The government hopes to submit a bill during the current Diet session to officially recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and “Kimigayo” as Japan’s anthem, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said Wednesday.
Obuchi told the Upper House Budget Committee that he hopes the bill will be submitted for deliberation before the current session ends in mid-June.
The government decided last week to study legislation to officially recognize the Hinomaru (Sun Flag) and “Kimigayo,” the de facto anthem, as national symbols.
Initially, the government planned to take time to hear a wide range of public opinions on the sensitive issue and reach a conclusion by the end of the year. But the Obuchi administration appears to have decided to accelerate the legislation because resistance toward the initiative was not as strong as had been anticipated, government sources said.
Nevertheless, the Social Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party are expected to oppose the legislation. Resistance is also anticipated from former Socialist lawmakers within the Democratic Party of Japan.
In addition, early passage of the planned bill remains in doubt since the government will keep its priority on passing a set of bills covering the updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.
Since the end of World War II, the flag and song have been a source of controversy because of their association with Japan’s militarist past and emperor system.
In 1989, the Education Ministry issued a directive that the flag be raised and the anthem sung at school ceremonies, but the requirement has met with strong opposition from teacher unions and some political parties.
Last month, a principal at a Hiroshima high school committed suicide, reportedly because he was torn between the authorities’ orders for the use of the flag and anthem and union opposition.
On Monday, a majority of third-year students at a high school in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, boycotted the school’s graduation ceremony to protest its use of the flag and song.
A top-ranking government official said the planned legislation will not include a provision compelling schools to use the flag and anthem but will instead urge people to “respect” them as such.