A battle is brewing in Japan between education authorities and liberal minded teachers over the place of national symbols in the Japanese school system, reports Aussie expat Cameron Weston, for Australian news website Crikey.com.au:
Most countries have no law in place that compels its citizens to stand, put their hands on their hearts or do anything else when the national symbols are displayed. Most people do it because they want to, and this is the way it should be. Patriotism is something felt, not imposed. Forcing such action impinges on the basic tenets of democracy and freedom, and democracies have laws that enshrine this principle.
But what if the symbols of your nation had a deeper historical meaning, if they spoke to a past that some were ashamed of, of policies and deeds which some considered criminal?
And what if you felt strongly enough about this that you refused to stand and sing the anthem or to gaze upon the flag of your nation? In a democracy, you would be allowed to do so.
You might still reasonably be called a patriot by some, a person of conscience by others, ignorant and a traitor by others still but it would all be a matter of opinion, and hopefully then of discussion and debate. In 1999, amid some controversy, the Japanese LDP government passed legislation making the rising sun flag (‘Hinomaru’) and the national anthem (‘Kimigayo’) official, legal symbols of this nation. In a country where voluntary adherence to tradition and fixed social rites underpin the very fabric of society and daily life, it is ironic that the government felt that these forces were insufficient to ensure the flag and anthem remained venerated national symbols – they deemed that a law needed to be passed….
However, in the last few months, as the new school year begins, the debate has been taken to a new level. Teachers across Tokyo have been issued with a directive from the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, compelling them to stand and sing the national anthem and for them to in turn compel their students to do the same. No debate, no discussion; this is a direct order.
If the teacher refuses to do so, he will be open to public censure and criticism from his superiors, further warnings and potential expulsion. So far this year, over 200 teachers have refused to stand and many have received written warnings as a result. Miwako Sato, a music teacher who received one such warning when the law was first enacted in 1999 sums up the problem for many teachers perfectly, “Many people in other Asian countries do not want to look at the flag, the symbol of Japanese occupation of their lands, even 60 years after World War II, and I believe its coercive display at school ceremonies is against our Constitution,” she said.
Ah, the Japanese constitution. What I tend to get out of Mr. Weston’s article is a feeling that although Japan has lived under that constitution for over 50 years, it has never really embraced the spirit of the document (which is a bizzare mixture of the liberal and the statist).
But the fact that the more reactionary elements in authority in Japan feel the need to legislate nationalism, and to make it compulsary, gives me heart; I doubt they would have felt the need to do it if people were embracing the nationalistic message willingly.
And the resistance of teachers and the media is a good sign too. Anyway, read the whole thing.