Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Top court rules principal's order to play national anthem constitutional

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a ruling that says it is constitutional for a public school principal to order a music teacher to play the piano to accompany Japan's "Kimigayo" national anthem at a school ceremony.

This is the first ever decision by Japan's top court on a series of lawsuits over teachers rejecting the national anthem in various ways such as declining to stand up or sing it on public occasions.

The top court upheld the Tokyo High Court's ruling in July 2004 after telling relevant parties last week it is handing down a decision on the case without listening to arguments by the plaintiff.

The suit was filed by a 53-year-old elementary school teacher in the suburban Tokyo city of Hino who sought to repeal a reprimand the Tokyo metropolitan school board issued to her for refusing to play the piano during an entrance ceremony in 1999.

Like other teachers, she cited a violation of freedom of thought and conscience when refusing the order. The Tokyo school board issued the reprimand on the grounds of a violation of the Local Public Service Law.

The Tokyo District Court ruled in December 2003 that "public servants must serve the whole of society and their freedom of thought and conscience are subject to restraint from the point of public welfare," and concluded the principal's order was constitutional and the reprimand was lawful.

The Tokyo High Court upheld the decision in July 2004.

In August 1999, the government instituted a law defining the Kimigayo as Japan's national anthem.

Since fiscal 2000, some 875 public school teachers across Japan have been reprimanded in various ways for actions against the national flag and the Kimigayo, such as refusing to stand up and sing the anthem in front of the flag.

A series of lawsuits have been filed by some of those teachers. While many of them have lost their cases in lower court rulings, the Tokyo District Court last September judged it unconstitutional for a local government to force teachers to stand up for the flag and sing the song in school ceremonies.

The court noted the Hinomaru flag and the Kimigayo have a history of being used as pillars of militarism and they are therefore not value-neutral and penalizing those who refuse to stand for the flag and the song is an action which violates freedom of thought and conscience under the Constitution.

Amnesty attacks Ibuki's human rights remarks

Amnesty International Japan on Tuesday harshly attacked recent remarks by Bummei Ibuki, the education minister, in which he said too much respect for human rights would give Japan "human rights metabolic syndrome." In a letter sent to Ibuki, Amnesty demanded the minister retract the remarks, saying they "ignore the human rights of citizens."

Ibuki's remarks mean he has neglected his obligations and is trying to restrict people's human rights, Amnesty said. Comparing human rights to butter, Ibuki said Sunday, "No matter how nutritious it is, if one ate only butter every single day, one would get metabolic syndrome...Human rights are important, but if we respect them too much, Japanese society will end up having human rights metabolic syndrome." Amnesty also sent the same letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has downplayed criticism over Ibuki's remarks.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Residents near Kadena base say they are suffering mentally, physically

Many residents of Okinawa's town of Kadena where a U.S. military air base is located said in a recent survey they are suffering both mentally and physically from the base's existence, mainly due to noise problems.

Of those people living in homes which are across the road from the Kadena Air Base and face its runway, 95% of them complained of their sufferings, with 43% citing ear ringing and 28% hearing loss, according to the survey conducted by the Kadena town government.

The survey was conducted on 300 households between last May and December.

The complaints particularly centered on noise in the early morning and at nighttime at the largest U.S. air base in East Asia, with some residents saying they have to wear earplugs in order to sleep and they are unable to get back to sleep once they are awakened by the noise.

The survey also showed that 90% of the residents are worried about a possible aircraft crash, 78% about explosions of fuel tanks and other things, and 67% about getting involved in a war.

The Kadena city government has repeatedly expressed concerns about the temporary deployment from this month of 12 state-of-the-art F-22A stealth fighters at the base.

Michiaki Tokashiki, who heads the town's external affairs section related to the base, said the deployment could make the noise problems worse because F-15 fighters have also returned to Kadena after taking part in training drills in the United States.

In February 2005, the Naha District Court awarded residents near the Kadena base a total of 2.8 billion yen, the largest amount of compensation the state has ever been ordered to pay in a noise pollution suit involving a military base or airport.

But the court turned down a request by some of the residents to ban nighttime flights at the Kadena base and did not establish a causal link between the noise pollution and hearing problems, thus leading the plaintiffs to file an appeal.

Abe meets victims of 2004 Niigata quake

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday visited Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, where a powerful earthquake hit in October 2004, with some of its victims still forced to live in temporary housing after two years and four months.

"I understand that you are having a hard time in spending a third winter in temporary housing," Abe told the victims. "We will do our best so that you can celebrate the next New Year holidays at own home." After hearing from the people that a major difficulty they face is that many of them need to frequently take out new bank loans on top of existing ones when building or repairing homes, Abe said the government should help them to find sources of income.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Japan successfully launches satellites to complete spy system

The government successfully launched an H-2A rocket to carry a second radar satellite and an experimental third optical satellite into space Saturday from a launch site in Kagoshima Prefecture to complete its spy system for full global coverage. The two satellites were placed into orbit about 20 minutes after the rocket's launch at 1:40 p.m., the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

If completed with the second radar functioning, the four-satellite system will enable the photographing of any point on Earth once a day for intelligence gathering with two sets of a radar satellite and an optical satellite, it said. In the spy project, two optical satellites and one radar satellite have already been placed into orbit. They are reportedly capable of detecting objects as small as about 1 meter.

Friday, February 23, 2007

LDP, DPJ lawmakers to study Nanjing Massacre from Monday

LDP, DPJ lawmakers to study Nanjing Massacre from Monday: "A group of lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties will start examining the 1937 Nanjing Massacre from Monday with the aim of countering descriptions of it in the late Iris Chang's bestseller 'The Rape of Nanking,' the group members said Thursday.

The lawmakers said they have decided to hold three study sessions because they are concerned that anti-Japanese campaigns could begin at a time when 10 films, many based on the book, will be produced around the world to mark the 70th anniversary of the atrocity."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lawyers demand teachers not be forced to sing anthem

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said Wednesday it has urged the government and the Tokyo education board not to force teachers to stand and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem in front of the Hinomaru national flag and not to reprimand them for refusing to do so.

The federation, the country's sole organization of lawyers, also said it issued its gravest admonition to the Tokyo education board on Tuesday for violating the human and educational rights of five public schoolteachers by reprimanding them for not showing respect to the flag and the anthem during school ceremonies in 2004 and 2005. The move comes amid a series of lawsuits filed over the controversial notice the Tokyo metropolitan government issued Oct 23, 2003, demanding that teachers show respect to the flag or face reprimands.

Cheney stands with Japan on abduction issue, gets support on Iraq

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney agreed Wednesday to boost bilateral alliance and cooperate to resolve the issue of North Korea's past abductions of Japanese citizens, while Tokyo gave reassurances over its support for U.S. policy on Iraq and its commitments to promoting missile defense and U.S. military realignment.

Cheney's visit to Tokyo came at a time when some concerns have recently arisen between the two close allies over policies on North Korea and Iraq in an otherwise strong bilateral security alliance.

The United States is in need of Japan's continued cooperation in Iraq under the new strategy adopted just weeks ago by the administration of President George W Bush. But Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma recently irked Washington with comments critical of U.S. policy.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, concerns persist that Japan may face isolation in the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs due to its policy of not joining in providing energy aid to North Korea unless there is progress on the abduction issue. Under an agreement reached last week at the multilateral talks, Pyongyang is to receive energy aid in exchange for taking steps to abandon its nuclear programs.

In a brief photo session prior to his talks with Abe, Cheney said the United States wants to see a resolution to the abduction issue, and praised Tokyo for having played a "very important part" in the six-party talks.

Cheney reaffirmed "unwavering commitment" to the security of Japan and said the two countries are cooperating to deal with the proliferation of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles, while Abe stressed the need to "strengthen the bilateral alliance and mutual trust."

In separate talks earlier with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Cheney expressed his understanding of Japan's policy of not joining energy aid due to the abduction issue.

"I explained Japan's policy and he expressed understanding over it," Shiozaki told reporters after a breakfast meeting with Cheney, the vice president's first meeting in Tokyo during his three-day visit that began Tuesday.

Cheney will meet with the families of Japanese abductees on Thursday, a move Aso told Cheney would underline steadfast U.S. commitment to helping Japan resolve the abduction issue following Bush's White House meeting last April with Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977 at age 13 and remains missing, Japanese officials said.

Both Shiozaki and Aso thanked Cheney for arranging the meeting. The vice president has fitted the meeting with the abductees' families into his tight schedule even through he is not holding talks with defense chief Kyuma.

While agreeing to deepen bilateral unity to press North Korea to implement the six-party accord on "initial" steps such as shutting down and sealing its Yongbyon nuclear complex, Cheney and the Japanese leaders also shared the view that China's role is important in the multilateral talks that also involve South Korea and Russia, the officials said.

Cheney and the Japanese leaders also agreed on the need to continue to seek stability in Iraq and Afghanistan and to promote cooperation on bilateral missile defense and realignment of the U.S. military presence in Japan, the officials said.

Aso told Cheney that Japan "understands and supports" the new U.S. strategy on Iraq, the officials said.

Shiozaki said he told Cheney that Japan will continue to make a "proactive contribution" over efforts to seek stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, referring to Japan's continued commitment to assisting in Iraq's rehabilitation, including the ongoing airlift operations by the Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.

Cheney explained the new Iraq policy, especially the plan to boost deployment of U.S. troops by more than 20,000.

Earlier in the day, Cheney visited the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. Speaking before about 4,000 U.S. military personnel as well as dignitaries from both countries, Cheney said the United States will keep on with the fight against terrorism.

"We know that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness. We know that if we leave Iraq before the mission is completed, the enemy is going to come after us," he said.

"I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat," he added.

During an audience later with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Cheney conveyed appreciation on behalf of the U.S. government over Japan's contributions on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cheney last visited Japan in April 2004 and is holding his first meeting with Abe since Abe became prime minister last September.

The visit to Japan is part of a two-nation trip that also takes in Australia. Officials in Japan see the trip as highlighting Washington's interest in forging stronger cooperation with its two close Asia-Pacific allies.

So far, Cheney's itinerary includes no meeting with Kyuma, who about a month ago said Bush's decision to invade Iraq as "wrong" and later said the United States lacks understanding regarding talks with Okinawa Prefecture over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station within the prefecture.

Kyuma explained away the fact he wasn't meeting Cheney by saying it was due to the difference in rank between himself as defense minister and Cheney as vice president.

Aso has also made controversial remarks, describing Bush's policy on Iraq as "very naive."