More than half of Japanese support changing the country's pacifist constitution to more clearly define the military's role and its right to aid allies, according to a newspaper poll published Tuesday.
The war-renouncing constitution - drafted by U.S. occupation forces and unchanged since 1947 - bars the use of military force in settling international disputes. It also prohibits maintaining armed forces for warfare, though the Japanese government has interpreted that to mean the nation can possess armed forces for self-defense.
Fifty-six percent of poll respondents said the constitution needed to be changed, up 3 percentage points from a similar survey last year, the Asahi newspaper said.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said the constitution should clearly refer to Japan's Self-Defense Forces as a military, while 51 percent supported keeping the war-renouncing Article 9 versus 36 percent who want it changed.
The current constitution has also commonly been interpreted as prohibiting the Self-Defense Forces from aiding Japan's allies, but more than half supported revising either the wording or its interpretation in order to allow that, the Asahi said.
On Tuesday, both supporters and opponents of constitutional change held meetings and rallies nationwide.
In Tokyo, a group of student activists handing out leaflets opposing a revision scuffled with dozens of right-wing demonstrators in military fatigues, leaving two students with nose bleeds and bruises, student spokesman Yoshihiro Suzuki said. He said riot police at the scene looked the other way. Police said they were investigating the incident.
Public support for amending the constitution has swelled as Japan raises its international military and diplomatic profile. A parliamentary committee last month endorsed a landmark report that urged revisions, including changes to some of its pacifist provisions.
Japan dispatched non-combat troops to Iraq last year in its first deployment to a combat zone since 1945, and is relaxing its ban on arms exports to facilitate joint construction of a missile defense program with the United States.
In the Asahi poll, 76 percent supported Japan's close alliance with the United States with many citing the importance of their bilateral security pact.
The Asahi interviewed 3,000 people on April 24-25, with 1,802 people providing valid responses. No margin of error was provided.