Entire text of the pamplet, English translation

Pamphlet cover

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Captions: Jinken Sengen (Declaration of Human Rights)

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When Japan was suffering from defeat in war and was trying to make a fresh start as a country with a peaceful culture, a new constitution that clearly articulated a way forward for us was established.

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The new constitution, seeking perpetual peace, has as its basis these three ideas: to never engage in war again; governing democratically; and respecting the basic human rights of citizens.

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Let's first examine the concept of fundamental human rights. The fundamental human rights included in the new constitution are the result of the freedoms acquired by humans over many years. They are things that have endured the test of time and are the outcome of many years of trial and error. What, then, are the efforts and trials that we humans have endured in the acquisition of our freedoms?

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In the primeval days of humanity, powerful or strange phenomena were revered as gods. Since the gods had absolute power, people did not behave selfishly toward each other, and their lives were truly free.

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After a long span of time passed, the pyramids in Egypt were built about 5,000 years before the present day. The pyramids were constructed with the purpose of serving as tombs for the kings. At that time in Egypt, the kings held great power, and the people of their territory had to obey their every command no matter what. Below the commoner class, there were slaves. Despite the acknowledged excellence of the pyramids, the kings and their vassals built them by treating commoners and slaves like cattle and horses. It was they who had to endure the King's harsh command and who had to bear the brunt of the labor demands.

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Below the governing and reigning monarch of a country were his feudal lords. The country was divided into domains, and the feudal lords were responsible for governing over the territories assigned to them. Within each feudal lords' domain, servants were employed and the peasants labored on his behalf to cultivate the soil. This system, which came to be known as feudalism, was established in Europe about 600 years before the present day. Under the boastful, overbearing attitude of their feudal lord, the peasants had to endure extremely harsh labor demands and could only eke out a meager existence.

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In the feudal era, the feudal lords held power, and the kings did not exert absolute authority. However, the power of the feudal lords eventually weakened because they frequently fought among each other and the bourgeoisie class gained strength. Therefore, in the end, royal authority was restored once again.

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So, the kings began to wield their power. Ordinary people could not expect to be treated with due human dignity and respect. No one knows how many people were killed like pests or subject to punishment for crimes of which they were falsely accused.

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The kings lived extremely luxuriously and in addition to this, they sought to expand their reach of power by constantly waging foreign wars. This expended extremely large sums of money. Where did that money come from? The public were taxed heavily to finance these wars and therefore suffered greatly.

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The eighteenth-century kings of France particularly took this life of luxury to the extreme. All of the culture and pleasures of this world were for the kings and nobility only. Of course, the expenses for all of this were distilled entirely from the blood, sweat, and tears of the people. Can we allow anything so unreasonable and absurd to be permitted in this world? The people got to a point where they could not bear it any longer.

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Therefore, in order to protect their interests, the people created their own political organization, namely what they called a "National Assembly" [Assemblée nationale]. King Louis the 16th of France was surprised by this and tried to suppress it with his armed forces, but that had the effect of pouring oil on a fire. An angry populace destroyed the Bastille Prison, and like fanning the flames of a fire, this incident triggered the beginning of a revolution. This was the Revolution of July 1789.

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The revolution succeeded, and the National Assembly proclaimed a declaration of human rights, the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" [Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen] which clearly articulated the basic rights of the people. This declaration served as the basis for the French Constitution which was enacted two years afterwards.

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This glorious French Revolution was achieved thanks to the efforts of scholarly and artistic geniuses who appeared one after the other beginning around the 15th century. What kinds of people were they? In Italy, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and others left splendid works of art such as paintings, sculptures, and architectural forms. They taught people that the true, insuppressible nature of humans was the most beautiful and precious thing there is.

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In Germany, Martin Luther rebelled against the arbitrary, restrictive teachings of the autocratic Christian Roman Catholic Church and cleared the way for a new kind of religious faith that allowed the freedom to think and believe.

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With the advent of the 17th century, distinguished scholars such as Galileo and Newton appeared. Until that point in time, because of the Roman Catholic Pope, thinking deeply or critically about any aspect of the logic and reason of the day was considered defiance of God's will. But, in spite of this, Newton and Galileo produced valuable knowledge gained through their research and discoveries in the fields of physics and astronomy. Thanks to this, civilization progressed rapidly.

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Thanks to the efforts of people like these, people learned that all humans are precious and are not to be discriminated against by anyone. Nations came to realize that the well-being and safety of their people should not be encroached upon. In this way, as a consequence of the French Revolution, these ideals finally came to be put into practice.

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This idea of basic human rights having been transmitted to them, the suppressed and tormented people in the English colonies in America promulgated the famous “Declaration of Independence” in 1776, just one step ahead of the French Revolution. Following this, small countries such as Greece and Belgium who were controlled by more powerful countries also began to proclaim their independence one after the other. And so, various small countries throughout the world began to institute free and bright democratic governments. In the midst of this general world-wide trend, what, then, was Japan doing?

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After Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa proclaimed an official policy of seclusion, Japan remained completely unaware of foreign affairs and maintained a long, 300-year period of slumber. To the samurai class, who had the “right to kill with impunity” anyone in the peasant or merchant classes, such a thing as basic human rights was unthinkable. When Japan suddenly awakened from their long slumber after hearing the cannon blasts from the Black Ships that appeared at Uraga in 1853, they could only wonder in amazement at the progress of the other countries of the world.

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A sudden blast of wind from the outside world blew into Japan when it went from a closed country to an open country. For the first time, the common people found that the shogun, daimyo, or samurai’s ability to do as they pleased and trample them underfoot was intolerable, and they overthrew the Tokugawa government and destroyed the feudal system. That was the Meiji Restoration.

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During this period, people were learning about all sorts of things from foreign countries and, thinking that Japanese culture had fallen behind, they wanted to quickly catch up. Because of that, moreover, there were strong, repeated requests for a parliament to be established and a constitution to be decided upon. In this way, in the 22nd year of Meiji, the Meiji Constitution was finally enacted. Now, people’s property and assets were protected from being arbitrarily taken away by those who ran the government. People were also not to be jailed without due cause and violating the freedom and rights of citizens was determined to be impermissible.

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However, this constitution differed from the constitutions of other countries in a few ways. That is to say, this constitution was created by those who were already in positions of power or who were already established within the government. Therefore, the commitment to fundamental human rights was lukewarm at best.

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The rationale behind the Meiji Constitution was not that freedoms and rights were received from Heaven by humans and granted at birth, but instead were rights extended within the purview of the law, and the law determined how much freedom and rights could be curtailed. In this way, the overtures within the Constitution towards establishing human rights were lukewarm. One reason this was so is that the citizenry did not yet clearly understand how precious basic human rights are.

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Before long, the deficiencies in the Meiji Constitution inflicted a great calamity upon the public. After the Manchurian Incident, military personnel increasingly took control of the government and misused it, and human rights were rapidly suppressed under the law.

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In order to accomplish their personal aspirations, military personnel completely disregarded the rights of the people. They made it so that citizens were not allowed to freely express their thoughts or opinions and arrested those who stood in opposition to government policies one after the other. They ended up starting the Pacific War. Because of this, Japanese citizens had to experience the miserable hardships of defeat in war. The citizens knew that they didn’t want this to happen again, so they conducted a comprehensive reflection on the previous way of thinking. It is these circumstances that ushered in the establishment of a new constitution.

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Under the new constitution, it clearly established that no one can violate our basic human rights; and, of course, this extends to our descendants as long as they are Japanese citizens.

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Should a law that suppresses human rights be made, it will be judged in the Supreme Courts and be invalidated.

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However, these basic human rights must be exercised for the benefit of a wide variety of people. Expressing one’s own opinion is one component of fundamental human rights, but one should not express opinions that do not benefit people by writing books or in other ways. Freedom does not mean that you do not think of the burden you are placing upon others and doing whatever you wish.

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The basic human rights stipulated within this constitution are as follows:

  • The infliction of torture and cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden.
  • Every person shall have the freedom to choose his or her own occupation.
  • No one will have their assets unfairly seized.
  • Men and women have equal rights.

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In order to acquire these basic human rights, European countries have fought literally blood-drenched battles continuing for several hundreds of years. When that is considered, the efforts of Japanese citizens are not even comparable.

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We Japanese have just now undergone the most painful of hardships, that of being defeated in war. Our houses were burned down, and many of our fellow countrymen have died. As a result, we have been granted something precious. This time for certain, no matter what happens, we the citizens of Japan with all our might must protect it and defend it against violation.

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Jinken sengen 「人権宣言」, Editorial Production: Nihon Gentō Kabushiki Kaisha,日本幻燈株式会社, Illustration: Kondō, Hidezō, 近藤日出造., File 54-A-5-1 ~ 54-A-5-15, Box 4 in Alfred Rodman Hussey papers (1944-1998, bulk 1945-1948)

Translation and audio recording by Alice Register.