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Waving the Flag

In schools throughout Japan, patriotism has been making its way back into the daily routine. But not all in the island nation are united in their views on how or even if schools should foster "love of one's country," as required under the revised national course of study.

Revisions to the document that guides what all Japanese students learn kicked in at the start of school in April 2002. The patriotism measure encourages lessons for 3rd and 4th graders that nurture an appreciation of Japanese culture and history, as well as awareness of the nation's role in the international community. ("North Wind Bows to the Rising Sun," Sept. 25, 2002.)

And in more than 170 of the nation's 24,000 public and private elementary schools, children are now being graded on how well they have learned those values, according to a recent survey by The Asahi Shimbun, Japan's largest daily newspaper.

The curriculum mandate does not dictate how teachers address the topic in class. Some school officials, however, are hoisting the Japanese flag at school events and leading students in patriotic songs, according to Hiroshi Kamiyo, the education attaché to the Embassy of Japan in Washington.

Teachers are also using related television programs, Internet resources, and textbooks on moral education to promote what officials say are essential qualities for Japanese to succeed in the global community.

But the push for patriotism has drawn criticism from the nation's largest teachers' union, and many teachers and parents are questioning the prudence of the measure.

One elementary school teacher complained to the newspaper that love of country should be "spontaneous," not forced. Others worry that attempting to cultivate such loyalties is unfair to the nation's growing Korean population and students of other ethnic backgrounds.

Displays of patriotism have long been discouraged in Japan because of their associations with militarism and Japan's defeat by the United States and its allies in World War II.

But some officials say it is time to rekindle the patriotic flame, while also nurturing understanding and appreciation of other nations and cultures.

According to an earlier report in The Asahi Shimbun, Japan's Central Council for Education, which advises the minister of education, is recommending changes to the Fundamental Education Law to include "love of country" as a basic tenet.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 6

Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as International
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