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Emperor Akihito said Monday that the national anthem and flag are matters best left to individual citizens’ discernment.

Speaking at a news conference, the Emperor made the comment in reference to a controversy sparked by a Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s order in 2003 to make displaying the Hinomaru flag and singing the “Kimigayo” anthem compulsory in public schools.

“It is desirable that (the issue of) the national flag and anthem be considered (and judged) by each and every national,” the Emperor said when asked to comment on the issue of forcing schools to display the flag and sing the anthem.

The Hinomaru and “Kimigayo,” which is translated as “His Majesty’s Reign,” were designated the national flag and anthem by law in 1999. The law dows not stipulate that flags be displayed or the anthem sung in school.

The issue of the flag and anthem is deemed controversial because of their association with Japan’s militarist past.

On Monday, the Emperor also said it was “important for schools to respect the flag and anthem” given that countries worldwide have their own flags and anthems.

“As they are considered to be symbols of nations, it is essential to respect the feelings the people have for them,” he said.

In October, the Emperor made remarks on the flag and anthem in a conversation with Kunio Yonenaga, a master “shogi” player, who was a guest at an annual Imperial garden party.

“It is desirable not to force” teachers and students to sing “Kimigayo” standing in front of the Hinomaru, the Emperor told him.

Yonenaga, a member of the Tokyo metropolitan board of education, replied, “It is my job to make schools in Japan display the national flag and sing the national anthem.”

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