Why do Japanese teachers refuse to stand up and to sing Kimigayo
Kimiko Nezu, a Home Economics teacher and Junko Kawarai, a teacher for children with special needs, are among many teachers in Japan who are resisting the remilitarization pressure from the government, by not standing up when Kimigayo, the national anthem is played at school ceremonies.
Kimigayo and the national flag Hinomaru are regarded by many people in Asia as symbols of Japan’s wartime imperialism and militarism. Nezu feels that the historical implications of these national symbols are not taught sufficiently at Japanese schools. Kimigayo, often translated as "May Your Reign Last Forever," is a song that praises the Emperor, under whose name millions of lives were vainly lost in the past wars. These teachers in Japan, by not standing for Kimigayo, express their determination to never again send Japanese citizens to war.
These teachers, particularly those in Tokyo where nationalist, Shintaro Ishihara, serves as Governor, are subject to punitive measures such as reprimands, pay cuts, suspensions from work, and prohibitions against rehiring after retirement. What stands out in Tokyo is that the disciplinary measures for the same deed become more severe as teachers repeat the act of resistance. The most recent punishments imposed on Nezu and Kawarai were a 6-month suspension from April to September 2007 and a 3-month suspension from April to June 2007, respectively. The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education had warned Nezu that that would be her last suspension, implying that she would lose her job if she refused to stand up for Kimigayo again.
Teachers are about to be fired for not standing up. They are about to be fired for expressing their beliefs. Have you ever heard of anything like this happening in a democratic country ? This should not happen. This is a grave infringement of Article 19 of Japan’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.
In September 2006, Tokyo District Court ruled that coercion associated with Kimigayo and Hinomaru at schools is unconstitutional. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government appealed and continues to impose punishments on teachers.
Kimiko Nezu took action even when she was under suspension. Every day she went to the school gate and greeted students and teachers who went through the gate. Rain or shine, she would stand at the gate, and talk to the people who spoke to her, wondering why she was there. She called this, "Going to Work Under Suspension" ("Teishoku Shukkin" in Japanese), and she kept a journal of daily events in which she recorded her lively conversation with students, parents, colleagues, supporters, and passersby. This journal was made public on the internet and touched the hearts of many readers.
We, a group of citizens who are committed to support Kimiko Nezu and the other teachers under punishment, decided to translate her journal into English so that more people throughout the world would be able to read it and become aware of the serious human rights violations in Japan. We believe this issue deserves international attention and international action.