Mitsunobu Ichiro, SJ (Director, Jesuit Social Canter Tokyo)
Recently I have become quite perturbed about the various regulations being imposed on schools with regard to the Japanese flag (“Hi no maru”) and anthem (“Kimi ga yo”).
Education is a fruitful enterprise where free personal exchanges occur. In this context, there are teachers who find it improper for an educational institution to oblige everyone to stand up in unison for the Japanese flag and the anthem before properly verifying and settling the controversies regarding their historical background and meaning. In 2003 the matter was often taken to court because of a notification published by the Tokyo Metropolitan Education Committee. However, except for two or three cases, these suits were all lost. It is the task of the legal system to protect human rights, especially with regard to minority groups, but it must be acknowledged that in this regard the Japanese courts have been firmly attached to structures of power from above.
Teachers opposed to such coercion are, on the whole, reaching retirement age and are leaving the schools. Meanwhile, Osaka’s Governor Hashimoto recently passed a regulation that teachers and staff should stand up “in patriotic unison.” I suppose there must be teachers who continue to enjoy inner freedom despite such oppressive measures, but if this situation continues, there will be fewer teachers who will oppose the mandates even if threatened with possible punishments. If this policy continues, I think the trend toward excluding a disobedient minority will predominate, and involvement with these issues within Japanese education and society in general will be taboo. The end result will be an inhuman society where mandates and controls will automatically prevail.
First of all, it is unpardonable that the past, which should already have been overcome, is reappearing again in the same way as a contemporary reality. Japan formerly disregarded and trampled upon the most basic human rights and values, like freedom of expression, conscience, and religion. It was a violent and aggressively ugly state. The flag and anthem which symbolized pre-war Imperial rule remain alive even now, when sovereign power lies with the people and peace and human dignity should be maintained. They are surfacing like ghosts still playing their same roles from the past.
The common points included in the Supreme Court ruling are: (1) mandates for teachers to stand up in unison for the flag and anthem are laws and regulations for educators; (2) these are called “formal customs in such ceremonies,” “common sense usages,” and “obligatory rules”; (3) “on the surface they may seem to be indirect limitations of freedom of expression and conscience,” but (4) it cannot be allowed that public servants, like teachers who should set an example for students, may refuse to stand up at such ceremonies.
This logic considers the flag and anthem as national symbols, without considering their real meaning and historical background, and demands a similar respect to those national symbols of other countries. But it cannot be said that they have been naturally assimilated by the Japanese. On the contrary, they were artificially introduced into the schools through the nationalistic education system of the Meiji Era, and in these post-war days they have been the object of a series of guideline revisions for courses of study and were enforced through a vote on the “national flag and anthem” and the “new fundamental education law.”
At present, the establishment’s position on the national flag and anthem is that they have a legal standing and are not forcibly imposed. In this connection, even the United States, where the national flag is greatly respected, does not legally permit any mandate to salute the national flag in schools.
Again in Osaka, Governor Hashimoto claims that “public servants cannot remain seated. If they dislike the anthem, they should retire from their role as public servants.” As a public servant himself, the Governor also neglects his official duty to obey Japan’s Constitution, at the basis of which are “peace based on the renunciation of militarization and war,” “respect for basic human rights,” and “the sovereign power of the people.” Public servants should be the first ones to obey such principles. The statements of Governor Hashimoto aim at organizing society according to his own way of thinking and substantially challenges the ordering of society according to the principles of the Japanese Constitution. The main intention will be to promote and impose the flag and anthem. Education is basically unconcerned with “whether people should stand up or remain seated” at ceremonies. But this one point at issue measures one’s degree of loyalty to a dictatorial hierarchical system. The removal of disobedient teachers simply harks back to the former “fumie” structure that once destroyed the Catholic Church.
Christian teachers concerned about this issue oppose the imposition of the flag and anthem and, looking for other options, have organized a group of Christians of various denominations to demand religious freedom. I pray that, with God’s love and compassion, those who have chosen to serve as educators, will desire to grow together with their students toward respecting freedom and human dignity and thus fulfill their vocation.