July 30, 1999

Next month the Rising Sun, indelibly associated with Japan, is likely to be finally recognised as the country's flag despite anxiety that it smacks of 1930s' nationalism, which peaked in the second world war.

Already backed by the lower house of parliament, where the ruling coalition has a safe majority, the decision on its use is predicted to be passed by the upper house because of a centre-right party alliance. Japan's quasi-official anthem, the Kimigayo, is also to be given national status. Both have been used for official functions but neither has formal legal status.

Critics argue that the flag and the hymn are a throwback to Japan's militaristic past and want them replaced. Others feel they are already accepted as official emblems therefore should be made so by law. The Rising Sun has provoked the hostility of British ex-servicemen, but the anthem is more controversial because it praises the emperor and hopes his rule will last forever.

Lesley Connors, a specialist on Japanese politics and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, says that the recognition reflects a change in attitudes to Japan's global status rather than the re-emergence of unpalatable nationalism.

Parliamentary opposition came from the Communist and Social Democratic parties, but Dr Connors adds: "Teachers' unions have been passionate in their opposition to the use of the flag and anthem, even before the proposals to make it official and in some cases mandatory."

The coalition government holds a majority in the lower house but does not control the upper house. Dr Connors says the Liberal Democratic Party, having its majority in the upper house, has used issues such as recognition of the Rising Sun, to build coalitions, particularly with the far-right Liberal Party, so as to pave the way for a stronger international role.

"There really is a palpable worry in Japan at another rise in militarism ... it is perceived in Japan itself that it cannot handle nationalism and that its resurgence would necessarily lead to disasters similar to the 1930s and 1940s," she adds.

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