Symbols of Contention

The suicide of one Japanese high-school principal and murder of another during controversies over whether to raise the hinomaru (rising-sun flag) and sing the Kimigayo (national anthem) have "reanimated a passionate debate, up and down the length of Japan, between the left and the right over the nation's identity," writes Luis Prados in Madrid's liberal El Pais. "The debate focuses on the country's willingness to face up, once and for all, to its past, and the risk of reawakening the specter of nationalism." Liberal Democrat Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's government is promoting a legalization decree for both symbols. (The rising-sun symbol "has gone into general institutional usage" since 1949 but had no legal recognition.)

"The role of Japan before and during World War II is still without an official interpretation," Prados writes. "Until recently, school text-books ignored the worst aspects of the Japanese military's actions during the war ....Students and, above all, the powerful Japan Teachers' Union have been the most active in opposing the government's plan to legalize the flag and anthem."