Teachers at public schools in Osaka Prefecture are probably feeling that the clock had been turned back decades.
On the threat of punishment, they have been ordered to sing a song. And special measures are being taken to make sure they are actually singing.
In 2011, Osaka Prefecture became the first local government to adopt an ordinance that requires teachers and other school staff members to stand up and sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem at graduation and other school ceremonies.
The prefectural board of education has now issued a directive that requires the principals of all prefectural schools to ensure that staff members are actually singing the anthem by monitoring their lip movements. Any case of disobedience must be reported.
The central government’s official school curriculum guidelines oblige school staff members to sing the national anthem at school ceremonies. Other boards of education also take steps to enforce the rules. But they usually do no more than check if the staff members are standing during the anthem.
Osaka’s move to monitor mouths is highly exceptional.
Osaka Prefecture’s ordinance on “Kimigayo” is based on the thoughts of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who was governor of the prefecture when the ordinance was approved by the prefectural assembly. Arguing that public servants must obey the rules, Hashimoto has been making rigorous efforts to enforce the ordinance.
Toru Nakahara, superintendent of education and also a member of the prefectural board of education, is a college friend of Hashimoto, who led the drafting of the ordinance. Last year, when he was principal of a prefectural senior high school, Nakahara stirred debate by checking the mouth movements of the school’s teachers at a graduation ceremony.
Explaining the education board’s latest action, Nakahara said the directive is only natural to ensure that school staff members are obeying the “Kimigayo” ordinance.
At international sports events, it is now common for Japanese spectators to sing “Kimigayo” to heighten the morale of Japanese athletes and praise their victories.
But “Kimigayo” was once used to give Japanese people the will to fight under the nation’s militarist education system before and during World War II. Some teachers refuse to stand to sing the song during ceremonies because of their belief that Japan should do serious soul-searching on the way the anthem was used to promote the war. This fact should be taken seriously.
But public response to Osaka’s move has been muted. Many people now distrust public education, which has been plagued by a raft of problems, including declining academic performances and rampant school bullying. They are also critical of teachers who don’t obey the rules.
This situation may have emboldened the Osaka prefectural board of education to make the latest move to enforce the “Kimigayo” rules.
The number of teachers who refuse to stand for the national anthem has fallen sharply. Sooner or later, no children will know there were once teachers who opposed the singing of “Kimigayo.” Will that be good for the nation?
As time goes by, the number of people with first-hand experiences of the war inevitably decreases. But the war, which determined the course of postwar Japan, is by no means a relic from a distant past.
Why did Japanese teachers fail to stop Japan’s relentless march into the reckless war? The bitter memories of these experiences should not be erased from the minds of Japanese through attempts to suppress the views of teachers who refuse to sing “Kimigayo.”
Last year, Nakahara, after causing a stir by checking teachers’ mouths, said in a blog post that it is important to give young people opportunities to learn about the different opinions about “Kimigayo” along with solidly established historical facts. He is right.
As Osaka Prefecture’s superintendent of education, Nakahara should focus his efforts on this area.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 30
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