We all make mistakes when we’re just starting a new job, but they usually don’t end in our boss having to make a public apology. One young social studies teacher in Kyoto wasn’t so lucky, as his error of judgment ended up having serious implications given Japan’s imperialistic past.
The fault? This teacher in his 20s put an imperialistic Japanese flag in the margins of a geography test that was distributed to 95 junior high school students. If you’re wondering why he made this decision in the first place, according to an article by Kyoto Shimbun on October 26, it seems that it was this teacher’s attempt to “encourage his students” with the ultra-nationalistic message:
This flag, also called the Rising Sun, was used by the Imperial Japan Army during World War II. It’s seen as a symbol of aggression to countries that were oppressed by imperial Japan, including Korea and China, and continues to cause tension today as it is still in use by Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force despite requests from Korea to switch to their current flag, the Hinomaru.
“Unquestionably, in China and Korea, the use of those flags remains very controversial, as they are associated with Japanese imperialism and specifically with the invasion of China and colonial rule in Korea,” said Dan Sneider, the Associate Director of Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center in an interview with the Washington Post.
When another teacher at the junior high school found a copy of the test with the Rising Sun they promptly brought it to the principal’s attention. The school then judged it to be inappropriate and had the teacher collect all the tests from students and issue an apology. The school claims that this social studies teacher was unaware of the historical controversy of this imperialistic flag and message, and that he simply downloaded it off the internet to fill empty space on the test. According to Japan Today, the principal acknowledged that while the teacher’s intent was not political, the flag’s implications for some people were enough to warrant withdrawal of the test.
Reactions online to the story were mixed, as some people didn’t see what the big deal was:
“I don’t see a problem with it.”
“Is this a Korean school? As long as the school isn’t connected to Korea then the Imperial Flag won’t be an issue.”
Meanwhile, others completely denounced the teacher’s decision:
“This goes against the international community, it is regressive, ultranationalist, and inappropriate.”
“It’s inexcusable to make jokes about this flag — this teacher needs to be fired immediately.”
In recent news
Tensions between Japan and Korea have been further intensified recently amid a controversy around hugely popular K-pop band BTS. A Japanese TV show canceled a guest appearance by the group after pictures began circulating of a member of BTS wearing a t-shirt depicting an atomic bomb explosion along with Korean independence slogans. This sparked similarly mixed reactions, as some Koreans applauded the shirt as a celebration of Korea’s Liberation Day, while some Japanese people decried it as being anti-Japanese.
— 髙橋裕司 (Yuji T) (@YuJett) November 9, 2018
The story comes in the wake of other nationalist demonstrations in Japan, including just last month on Oct. 14 when the far-right Japan First Party hosted an “Anti-Immigrants Day.” However, many let the JFP know that this message is unacceptable hate speech, and the demonstrations were met with backlash from counter-protesters.
While some local factions are eager to push foreigners out of the country, there is a political drive to have more foreign workers into Japan to boost the economy. The government recently announced a new Specified Skills visa which aims to employ 500,000 foreign workers by 2025.
What are your thoughts on these controversies? Do you think the school’s apology was necessary? Or was it not enough? Have you ever had a related experience as a teacher? Let us know what you think in the comments below.