Apr 13, 2005

Excuse me, but your maru is showing

When in primary school, we sang the national anthem loudly and with gusto, because we were taught by the music teacher to do so. Each word was sung with innocence, not knowing what the Malay in them meant.

In secondary school, tired of hearing the same refrain every morning, we began mouthing the words (only singing after being caught).

In JC, you were lucky to be standing in line when the anthem was being played (as opposed to doing CS for being late).

The national anthem is something citizens of any country should know by heart, and are taught the lyrics from young, but not always the history behind those lyrics. I've noticed that it is often young children that sing the national anthem with the most fervour and enthusiasm, perhaps because they are too young to know better. Being proud of your country, flag and anthem should be a good thing, but such patriotism can be manipulated by people of more nationalist beliefs.

Japan is one such example, where recent events such as teachers being punished for refusing to sing the national anthem and the white-washing of history textbooks have shown that nationalism is on the upswing in the Land of the Rising Sun. As a result, anti-Japan protests have been started in China, to the silent approval of the Party.

Things are escalating quite nicely now. Much more exciting than any thriller in the cinemas.

Japan's nationalism rising, by jingo
By Deborah Cameron

It is school graduation season and the national flag is flying high at assembly halls in Tokyo where rules demand that teachers and students stand to face the ensign and sing the anthem.

Severe consequences face those who do not. The Tokyo Board of Education this week summoned a social studies teacher with a 33-year career who sat down during the anthem. Nobuki Matsubara expected the education department to freeze him out, along with 60 other teachers in line for punishment.

Last year, 243 teachers were punished for not honouring the flag and 67 reprimanded for not ordering students to sing the anthem.

These enforced displays of patriotism coincide with other signs of nationalism in Japan. The doctoring of history has reappeared with greater significance because of the 60th anniversary of the Second World War's end.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has harshly criticised Japan for white-washing its history books. In January, two powerful politicians were discovered to have threatened the budget of the national broadcaster unless changes were made to a war documentary.

Ever present is the possibility Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will pray at the Yasakuni Shrine, where war criminals are honoured.

All this is against a backdrop of a defence policy that names China as a threat, and pressure for change to the pacifist constitution. Japan is also taking a bigger role in world affairs - with troops in Iraq - and it wants a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

There is tension on the streets. Ethnic Koreans in Japan say they are harassed and discriminated against. In Tokyo and regional cities, right-wing activists in trucks and buses draped with national flags use powerful speakers to pound out a prophecy that Japan will rise again.

Japan's more muscular behaviour in its region, where it is in confrontations with China, South Korea, Russia, Taiwan and North Korea, has added to perceptions of nationalism-driven aggression.

"Japan is very easily manipulated by people at the top and the people at the top have been consistently very right-wing," Professor Gregory Clark, vice-president of Akita International University and a former Australian diplomat, said.

Acting secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe said he thought patriotic fervour was uplifting.

Senior government officials say it is a "revival of patriotism", not fascism.

"The Japanese are now trying to reach some version of love of the nation or patriotism," one said. "And that does give an appearance that we are going back . . . We are just trying to establish an identity."

Should we be concerned? Our neighbours to the north certainly aren't fretting. Perhaps the Asian identity thing is in vogue right now. Sure, we've only had them as masters for 3 years and 8 months, but as they have proven to the world their economic prowess, the Japanese should never be taken lightly.

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