The singing of Japan’s national anthem Kimigayo, an ode to the emperor, and the flying of the Hinomaru flag, both evocative of Japan’s colonial era, have become flashpoints of conflict in recent years as the Japanese government presses to reincorporate these controversial emblems in a variety of public events. Nowhere has the conflict been more intense than in the public schools. The struggle by music teacher Sato Miwako to preserve her conscience in the wake of a 1999 national flag and national anthem law offers insight into issues of colonialism, war, and historical memory as well as contemporary nationalism. It also addresses both ethical and constitutional issues. This article appeared in Sekai, November 2003, pp. 38-46. Tanaka Nobumasa is a Japanese journalist.
… In August 1999 a national flag and national anthem law was enacted, and thereafter the pressure and attacks on public schools which did not fully implement this new law became fierce. The promise in the Japanese Diet not to make it compulsory was ignored, and the Japanese constitution, which ensured freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, was effectively subordinated to the ‘Guiding Principles in Education.’ There emerged here and there on the horizon a situation resembling “legal insubordination.”
Kunitachi City became engulfed in this torrent and, in no time at all, the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” were brought to all eleven of its elementary schools. In the process, human rights were smashed.
“My feeling was that the Hinomaru and ‘Kimigayo’ had been made mandatory which was unthinkable. Postwar Japan was supposed to be a country of laws. This was unbelievable.” And, yet, the realization of the “impossible” advanced inexorably. For Sato, “it was as if my life was being crushed.”……