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Meiji Constitution

Also known as the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. The constitution of Japan was in effect from November 29, 1890 to May 2, 1947. The idea of formulating a written constitution incorporating Western principles of parliamentary government had been advocated since the early Meiji period (1868-1912). The primary problem confronting drafters was how to resolve the contradiction between the principle of imperial sovereignty and the principle of constitutional, that is, limited, government. In the end, article 1 stated that "the Empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal," and sovereign power was clearly vested in the person of the emperor. Yet the second part of article 4 stated that the emperor's judgements and commands had no legal force unto themselves, but that instead the emperor required advice and consent from his cabinet ministers. Therefore, despite the document's absolutist tendencies, it established clear limits to the sovereign rights of the emperor and the power of the executive. The judiciary was made independent of the executive, and the Diet was given authority to initiate legislation, approve all laws, and approve the budget. Individual rights that were guaranteed included habeas corpus, the right to a free trial, inviolability of home and property, and freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, even though all of these rights could be adbridged through laws enacted by the Diet. Ultimately, the Meiji Constitition was an ambivalent charter, poised between the two contradictory principles of imperial sovereignty and parliamentary government. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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