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The ruling coalition has agreed to include a clause on patriotism in a bill that will revise the Fundamental Law of Education for the first time, although Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has not decided when to send the bill to the Diet. The 1947 law, although drafted under the leadership of the Occupation forces, embodies Japan’s soul-searching on the nation’s prewar state-centered education. The revision, however, will change the basic character of what has been dubbed as the constitution of education, and could infringe on freedom of thought.

The agreement between the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito is the outcome of a 3-year-old move to give a legal background to the effort to use education to instill a “love of the country” in students. In March 2003, the Central Education Council issued a report calling for a revision of the law to stress the importance of “nurturing hearts that love the homeland and nation.” Some LDP members have complained that the law attaches too much importance to individual rights and fails to sufficiently instill in citizens a sense of public duty, contributing to a more self-centered postwar Japanese society.

The LDP and Komeito have now agreed to insert the following phrase into the law: “Cultivate an attitude that respects tradition and culture, loves the nation and the homeland that have fostered them, respects other nations, and contributes to peace and development of international society.”

This convoluted phrase is a product of compromise. The LDP had demanded the expression: “A heart that loves the nation,” while Komeito had called for the expression: “A heart that treasures the nation.” Komeito said that the LDP’s phrase was reminiscent of Japan’s wartime nationalism and totalitarianism, a stance that originates from the experience of some of the leaders of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization from which Komeito was born. Soka Gakkai leaders were oppressed by the government and one died in prison. The latter half of the final phrase — “respects other nations and contributes to peace and development of international society” — appears to be a device to dilute the impression that this new clause is laden with patriotism.

The two parties also agreed to mention in the revision bill life-long education, family discipline, inheritance of tradition, and cooperation among families, schools and community.

In an effort to expel fears that the revised law could lead to the imposition of blind loyalty to the powers that be or the government, the LDP lawmaker and former Education Minister Tadamori Oshima, chairman of a joint LDP-Komeito panel on a revision of the law, said that the two parties had a common understanding that the concept of “nation” to be included in the revision bill does not include “government organs.” Once the revised law goes into force, however, the Japanese word “kuni” to express the “nation” could be interpreted in many ways, including to mean the “state” as represented by government organs. The possibility that the government would instill the type of “love of the nation” it prefers into the hearts of children also cannot be ruled out. “Patriotism” might be added to the subjects listed in children’s school reports. Love of one’s country, however, is a sentiment that should grow naturally in the heart of each citizen.

The insertion of “love of the nation” into the law suggests that there is just one correct way to love the nation and that it must be upheld by the people. But loving the nation can take various forms, including criticism of the government, government policies and political parties.

A real love of the nation should start with love of family members, friends, neighbors and communities, which then eventually culminates into love of the homeland and the nation. Such love is something that should be nurtured by the people first and foremost, without the intervention of the government and the imposition of a new law. If the nurturing of such love is to be encouraged, senior members of society — especially officials and politicians — can effectively do so by serving as good-citizen role models. It should be reminded that the nation is not supernatural, it is not a deity and it does not demand love or reverence. Rather it exists as a result of the long history of its people’s toil and labor.

The Fundamental Law of Education has often been blamed by conservatives for the self-centered attitudes that supposedly prevail today. But such criticism is absurd. Far from encouraging selfish attitudes, the law embraces a full development of personality; the rearing of people who love truth, peace and justice; a respect for labor; the cultivating of a deep sense of responsibility, and the creation of a culture that stresses both universal values and individuality. Rather than change the law, we should ensure its spirit is properly followed so that its ideals take firm root in the hearts of our youth.

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