By Ewa Nowogorski
The national anthem of America is called “Star Spangled Banner”, and the Japanese national anthem is called “KimiGaYo”, which usually translates to, “His Imperial Majesty’s Reign.” As you can already see from the title of these songs, each carries a different symbolism and sings about different aspects within the country.
America’s anthem glorifies its flag, and its lyrics praise patriots who were fighting for independence during the Civil Rights Movement. It is sung at many school ceremonies, on Independence Day, on other important national holidays, before sports matches, and so on. Public opinion of this song is generally good, and people like singing it. During the 19th century, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became one of the nation’s best-loved patriotic songs. It gained special significance during the Civil War, a time when many Americans turned to music to express their feelings for the flag and the ideals and values it represented. Today, it is viewed as a product of its time and is still respected.
“Kimigayo” began to be used in 1888, with the lyrics taken from an unnamed poem from the Heian Period, and the final melody chosen in 1880. This anthem is quite short. In fact it’s the shortest anthem in the world. The lyrics sing about, as you probably guessed, the imperial family of Japan, hoping its reign continues on prosperously for a thousand years to come.
Despite its short length and naive but optimistic lyrics, this anthem is the most controversial in the world, and it became so after World War 2. The national anthem continues to be sung at school events and the flag continues to be displayed, with some prefectures requiring it, such as Tokyo. Teachers are required to respect both or they could lose their jobs. During the playing of the national anthem, it is customary that people stand in respect, and remaining seated is a huge sign of disrespect. In 2006, Katsuhisa Fujita, a retired teacher in Tokyo, was threatened with imprisonment and fined after he was accused of disturbing a graduation ceremony at Itabashi High School by urging the attendees to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem. On 30 May 2011 and 6 June 2011, two panels of the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that it was constitutional to require teachers to stand in front of the Hinomaru and sing the Kimigayo during school ceremonies.
Some people don’t like having to respect the national flag or anthem in either country, and more schools are choosing to not include the anthem in ceremonies in America. It is peculiar that the only place where singing this song is required is in public schools, but in a couple of decades, government officials may finally realize the controversies behind these songs and the meaninglessness of actually singing them.