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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Speech by Misako Iwashita, Former History Teacher in Japan

Good afternoon, I am Misako Iwashita and have taught history for 35 years at middle school and I am retired now.

After the 2nd World War, Japan has been a peaceful country that has never killed any foreigners and has never been at war for about 60 years because we Japanese vowed that we will never have a war again under article 9, in the Japanese constitution. However, the Japanese government is trying to change it.

The song "Kimigayo" represents worship for the Emperor and dedication of people's life for the Emperor. Many young people died singing this song and 20 million people from other countries were killed during the war. Japanese teachers pledged, " We will not send our students to war again." How could I as a teacher of history sing this song in front of my students?

The school board has given an instruction to each school to sing "Kimigayo" at school ceremonies. Since then, all teachers were exhausted by the never - ending discussion and coercive instruction from the school board.

It made our work environment uncomfortable. My co-workers started saying to me, "There is no point in discussing it. Anyway, we'll be forced to do so." "Don't extend our meeting time anymore" "Please don't say anything. Your opinion messes up our team."It was a very hard time to give my opinion to my co-workers. I was stressed out and suffered from gastric ulcers; yet, I had to work every day for my students. This had been continuing till the day I left school.

I would like to share my story about what happened on a graduation ceremony of my students who I had taught for 3 years.

As I did every year, I visited my co-workers one by one and encouraged them "Let's refuse this unfair order together. The music teacher refused to play piano for "Kimigayo", and the calligraphy teacher refused to write the word "Kimigayo" on the brochures.

On the day of the graduation ceremony, a head teacher announced,"let's rise and sing "Kimigayo:. All the guests and many teachers stood up but I didn't. Surprisingly, all of the students and their parents refused to stand up, too. The head teacher told them to stand up again and again with an angry voice. I was scared. Finally, he gave up and turned the music on.

I had taught these 250 students, While the music was on, I felt like somebody was testing us. I believe the students felt the same as me. I knew they had made a hard decision with their pure 15 year old hearts and that just made me cry.

On a first ceremony day at another school, a teacher suggested to me,"Everyone will rise and sing the song, so you'd better do so too or no one can guarantee your position here at our school." I refused and said to her, "I have freedom under the constitution. Nobody can control my thoughts." It was a very challenging situation for me not to stand up and sing with all the people. Moreover, I got a lot of attention from my co-workers, students, and their parents as a new comer to the school. In spite of the pressure, I remained in my seat looking up confidently.

But, in fact, I was almost crushed under the pressure. My heart was beating so fast. My legs were shaking so badly. During the ceremony, I was encouraging myself. It was the first day to see my students. If I looked daunted, how would my students feel about me? I am doing the right thing. I should show them we have the right of expression. One day, they will be reminded of me and think why didn't I stand up? This is my first lesson for them.

Then all of a sudden, one teacher sat down. She was the one who suggested to me to stand up. I guessed she had been struggling between the big peer pressure and her conscience for a long time.

The coercion to sing "Kimigayo" makes such a difficult time for not only teachers who are reprimanded for not standing but also for teachers who are pressured to stand up for "Kimigayo."

At last,The Tokyo governor, Ishihara is appealing to a higher court now. If the 401 teachers cases goes against them, I am concerned that unreasonable coercive pressure will spread to all schools in Japan.

Yet, although this is about an internal problem in Japan, wouldn't it affect your country if Japan would change its peace policy?

Even though I left school, I always want to work with my co-workers who are struggling. I would like to devote my second life to support them and protect the Japanese constitution that guarantees our freedom and peace.

Thank you.

Misako Iwashita

(This speech was made after the screening of the film "Against Coercion" at the Vancouver Japanese Language School on November 3, 2007. See here for the Japanese text.)


  1. Anonymous6:37 am



    自国の国歌を歌うことを拒否する国家がどこにあるでしょうか。キツラノ地区のある小学校の子供たちが学芸会で誇りを持ってOh Canadaを歌っていましたよ。



  2. コメントを心より感謝致します。