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Re-thinking Japan's National Flag and National Anthem

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It has been more than four years since I have begun an internet based child research site called the Child Research Net (CRN). Fortunately, we now have an access count of over 700,000 per month for the Japanese-language web site (This article was written in 1998, but all information was updated in October, 2000). The reason for such an increase in visitors to our site is due in part to the increased activity in the corner named, "Free Forum" which is a bulletin board for casual opinion exchange of various topics on children's issues. The problem most discussed in that forum is the problem of the Tokorozawa High School which I will elaborate upon next.

When I heard of the "Tokorozawa case" initially on the news, I had no idea that it really was an argument surrounding the Japanese national flag (symbolizing the rising sun) and the national anthem. I first realized that it was about these issues after reading an excerpt written by a graduate of that school on the CRN free forum.

Tokorozawa high school is a preparatory-type school which respects the opinions of their students and is somewhat reputed for its free-willed academic atmosphere. Out of a discussion with their students, they had decided that they would conduct their graduation ceremony in the same manner as in previous years, without raising the Japanese flag and not singing the national anthem. Instead, they decided to focus on the students' skits and performances that were enjoyed annually by the students, faculty and parents.

However, a principal that was newly appointed to the school decided, under the guidance of the Board of Education, to have a traditional graduation ceremony by raising the national flag and singing the national anthem. Based on his sole decision, the students were extremely upset and decided to boycott their own graduation. This situation brought the school into a chaotic state, and also into the limelight of the press which in turn, caused more chaos.

The participants of the forum for CRN were not all graduates of that school, and thus many opinions were posted regarding this topic.

Initially, the flag of the rising sun and the national anthem were our symbols in Japan during the war of aggression. During this war, not only did our country do some unforgivable and unforgettable tragedies, but we had some tragedies with our own troops. Both these reasons are given for the flag and national anthem not being appropriate national symbols for today's Japan. Some people wrote that since these symbols were not officially written into the constitution, that it would be considered a practical law, which was quite impressionable to me.

Secondly, the graduations up to that year were decided solely consulting the students and faculty, but the problem in this case, was that it was the sole decision of the principal. However, there were some opinions of doubt as to whether such important things should be consulted with. There were arguments that the teachers are supposed to take responsibility for guiding students and showing them a good example. This was a discussion that turned out to be based on democracy.

I have a memorable experience of being surprised in hearing an athlete being interviewed on Japanese television at the Los Angeles Olympics. When the athlete was asked what he felt while listening to the national anthem on the medal platform, the athlete mentioned that it was like listening to a pop tune.

When I think about it, even in the Nagano Olympics and at the world cup soccer tournament, I noticed that the way the Japanese athletes looked at their flag and the way they sang along with the national anthem seemed less enthusiastic than the athletes of other nations. I wonder if I was the only one to notice this.

World War II is in the background for this current problem of the national flag and anthem. The various thoughts of the war, both reflective and argumentative, lead to a general opinion that national symbols and sentiment is dangerous and could lead to extreme patriotism again. This may be a very negative and ambiguous part of contemporary Japanese history, but it is something we need to think openly about and to reflect upon. However, the story of flags and anthems in the course of history is long. Our ancestors, millions of years ago in Africa, traveled to many regions. Throughout their travels and encounters with many people and differing environmental conditions, they built many relationships and networks eventually developing the many cultures, civilizations and inventions at the beginning of human history. This is the way each region became united and eventually represented their unity as a nation through symbols such as the flag and national song. It is said that there is such evidence of these types of symbols by looking at ruins and symbols of Czechoslovakia 30,000 years ago. It seems that each country or nation can look back on their own history and find both positive and negative aspects in their national background.

With the 21st century at our doorstep, it seems that the Japanese political climate, economy and the society in general are experiencing turbulent times. It seems Japan is being tested for its strength as we thrust ourselves in the international forum. The information society is also changing the way countries are and conduct their affairs. Moreover, we should begin using our resources to discuss and figure out the best way to promote peace in and among countries. Hence, it is not only the schools which need to rethink and reconstruct our national sentiments, but we need to start thinking about this individually also.

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