Children over the age of 3 should be “familiar” with the national flag and the national anthem, according to draft new guidelines for operating public and private nursery schools.

The guidelines, published on Tuesday by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, said nursery schools should be encouraged to ensure children under their care become “familiar with the national flag through activities held in and out of nursery schools.”

The report also stressed the importance of familiarizing children with the Kimigayo national anthem as well as traditional events and activities.

The guidelines offer recommendations for operating nursery schools, “with no necessary penalties,” said ministry official Kenta Shizume, adding that a nursery school serves both child care and educational functions.

The Hinomaru national flag, for example, could be displayed along with flags from other countries when schools hold sports days, Shizume said.

The same draft guideline on the national flag and national anthem was found in a draft revision of school curriculum guidelines for kindergartens published the same day by the education ministry.

With the launch of the program Comprehensive Support System for Children and Child-rearing in 2015, the government is making efforts to match the educational curricula of nursery schools and kindergartens.

Susumu Kutsuzawa of the education ministry said it was the first time the kindergarten guidelines mention the national anthem. He added that children will not be forced to sing the national anthem, but the guidelines highlight that school children might be taken to activities, such as a sporting events, that feature the song.

The amendments are scheduled to take effect from April 2018, and the ministries are accepting public comments until March 15.

Journalist Hiroko Inokuma, who has expertise in issues related to nursery schools, said even if the welfare ministry says the guidelines are not mandatory, schools have little choice but to comply.

“There are a variety of thoughts on the national flag and national anthem, so the schools and parents will be confused that it’s suddenly added to the guideline,” she added. “The welfare ministry, on top of accepting public comments, should explain the how and why in detail.”

University of Tokyo professor Kiyomi Akita said that displaying the Japanese flag at sporting events provided children with an opportunity to gain an understanding of Japanese culture. However, she added that schools should be cautious about their teaching methods, and that adults should not require children to sing the national anthem.

Meanwhile, Mami Endo, whose 3-year-old daughter attends day care in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, praised the welfare ministry’s new guidelines for providing children in nursery school with the same education offered in kindergartens.

“One of the worries I had in having my child attend a nursery school instead of a kindergarten is the gap in education received until entering an elementary school,” Endo said.

She said she had no objection to her daughter becoming familiar with the national flag or the national anthem if the same education is provided in kindergartens.

Information from Kyodo added

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