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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Legalising the Rising Sun

The Rising Sun symbol is widely associated with Japan

The Japanese government is to reintroduce legislation making the Hinomaru or Rising Sun flag into a national symbol.

An anthem, the Kimigayo, which praises the Emperor, is also to be given national status.

The flag and the anthem have long been used for official functions but neither has formal legal status.

In fact no symbol has been officially enshrined as an emblem of the Japanese nation.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party is thought to have secured enough parliamentary support to pass the legislation.

Echoes of the past

[ image: Critics say the move will encourage a return to Japanese militarism]
Critics say the move will encourage a return to Japanese militarism
Critics argue that the flag and the hymm are a throwback to Japan's militaristic past and want them replaced with alternatives.

But others feel that as they are already accepted as official emblems they should be made so under the law.

The idea of making the "hinomaru" flag and the "kimigayo" anthem official has been around for some time. But the debate on the issue gained new momentum earlier this year after a head teacher committed suicide when he was unable to resolve a dispute over raising the flag at his school.

Teachers' opposition

Many teachers now say they are opposed to the flag and anthem, but the education ministry has been increasing pressure on schools to honour them as national symbols.

This has been interpreted by some as a sign of growing nationalism in Japan.

Government officials say they expect the bill will be passed by parliament before the end of the current session, which ends in June or July.

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