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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan's sun rises again

Controversial decision aroused protests

Japan's parliament has enacted bitterly-contested legislation enshrining the rising-sun flag and imperial hymn as national symbols.

By a large majority, the upper house the Diet agreed to recognise the 'Hinomaru' flag - a crimson disc on a white background - as Japan's flag, and the 'Kimigayo' hymn as the country's national anthem.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell reports from Japan
The Rising Sun flag and the Kimigayo - a hymn honouring the emperor - have long been used as Japan's national flag and anthem at official events. But now they have been given legal status as symbols of the state.

Both the Hinomaru flag and the Kimigayo hymn are proudly touted by nationalists. But left-wingers and liberals dislike them because of their connection with Japan's militarist and imperial past.

Many argued against legalising the symbols, saying they were closely associated with an age when the emperor was regarded as a god. It was felt that this made them inappropriate for symbols of a modern democratic Japan.

Bitter debate

[ image: Approved after bitter and emotional debate]
Approved after bitter and emotional debate
The debate over the issue has at times been both emotional and bitter. In February this year a head teacher at a school killed himself because he could not get staff to agree on whether to use the flag and anthem at a school event.

Now that the bill has been passed it may not necessarily be the end of the debate. The new law does not oblige the public to show respect for the symbols, although some right-wing politicians called for it to do so.

The government has also said that it will not force students at schools to sing the anthem.

However, teachers could be disciplined if they refused to raise the flag or failed to instruct their pupils to sing the anthem.

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