Public favors flag over anthem, poll shows

Roughly 90 out of 100 residents polled by The Japan Times in Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima this week said they recognize the Hinomaru flag as a national symbol, but almost 40 opposed “Kimigayo” as the national anthem.

The street interviews were done before the expected passage Monday of a bill to legally recognize the Hinomaru as Japan’s national flag and “Kimigayo” as the anthem.

Respondents to the straw poll were divided in their support for the bill. Only 46 said they favored it.

The Liberal Democratic Party sponsored the bill, saying it hopes to put an end to a controversy over the symbols’s use at high school graduation ceremonies.

It was proposed days after a high school principal in Hiroshima Prefecture committed suicide on Feb. 28. Teachers at his school were refusing to obey an education board order that the flag be raised and “Kimigayo” be sung at the school’s graduation; the board was refusing to yield.

Though the flag and song are frequently used at national and international sporting events, they have never been legally sanctioned as national symbols.

The pollees’ ambivalence contrasted sharply with the broad support the bill had among lawmakers when it cleared the Lower House by a vote of 403-86 last week.

In the commercial district near Tokyo’s Otemachi Station, young and middle-aged businessmen found it difficult to totally support the bill or had no clear-cut opinions on the issue.

“Either way,” “I don’t mind it,” were the responses from seven of the 10 questioned.

“Really, I only think about the Olympics when I see the flag,” said Tetsuya Asuyama, 56, who works for a manufacturing firm. Noting he was too young to remember the war, he said, “I don’t have the negative images.”

“You just accept it,” said a man in his 70s who declined to be named, describing how he used to raise the flag on holidays “out of habit.”

“We stopped when we realized we were the only ones in the neighborhood doing it,” he said. “It was too embarrassing.”

In Tokyo’s swank Aoyama district, Kyoko Daida, a 19-year-old college student, gave conditional support for the Hinomaru “only if schools teach the historical meaning behind the flag, that it was once used for the war.”

She said Japan should write a new national anthem that is written for the people, not for the Emperor.

Lawmakers are in such a hurry to pass the bill that the Diet debate has not come close to reflecting the people’s opinions, she said.

Tamie Seto, a 57-year-old housewife who is ready to accept the Hinomaru but calls the lyrics of “Kimigayo” inappropriate, suggests separating the debate over the flag and anthem.

“It’s best to create a new song,” she said. But she added “Sakura Sakura” (a traditional Japanese song) is far more acceptable than “Kimigayo,” which refers to the emperor as the nation’s leader.

Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of being forced by law to respect either the flag or the song, regardless of their feelings for them.

A man in his 20s who said the Hinomaru makes him feel somewhat guilty noted that the national flag and anthem should not be subject to legislation.

Likewise, at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, a woman in her 40s who declined to give her name opposes the legislation.

“The Hinomaru should stay because it can keep reminding us of Japan’s aggression during the war and our responsibility for it,” she said. “But we should abolish ‘Kimigayo,’ which was treated as a song to admire the Emperor as a living god during the war.”

At Tokyo’s Odaiba Marine Park, Haruo Kobayashi, a 46-year-old construction worker, said he welcomes the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” during international sports events.

Nevertheless, he is against the legislation over them because he considers respecting them to be a matter of personal choice.

A 27-year-old man meanwhile said he welcomes the move to legally recognize the Hinomaru but is opposed to making any song, including “Kimigayo,” into the anthem.

“A symbol like the Hinomaru will stay forever, but any song will soon be obsolete,” he said. “I’m totally against the legal recognition of ‘Kimigayo,’ which already sounds outdated.”

A woman in her 30s said she loves the melody of “Kimigayo” but finds its lyrics problematic. “The lyrics should be replaced with new ones to reflect the current social system,” she said.

In Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka, a tanned teenage girl with dyed hair voiced a similar opinion.

“It’s OK to sing (‘Kimigayo’) as part of ceremonies, but the lyrics contradict the current system of the nation,” she said.

A woman in her 70s expressed a strong resistance toward both the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo.”

As an elementary school student in prewar Japan, she said, she began to feel something was wrong with this country after she was beaten by a teacher for not lowering her head while the flag was being raised.

“It is not good that all people sing a song just for one person,” she said.

Akiko Katsumata, 65, who was visiting Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo with her nephews and nieces, said the Hinomaru makes a great national flag because of its easy-to-remember simple design.

“Of course, I am against war,” she said. “As part of Japanese history, it is important to remember, and the flag and the song will serve that purpose.”

Near Koganji Temple, better known as Togenuki Jizo, in Tokyo’s Sugamo, a district popular with the elderly, a man in his 50s voiced all-out support for the symbols.

“Young people get moved and shed tears when they see the Hinomaru and hear ‘Kimigayo’ at events like the Olympics, right?” he asked. “Tell me why they don’t want to accept them (as symbols).”

In Osaka, Yasukichi Murai, who served during the war, said the Hinomaru is nothing but the national flag. “If you go abroad, you will understand that the Hinomaru is our national flag.”

Mitsuo Nishida, 79, who spent some years in the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, said, “The Hinomaru has been the national flag since the Meiji Era. If not for the Hinomaru, there would be no national flag.”

Nishida, however, said he was against the legislation because “it is unnecessary.”