URAWA, Saitama Pref. — In the latest protest of Japan’s de facto national anthem and flag, the majority of third-year students at a high school in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, skipped their graduation ceremony Monday for the second consecutive year.

As a result, the principal of Tokorozawa High School, Tatsuo Uchida, was only able to send off 128 of the school’s 406 graduating seniors during the ceremony, officials of the school said.

However, the number of students who attended was significantly greater than last year, when only some 20 students out of 400 showed up, they said. The boycotting students gathered later in the day to hold their own graduation ceremony.

At issue is the use of the traditional “Kimigayo” anthem and the Hinomaru (Sun Flag) during entrance ceremonies. The feud between Uchida and the students began in April 1997 when the principal, a new face at the time, first attempted to initiate use of the controversial protocols at the Saitama Prefectural Government-run facility.

Although the students decided to oppose what they deemed was “forced” use of the anthem and flag, Uchida ignored them and said he was following an order from the Education Ministry. The order, issued in 1989, says the flag must be hoisted and the anthem sung at school ceremonies. Various teachers’ unions have been protesting the directive because they say the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” are cultural remnants of Japan’s wartime emperor system and militarism.

On March 2, the government suddenly announced it would soon consider writing legislation that would give official recognition to the de facto flag and anthem.

The move, however, followed the Feb. 28 suicide of a separate high school principal, in Hiroshima Prefecture, over what was apparently his inability to get his teachers to follow a similar order from the prefectural board of education to have “Kimigayo” sung at his school’s graduation ceremony on the next day.

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