Emperor Akihito did not violate the Constitution when he said teachers and students should not be forced to sing the national anthem and pay homage to the flag, the top government spokesman said Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda tried to play down remarks made by the Emperor on Thursday, saying that he was merely talking “common sense” and was not making the kind of political comment that the Constitution prohibits.

“We believe that the Emperor made that remark while understanding well his position as the symbol” of the state and unity of the people, as defined by the Constitution, Hosoda said. He added his interpretation was based on the official view of the Imperial Household Agency.

Hosoda added that the Emperor’s remarks were “consistent with the current views of the government” on the matter.

The Emperor reportedly said during an Imperial garden party that “it is desirable that (teachers and students) not be forced” to hoist the Hinomaru and sing “Kimigayo.”

He was responding to Kunio Yonenaga, a conservative member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s board of education, who reportedly told the Emperor that “it is my job to get all schools in Japan to sing the national anthem and hoist the national flag.”

More than 200 teachers in Tokyo have been punished by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for refusing to stand and sing the anthem at school ceremonies this year, in line with education authority directives.

The Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” became the official national flag and anthem of Japan in a law enacted in 1999.

Negative sentiments toward these symbols remain due to their association with Japan’s militarism during the 1930s and 1940s.

But for people with conservative views, the flag and the anthem are symbols of healthy patriotism that they claim has been lost in the postwar years.

Hosoda refrained from commenting on why the Emperor had made the statement in question.

“I don’t feel it appropriate to speculate here,” he said.

Asked to comment on the matter Friday evening, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “I don’t think you should take (the Emperor’s remarks) in a political context.”

He declined to discuss the metro government’s policy of punishing teachers who disobey the education board’s orders, only saying, “It was a decision that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government made.”

The postwar Constitution stipulates that the Emperor “shall not have powers related to government.”

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