Flag, anthem bill raising a flap

Mainichi Shimbun, Friday 23 July 1999

The nation's de facto flag and national anthem survived a last-minute flap in the Diet on Thursday to move to the brink of winning official recognition.

Leftist and liberal and parties claim the symbols—the Hinomaru flag and the Kimigayo anthem—are a throwback to Japan's pre-World War II nationalism.

Despite such negative sentiments—and a vocal protest by hundreds of demonstrators outside the Diet—the bill giving the flag and anthem legal recognition was approved 403-86 in the 500-member House of Representatives.

Thursday's vote caps years of controversy over the symbols. The bill must still be approved by the House of Councillors, but that vote is largely a formality.

Pacifists hit the rhetorical ramparts to express their opposition to the bill.

No one can be proud of them as national symbols without true remorse and apology for the wartime aggression against Asia, said Keiko Tsuwa of the Japanese Women's Caucus Against War.

Some educators, however, said they were relieved the controversy might at last be put to rest.

The bill was prompted by the suicide of a Hiroshima prefectural high school principal in February. He was involved in a dispute over whether to use the flag and to sing the anthem at the school's upcoming graduation ceremony.

The vote itself was split along party lines with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, and the opposition Komeito backing the bill.

The other opposition parties remained steadfast in rejecting the bill.

It is out of question that the bill was passed after [the lower house] discussed it only for a dozen hours, said Kenjiro Yamahara of the Japanese Communist Party. He referred to the fact that the government submitted the bill to the Diet on June 11, but the lower chamber virtually discussed it for only two days.

Kenichi Hamada of the Social Democratic Party echoed the pacifists' feelings over the anthem and the flag, saying, Before the war, the Hinomaru symbolized Japan's aggression (abroad), and 'Kimigayo' was considered a song praising the Emperor. Therefore, they are not suitable as the national flag and anthem.

Observers say that the Diet failed to spend enough time discussing the interpretation of Kimigayo and the effects on educators of legally recognizing the symbols.