OSAKA – Osaka’s education chief has stirred controversy by instructing managers at all prefectural schools to check whether teachers are singing or only lip-synching the national anthem at school ceremonies.
The new directive requires principals to monitor teachers’ lip movements when they sing “Kimigayo.”
Toru Nakahara, who became Osaka Prefecture’s superintendent of education in April, said public teachers should observe a prefectural ordinance stipulating that they stand and sing “Kimigayo” at commencement ceremonies and other school events.
Given that it was passed by the prefectural assembly in June 2011, Nakahara said Osaka “residents want sincerity from public officials.”
But some teachers and experts have been critical, calling the measure “extremely formalistic.” Critics believe forcing teachers to sing the national anthem, which for some is reminiscent of Japan’s militaristic past, violates their human rights.
Nakahara, a friend of nationalistic Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, caused an earlier row as a public high school principal by monitoring whether his teachers were actually singing along to the national anthem. The ordinance was passed while Hashimoto, also co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), was serving as Osaka governor.
The new directive was compiled by the prefectural board of education, based on Nakahara’s instructions.
Issued to a total of 169 schools Sept. 4, it stipulates: “(A school principal) must check whether or not staff are standing and singing (the national anthem). Such an inspection will be conducted visually by the vice principal or chief of the (nonteaching) administrative division.”
At a news conference Friday, Nakahara said: “The ordinance states that (teachers) ‘stand up and sing.’ If you just check they’re standing up but not singing, it would be unbalanced.”
When asked about criticism of his directive, Nakahara replied: “We inserted a line that said, ‘we want you to show the sincerity of public employees (by singing the national anthem properly).’ Prefectural residents want that.”
The prefectural high school teachers’ union has criticized the directive. “Whether or not to sing (“Kimigayo”) is an act rooted very deeply in the heart of an individual, and interfering with it would constitute a human rights violation,” one of its officials said.
On Thursday, the union submitted a petition asking Nakahara to withdraw the directive. Some school officials also expressed anger, saying it would “tarnish” graduation ceremonies.
Naoki Ogi, an expert on education issues, said the directive does not make much sense because checking whether teachers are lip-synching the national anthem is not the responsibility of school principals.
“Education is about finding answers calmly and flexibly. The tighter the control, the more it makes us wonder whether (Nakahara) has a feeling of respect for the national anthem or not,” Ogi said.