe the grime from my eyes.