Flag and anthem

Editorial, Mainichi Shimbun, Monday 21 May 1999

The government hopes to submit a bill during the current session of the Diet that will officially recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem. Komeito, which is now actively being courted to join the ruling coalition, had previously indicated its support for the bill. Now, however, it seems to be having second thoughts. Nonetheless, the administration still intends to submit the bill and will seek its passage before the close of the current Diet session, scheduled for next month.

The move to legally establish the national flag and anthem gained momentum after the principal of a Hiroshima high school—sandwiched between the conflicting demands of the local Board of Education and a teachers union over the use of the de facto national symbols at school ceremonies—was driven to suicide in February.

Immediately following the news of the suicide, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi indicated his wish to give firmer legal grounding to the use of the flag and anthem as symbols of the nation. The only official grounding at present is a Ministry of Education guideline calling for their use in schools. At one time, the administration appeared have given up the idea of submitting the bill, but its submission was revived when the bills concerning the new Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines became assured of passage. Many members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Liberal Party strongly advocate the early enactment of the flag and anthem provisions. The real aim behind the renewed effort to enact the bill may actually be to strengthen the ruling parties' policy links with Komeito.

We have on numerous occasions advocated further debate on the status of the Hinomaru and Kimigayo in the Diet and other forums. The issue is not one that should be simply left to be discussed among teachers and administrators. Following World War II, the Hinomaru and Kimigayo became widely established by custom as the national flag and anthem of Japan, and a majority of the public now recognizes them as such. But whether they should be granted official status or not is another matter. We should not allow the issue to become a tool of the current administration to solidify its political strength.

The bill does not contain provisions requiring the conferring of respect upon either the Hinomaru or Kimigayo, as had been the case with earlier proposals. However, giving them official status will naturally confer prestige upon them as symbols of the state.

If we are to consider granting de jure recognition to these symbols, we should pursue the task in two stages. First, we should determine whether or not the public feels legal provisions are truly necessary. Some countries specify the national flag and anthem in their constitutions or laws, but others use flags or songs that have been customarily viewed as representative.

Only when a consensus in favor of legal stipulations has been established should we consider whether the Hinomaru and Kimigayo are appropriate symbols. Many still harbor great resistance to the lyrics and historical connotations of Kimigayo—an ode to His Majesty's reign. Considering the song together with the Hinomaru may be a political strategy to facilitate its acceptance. Establishing a national flag and anthem that we can all be proud of requires input from a broad segment of the public.