School term starts under ‘Kimigayo’ cloud

Enrollment ceremonies were held Tuesday at public schools in Tokyo, where the board of education issued a controversial order in October that the national flag must be flown and the anthem sung at such ceremonies.

Also Tuesday, the education board punished 20 more teachers for disobeying the order to stand and sing “Kimigayo” at graduation ceremonies in March at schools run by the metropolitan government. The move brought the total number of teachers punished since the ordinance was issued to 196.

The board is sending officials to the ceremonies for the new school year at all schools run by the metropolitan government to check whether the order is being followed, board officials said.

On Tuesday, 1,326 elementary schools, 25 junior high schools, and 12 high schools and evening high schools held enrollment ceremonies, according to the board. Ceremonies for junior high and high schools will peak Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, the board reprimanded 171 teachers for disobeying principals’ orders to stand and sing “Kimigayo” at ceremonies in March at Tokyo-run high schools. It also refused to renew the contracts of five teachers who had been re-employed as part-timers after retirement.

The teachers punished Tuesday were from elementary, junior high and other Tokyo government-run schools, including one teacher who received a 10 percent pay cut for a month.

The board on Oct. 23 issued the order requiring schools to fly the Hinomaru flag on the stage and teachers to stand and sing the anthem while facing the flag.

Many teachers refused, calling the order a violation of their freedom of expression. The order stipulates that teachers who refuse will be punished.

The board’s attempt to force teachers to sing the anthem and face the flag has generated criticism from teachers, parents and members of the public that it violates freedom of thought and conscience as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” were defined by law in 1999 as the national flag and anthem. But their status remains a sensitive issue due to their symbolic links to Japan’s Imperial system and militarist past.