The anthem and the flag

Mainichi Shimbun, 16 July 1999

There has been a subtle shift in the public's attitudes toward the national anthem and national flag bill, submitted to the Diet in early June. Over the past month, the bill has generated debate on the floor of the Diet and at public hearings conducted in Sapporo, Naha, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, and Tokyo by the lower chamber's Cabinet Committee.

By promoting a new interpretation of the word Kimi in Kimigayo as a reference to the Emperor as a symbol, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has fanned fears among the people that the meaning of the song goes against the principle of popular sovereignty. The government has insisted that it would not compel schools to display the Hinomaru and to sing Kimigayo, but despite this has asserted that the bill would grant legal recognition to the song and allow schools to teach the song to schoolchildren.

Since some people are afraid that schools might be forced to require students to sing the song, a segment of the public has begun to turn against the bill, and there has been an increase in the percentage of people who oppose the granting of legal status to Kimigayo or urge caution on the issue.

During a nationwide telephone poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on July 10 and 11, respondents were asked what they thought about a bill that would provide legal recognition to Kimigayo as the national anthem. The most frequent answer—provided by 44 percent of respondents—was that more time should be devoted to debating the issue. Thirty-eight percent said that the bill should be passed during the current Diet session, and 14 percent were opposed to the bill. It is significant that nearly 60 percent of respondents are either opposed to the bill or advocate a go-slow approach.

In a previous telephone poll, conducted by the Mainichi in April prior to the submission of the bill, 61 percent of respondents were in favor of granting legal status to Kimigayo. Only 30 percent were opposed.

A similar trend was also detected in polls conducted by JNN Databank for TBS and other TV stations. In March, 49 percent replied that they were in favor of granting legal recognition to the Kimigayo, while 42 percent said that there was no reason to enact such a law. However, in a follow-up poll conducted earlier this month, 44 percent of respondents were in favor of the bill but 45 percent were opposed.

Although most of the public appears to be ready to accept the Hinomaru as the national flag, a national consensus for officially recognizing Kimigayo as the national anthem has yet to emerge. It has been our position that due to the historical associations and lyrics of the song it should not be legally recognized as the national anthem.

The government and ruling coalition would like the House of Representatives to pass the bill by the end of the month with Komeito's support. But this is not an issue that should be railroaded through the Diet. The government, ruling parties, and opposition camp ought to attach considerable significance to the recent shifts in the public's attitudes toward this bill.