The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education punished 52 public school teachers Thursday for refusing to stand up and sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem at March graduation ceremonies.

The penalties ranged from warnings to pay cuts — depending on how many times the teachers disobeyed orders from school principals to rise and sing the anthem.

The board issued a notice in October 2003 to principals of metropolitan government-run schools, telling them to order all teachers to stand and sing the anthem at graduation and entrance ceremonies.

Last spring, 248 teachers were punished for disobeying the orders at ceremonies in line with the law on local civil servants. Of them, about 200 refused to stand at graduation ceremonies.

There were fewer teachers who refused to stand at this year’s commencements partly because principals ordered some who earlier indicated they would not rise to assume duties outside of the ceremonies, supporters of the teachers said.

A law enacted in 1999 recognizes “Kimigayo,” or “His Majesty’s Reign,” as the national anthem and the Hinomaru as the national flag. But their status remains a sensitive issue due to their links to Japan’s militarist past.

The metro board of education said curriculum guidelines set by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry stipulate that teachers must instruct students to sing the anthem at school ceremonies.

“The guidelines are legally binding. Teachers bear a responsibility to (uphold) them,” Yokichi Yokoyama, head of the metro government’s education office, said during an NHK TV program aired Monday, adding teachers themselves must rise and sing the song.

But Yurio Aosaki, a teacher of Osaki High School who twice refused to stand at commencements and will have his salary cut by 10 percent for a month, said the right of an individual to refuse should be respected in line with the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience.

Aosaki said he does not like the anthem because of its link to the nation’s past militarism and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. “I cannot bear being compelled to sing the song,” he said.

A teacher of a high school in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, who will also receive a 10 percent pay cut for a month, said such forced compliance must not happen in a democracy.

“I am afraid students who saw teachers yield to orders from higher authorities think they also must obey,” said the teacher, who declined to be named.

He said he fears he will eventually be fired if he continues to disobey the principal’s orders.

On Thursday, the board imposed a 10 percent salary cut for six months on four teachers, including those who refused three times to rise and sing the anthem. The board also canceled its decision to re-employ a teacher reaching retirement age who refused to stand for the anthem in a recent ceremony, for the new academic year.

The board said the curriculum guidelines, which require teachers to have students sing the anthem, are legally binding. But Waseda University professor Hiroshi Nishihara said the guidelines have no legal power over details of the education that students receive. He said it is extraordinary that the board punished teachers who did not follow the guidelines.

The guidelines define items to be taught, including Japanese history encompassing all eras. He pointed out that although teachers often skip some parts because they do not have time to teach them all, no local governments punish them.

An increasing number of local governments are pressuring teachers to sing the anthem. But the metro government is taking the most hardline stance toward teachers who refuse to do so. Critics say Gov. Shintaro Ishihara is behind the board’s position on the issue.

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