A decisive win in the Japanese election has given Prime Minister Shinzo Abe renewed impetus to walk away from the country's 70-year pacifist stance as the threat from North Korea increases.
Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner commands two-thirds of the Japanese lower house after Sunday's parliamentary elections, which he called a year earlier than expected, capitalising on the disarray among his political opponents.
The political gamble has paid off handsomely, with Abe claiming a mandate to push ahead with his plan to change the Japanese constitution to explicitly legalise the Japanese military.
While Abe has framed the move as a necessary step to protect the nation and its allies from the growing threat of North Korea military aggression, critics such as China say it shows Japan is reverting to militarism. Public opinion on opening up the military is split, with many Japanese fearful that constitutional change could see the nation drawn into international conflicts.
WHY IT WOULD BE SUCH A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE
If Abe is successful in pushing this change over the line, it would be the first amendment to the Japanese constitution since it was enacted in 1947 under pressure from the US in the wake of the horrors of World War II.
The Prime Minister wants to change Article 9 of the document, which specifically renounces war.
"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes," the constitution states.
"In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised."
Despite these passages, Japan established the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) just seven years after the constitution was enacted, as the country was left defenceless in the Korean War.
Subsequent governments have interpreted the constitution to allow the military provided it is for self defence only, but there is a concern the SDF could be considered unconstitutional in the event of full-blown conflict.
Abe wants to add text to Article 9 to legitimise the military explicitly.
Any change to the constitution would need to win the approval of two-thirds of both houses of parliament, and two thirds of the voting public.
Abe has previously stated that he hopes to have enacted the constitutional amendment by 2020.
NORTH KOREA PRESENTS 'IMMINENT' THREAT
The Prime Minister's bid to enshrine Japan's military might in law comes amid growing concern about North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missiles program.
The rogue nation launched missiles over Japan twice this year, in August and September, which prompted the government to send alerts to mobile phones and TV urging residents to take cover.
Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in the Philippines yesterday that North Korea had "steadfastly improved its nuclear and missiles capabilities".
"The threat posed by North Korea has grown to the unprecedented, critical and imminent level," he said, in comments interpreted into English.
"Therefore, we have to take calibrated and different responses to meet that level of threat."
He said Japan endorsed the US view that "all options" were on the table in dealing with North Korea, implying military action was possible.
After his election win, Abe vowed to exert "stronger pressure" on Japan's aggressive neighbour and "dramatically show countermeasures against the North Korean threat", but he did not detail what those measures would be.
"I will make sure the Japanese public is safe and safeguard our nation," he said.
Abe has taken a similar hard-line stance against North Korea's provocative military moves to US President Donald Trump, with whom he has warm relations.
Trump called Abe yesterday to congratulate him on his election win and both leaders emphasised the importance of a "strong United States-Japan alliance", the White House said.
Washington has long supported Tokyo taking a larger role in Asian security matters as China's influence grows.
Trump will visit Japan early next month, but he the President is no longer expected to visit the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, according to a Trump official.
ONE OF THE MOST ADVANCED MILITARIES IN THE WORLD
Despite the fact that the Japanese military exists in a constitutional grey area, it has developed into one of the most advanced forces in the world.
As of last year, Japan had the eighth highest military expenditure in the world, with a yearly budget of $US46.1 billion, with about 247,000 active troops.
The Japanese Defence Ministry announced last month that it intends to install a land-based antimissile system, which would allow it to shoot ballistic missiles out of the sky.
Although polls show at least half of the Japanese public disagree with Abe's stance on the constitution, the SDF enjoys high support from the public, who flock to view the spectacle of its military drills.
More than 26,000 Japanese attended live-fire drills held in the foothills of Mount Fuji across one weekend in August, according to The New York Times.
While the SDF is mostly been engaged in disaster relief, such as after earthquakes and tsunamis, Abe pushed laws through the parliament two years ago that allow the military to fight in conflicts overseas. The reforms were met with widespread protests from the public.
If Abe stays in the leader's position, he is on track to become the nation's longest-serving prime minister.