In June 2011, Osaka Prefecture became the first prefecture to enact a by-law to make it obligatory for teachers at prefectural schools to stand up and sing the national anthem, “Kimigayo,” at school ceremonies, although it did not provide for punishment. Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka reform association), a local party led by then Gov. Toru Hashimoto, took the initiative in pushing through the legislation. Mr. Hashimoto, now the mayor of Osaka, strongly insists that public school teachers should stand up and sing “Kimigayo” at school ceremonies.
On Feb. 28, the Osaka city assembly passed a similar by-law, applying to city school teachers with the support of Osaka Ishin-no Kai, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
Mr. Hashimoto denounced teachers who refuse to sing “Kimigayo,” saying that their refusal to follow rules is “an act of blaspheming against democracy.” But he should understand that for some teachers, singing “Kimigayo,” associated by some people with Japan’s past militarism, is a matter of conscience. Forcing them to sing the anthem would run counter to the principle of democracy. He also should realize that some teachers are repulsed by the local governments’ attempt to control their behavior through legislation.
On March 23, the Osaka prefectural assembly enacted three education-related by-laws backed by Osaka Ishin-no kai, the LDP and Komeito. The governor will be empowered to set educational goals. A teacher who fails three times to follow the same order, such as standing up and singing “Kimigayo,” will face possible dismissal. Prefectural Gov. Ichiro Matsui is a political ally of Mr. Hashimoto.
In January, the Osaka prefectural board of education had sent an order to some 13,000 teachers and workers at prefectural schools to stand up and sing “Kimigayo” at coming graduation ceremonies.
At the March 2 graduation ceremony at Izumi high school in Kishiwada city, all the teachers stood up, but Mr. Toru Nakahara, the school principal and a friend of Mr. Hashimoto, checked the movements of their mouths and reported to the board of education that one of the teachers did not sing “Kimigayo.”
By March 27, the board took disciplinary actions against 32 teachers for not standing up and not singing “Kimigayo.” Earlier Gov. Matsui had said, “It was good that criminals who are intent on breaking the rules have risen to the surface.”
These prefectural and city by-laws may fan the flame of intolerance toward people with a minority opinion, thus undermining the basis of democracy, as well as give rise to obedience for appearance’ sake among teachers. Patriotism — showing devotion to one’s nation — can take many forms and all must come from the heart to have any real meaning.