Thursday, April 26, 2007

Went to Tsurukawa Daini Junior High School. We saw a clear blue sky at last.

The Japanese cherry trees with double flowers were in full bloom last week, and they have remained more or less the same thanks to the low temperatures lately. They were truly a pleasure to watch. I was taking in their beauty after I wrapped up my morning greetings to the students when that familiar elderly man saw me and approached me. "You really are earnest!" he remarked. "Earnestness is my strength," I responded.

Ms. A., who has an elementary-school age child in this catchment area, came to visit me. After she left, Ms. B., who had moved into a home within a five-minute walk from the School, came to see me. Ms. B. said she finally caught me after a few tries. I was grateful to know that both Ms. A. and Ms. B. had been thinking about me.

A woman on her bicycle stopped, read my sign, and dropped a word: "Again?" I did not know what to make of it, and so I asked her: "May I ask what you mean by that?" She responded by one negative word, and then continued: "But you also have been awarded a prestigious teaching award, as I understand." She said she "read about [me] in the newspaper." She continued: "You are a well-known person with the award under your belt. A person like yourself ought not to be standing in a place like this. Why don't you pour your energy into something more meaningful?" Without pausing to hear my response, she pedaled her bicycle away. (Note: The award she mentioned refers to Utako Tada Anti-Oppression Human Rights Award.)

This woman seems to have made a superficial judgment on the contrast between the punishment and the recognition I received, rather than examining each for its content. There may be many people like her, contrary to my wishful expectations. When I was punished thirteen years ago, a talk was given at a junior high school in the City of Hachioji. As I understand it, the talk was about me and its take was not unlike that of this woman.

A little after 10:30am, three university students from Yokohama came to see me. I had been contacted by them the day before. As we talked, I could tell how deeply and seriously these students were thinking about issues in our society and the ways in which they were trying to live their lives. I had planned to spend about an hour with these ladies and to attend a seminar in the afternoon, but their enthusiasm moved me to change my plans. I decided to continue our discussion. Ms. B. was kind enough to invite us all to her home and treat us all for lunch.

When I returned to the outside of the school gates, a bouquet of dandelions and double cherry blossoms was left on my chair. Looking at the way the flowers were bundled, I could tell right away that it was from Ms. C. (an elementary school child)! I felt enfolded in the feeling of deep happiness. When I returned home, I sent Ms. C. a "Thank You!" note by e-mail. I was right -- it was indeed Ms. C. who left me the bouquet. I learned that Ms. C. and her mother were waiting for my return for an hour. I am so sorry, Ms. C.

Among the students coming out of the school gates to go home, there was one 7th grader who looked at my sign carefully and said, "My mother is saying she is not going to stand up for the 'Kimigayo' song, either." This student and I began to talk about interpretations of the song's words.

In the evening, I had a visit from three students who attended a film-making school. These students were very earnest and they had a firm sense of themselves. A student, Mr. D. from South Korea, was particularly well-prepared, making me think that he must have read almost everything I had written.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Arrived at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office at 8:00am. Handed out a leaflet to those who worked there, and, using a microphone, appealed to them for support of our cause. 14 of us all together, including young people for whom it was their first time to hand out a leaflet of any kind. We made speeches with a microphone at two different places, which contributed to making the whole thing rather an enjoyable occasion.

Following that, we headed to the Department of Education and Information of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. We were going to submit more signed petitions "An appeal for no unwarranted measures against teachers who choose not to stand up for the Kimigayo song at the school entrance and graduation ceremonies," although the measure of suspending us from teaching has already been taken. We still wanted to communicate the support of those who had signed the petition from all over Japan.

The 30th floor where the Department of Education and Information is located was under the special security operation. As usual, that security operation was directed only toward us, which consisted of tightly closed doors and two clerks with an armband that read "Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education" obstructing our way. They claimed that they had to block our way"because a group of people had come all at once." We saw a few security guards placed on the floor as well.

We were not allowed in even though we had asked to see the person in charge. After a while, an individual who introduced himself as a section chief of the Department came out, and he saw us outside the doors. We learned that this person had replaced the previous section chief. The previous one had been sent to another department after one year's appointment at this Department. One year would have just flown by him while he was trying to learn the job. One year is by no means long enough for anyone to do any job that may have vision and continuity and may attain the quality of benefiting the residents of Tokyo. Ever since Ishihara took the office of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, clerks of the Board of Education as well as the Municipal Government have been increasingly moved around with much shorter time spent in one department, and we hear many of the clerks themselves find it undesirable. I wish Ishihara stopped making sport of governing Tokyo as well as of Tokyo’s educational administration, basing them on his idiosyncrasy.

We made an appointment to see the person in charge next week. We rounded up our conversation by saying that the time and the place for the meeting would be confirmed through our fax communication. In the afternoon, I attended a farewell ceremony at Tsurukawa Daini Junior High School. Student representatives gave "words of thanks" to each of the departing teachers, and proceeded to give a bouquet of flowers to each of us. I, too, received the "words of thanks" that I felt to be more than I deserved, and I felt blessed and grateful.

My departing comments were the product of a few days of thinking and pondering. I had decided to respond to the students’long-standing questions: Why do I not stand up when the Kimigayo song is being played? Why do I not follow rules/conventions? I prefaced my speech by saying "Even though I am approaching my sixties, it still requires me to muster a lot of courage to say something different from what most other departing teachers would say. And so, I am very nervous and my heart is pounding right now."

The following is the rest of my speech.

"It is not because I do not like Kimigayo that I do not stand up for the song. It is because I believe the schools are doing what they ought not to do that I feel compelled to sit while Kimigayo is being played. That is, the schools demand their students to blindly stand up and to sing it without allowing them to know and to think. Do you all know the meanings of the Kimigayo words and the history that accompanies the song? Do you all know why the Board of Education wants you to sing it? Have you ever thought about these issues?

Before we sing Kimigayo in unison, we ought to learn about the song and think about it by exchanging our views and ideas. I believe that is what the schools ought to be doing. And"think before acting" applies not only to Kimigayo but also to many other issues. For more than thirty years as a teacher, I have been telling my students, "Let us think first and then take an action. It should not be because everyone else is doing it or someone has told you to do it that you are doing it. Let us think with our own heads and then take an action." I myself have tried to demonstrate such a way of being. It has been said that man is a thinking reed. Humans are humans because they think. I sincerely hope that you all use your own heads to think and to act.

The same applies to so-called "common sense." Instead of dismissing an issue by saying "it is common sense," please continue to question and to think. Common sense changes over time and from society to society. Let me give you an example. When we now say "no wars," everyone would agree. But sixty some years ago, those who said that were put into prison.

I hope you will not blindly go along with the current. Please use your own heads to think and to act. In so doing, please live yourself fully. Thank you very much for the lovely year. Please take good care of yourselves.


Wednsday, April 18, 2007

It was a cold day again, raining off and on. I headed to Minami Osawa Gakuen Special Needs School. In five minutes or so after I arrived around 7:45am, one of the vice-principals came out of the school building to watch over me.

When I was saying good morning to the staff members, teachers and students who were coming to school, this man walked up to me and stood right in front of me. "I am O, the principal," he said. "You are causing us trouble, standing here like this." On the morning of the entrance ceremony, he made a complaint to me about what I was doing. That was the first time I met him, and then, this was the second time. Since I still couldn’t recognize him, I carelessly said, "Oh, are you the principal?" Anyway, I asked him what the problem was exactly. But, instead of answering my question, he disappeared inside the school building. I asked the same question to the vice-principal who was standing next to me. "Some neighbours might say something," he said. "If that ever happens," I said, "please tell them to come and talk to me directly." I wonder, however, if there is any chance that people in the neighbourhood make a complaint about me. On such a quiet street where few people pass through?

The principal came out again and asked me if I had received documents mailed by the Administrative & Planning Office. "The School Office" in the Tokyo municipal schools has been called "the Administrative & Planning Office" since last year. It got a new big name now. "Since I have many things to ask them about, I will go up there myself later," I said. But he insisted that I should phone them if I had questions to ask. He repeated "please phone them" three times in a row without any pause, and left.

I’m not even allowed to talk directly to the staff in the Administrative & Planning Office that is located only 10 meters away from here. What a perfunctory and inhuman way it is! Just because I have been suspended, they treat me like this. When I just stood there in utter amazement, the principal, one of the vice-principals and two members from the Administrative & Planning Office came to see me, saying that they could talk here outside if I had something to say. How great… Could this be a common practice in the Tokyo municipal schools? It is obvious that this is ruled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, not by the principal. I wonder how this principal really feels, facing me here.

One mother who took her child to school is looking at the letters on the placard. "This is about me," I introduce myself and explain to her why I refuse to stand up for ‘Kimigayo’ and what kind of punishment I have been subjected to. "You've been punished this much, just because you didn’t stand up?" She is simply surprised. "I have stood up without any doubt so far. I have never thought about why we stand up," she said. I would be very happy if she could use this opportunity to start thinking about the issue.

This tall boy also looks at the placard and asks me what happened. "You know, they sing the national anthem at the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t stand up for that. Then I was told not to come to school until September." "I am so sorry," he says.

Since there are very few people who take this street, I startred reading right after the starting bell. Soon I see many groups of students coming out of the building one after another with their teachers. Some groups are running, and others are going for a walk. "See you later!" I say to them, and some students answer me or wave at me. Some of them ask my name, and I ask theirs, too. I see one group of students with aprons and napkins. I ask them what they are doing. "Coffee Shop," they say. They open a coffee shop for practical training every Wednesday in the building located in the park across the street. So I go to this coffee shop and ordered a cup of hot chocolate to warm up.

In the evening, I was interviewed by a French journalist. I was asked about 10.23 Directive* and following attacks and pressure by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. "If this kind of thing ever happened in France," the interviewer said, "the teachers would never remain indifferent. They would absolutely all take an action to protest against it. Why is the Japanese teachers’ union so quiet?" This difference between two countries must come from different education provided in two countries, I believe…

* 10.23 Directive is the order issued on October 23, 2003, by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education to the principals of public schools in Tokyo. It provides a set of detailed instructions to be followed at school events such as graduation and entrance ceremonies, and they include requirements that all the teachers and staff MUST stand up facing the national flag and sing the national anthem during these ceremonies. It also makes it clear that disciplinary actions will be taken against those who refuse to abide by the order. These punishments include salary deductions and cancellation of rehiring contracts.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Arrived at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office at 8AM. Handed out a leaflet to those who worked there, and, using a microphone, appealed to them for support of our cause. We're in the second year now since we started this campaign at the time I was suspended last year. There were nine of us including Ms Kawarai and myself. It is a little lonely with this group which is smaller than usual, but I am grateful that there are people who support us, who speak to us, and even who extend their hands for a handshake.
At Tokyo District Court from 10 AM, there was a scheduling conference on Tama Junior High School Incident (translator's note: for which Nezu has sued the Tokyo Government for a repeal of the pay cut in March, 2002.)
I headed for Kyoto in the afternoon. The purpose of the visit was to speak at the learning session to welcome the first year students at the university. After viewing a part of the movie "Against Coercion," I gave a speech, which continued to a question-and-answer period. At the end of the Q&A period, a new student with an angelic face spoke: "I was a student at Chofu Junior High School where you taught. You taught me Home Economics." He said his name. I studied his face. His face from three years earlier came back to me. Inadvertently, I uttered a squeal. It was surreal. He said he had happened to see the flier and came.
He said that when his classmates from school got together, my name always came up, and that I had taught them something very important, though they did not know it then. They said, "She was different from the other teachers. She was just amazing." He recalled my lessons as well. "Taste-testing wieners, dashi-broth, etc. It was surprising to have such lessons." He also added, "I will never forget the lessons with guest(s) who had special needs." As well, he said that he was concerned about me after the report of my suspension.
In order to send a message, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education revised its policy on transfer of teachers to one that would enable a transfer only after a year of appointment as well as a maximum of two-hour-commute one way (translator's note: Nezu claims that Tokyo Board of Education changed these rules so that she would have to change her workplaces often and bear the long commute). Sure enough, I was shipped out of Chofu Junior High School after a year. Yet, I am truly happy if, during that year at Chofu Junior High, my conduct, which was a little different from other teachers, inspired/touched some students even a little. To have taught there has significance. Thank you, students, for this wonderful reunion!

The graduation at Chofu Junior High in 2004 was the first one after the 10.23 Directive. One day just prior to the graduation ceremony, I had shared my thoughts with half of the graduating class who had the Home Economics lesson (it is offered only every other week) as to why I could not stand up during the national anthem. And on the day of the graduation, I remained seated.

A newspaper, in its evening edition, reported my feeling that I needed to "protest coercion" by not standing. The principal raged and yelled at me in front of all the teachers. One of my colleagues calmed him down. I received supporting messages from quite a few parents and students. In 2004, when the directive was issued, there were still many people who were uncomfortable with "coercion." Now, after three years, the situation is poles apart from what it was then. Times have changed.


Monday, April 9, 2007

I went to Minamiosawa Gakuen School in the morning. I learned last night that the School's entrance ceremony was going to be held today, so I wrote a letter addressed to the parents. The letter contained my message of congratulations and my self-introduction. I handed out the letter to the parents in front of the school gates while greeting the students. Even though they had never met me before, many students greeted me back.

A little after I arrived in front of the school gates, the School principal approached me, accompanied by three other men (two vice-principals and a person from the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education).

Principal: "Since it is a special day for the students and their families, please refrain from handing out your leaflets here."
Myself: "On what authority are you advising me that, please?"
Principal: "You are a public servant in the field of education. Am I right?"
Myself: "Are you giving me an administrative order? To someone on suspension?"
Principal: "You are a teaching staff at Minamiosawa Gakuen School. Am I right?" "I ask you for your cooperation."

Leaving me with just these words, he started back to the school building without showing any interest in listening to my response. The other three men, without uttering a single word, followed him in. My watch showed 7:42am.

After a while, the two vice principals came out to the school gates. When I asked them what they were here for, they answered they "always greet the students like this."

I headed for Tachikawa Daini Junior High School in the afternoon. By the time I arrived, the School's entrance ceremony was over and the last group of students and their families were starting home. I recognized some of the students and we exchanged greetings.

"Hello. It's been a long time since I last saw you," responded one student with a smile. Another student said: "I haven't seen you for a long time. Do you remember me? Are you involved in the "Kimigayo" issues again?" (My response: "Right. People may think it doesn't make sense, but I never give in however they may threaten me.) "Can you manage to make a living?" (My response: "Somehow I can.") Some students looked at me with a puzzled look, "Why are you here?"

I offered to take pictures for the incoming students and their families.

After the Junior High School students left, quite a few graduated students, who are now high school students, came along dressed in their new school uniforms. It was so nice to see them again.

Ms. A., who is now a student at a private high school, told me: "At my high school, no teachers stood up at the time of singing "Kimigayo. Even the principal didn't." Ms. B., who is now a student at a public high school said: "I didn't sing 'Kimigayo' at the entrance ceremony. I didn't want to sing it when I didn't know why we would sing it." She continued: "I don't know why other students didn't sing 'Kimigayo,' either, but, as far as I could tell, there weren't many students who were singing it. At the time of giving speeches of congratulations, a person from the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education angrily told us to sing our national anthem properly." Ms. B was indignant at this person's remarks.

I even had a chance to see those who are now in the second year of high school. To my delight, there were some graduated students who juggled their schedule to make time to come and see me. Ms. C. was in rage with the fact that Ishihara had been elected to be the Governor of Tokyo for the third time. Ms. D. ran up to me and exclaimed, "Thank Goodness you are still here!"

Many of the graduated students told me they had read the newspaper article about my refusal to stand up and the consequent punishment. We hadn't spoken for about nine months, and how much these young people have grown and matured truly boggles me. There were many moments when I had my breath taken away and was moved deeply.

Ms. E., who is a graduate from Ishikawa Junior High School, and two other students came to see me. They gave me a boost of energy.


Monday, April 2, 2007

Went outside the first thing in the morning. Midnight rain was almost gone, just misty rain here and there. Felt relieved. Today is the "first day to go to work" at Minamioawa Gakuen School for Children with Special Needs.

When I went to see the principal on the 30th, I asked him, "Please introduce me when you introduce new faculties and staff to everyone on the 2nd. I would also like to do my self-introduction at that time." But he replied, "I have to ask the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Board of Education". When I came home, I found a message on my fax machine, saying that he "confirmed with the Board of Education that the attendance is not allowed".
If he does not introduce me to others, I would become a "ghost" for 6 months, and I would not like that. After a lot of thinking, I decided to hand out a letter to the faculties and staff who came to work.

Arrived at the school gate at 7:40. Two of my friends came along with me. I introduced myself, saying "Good morning. I am Nezu. I start working here today. I am the one who is suspended for 6 month because of 'Kimigayo'". I handed out or tried to hand out my letter to each person.

I received comments like "I saw you in the newspaper. Good luck." "You represent our voice. Thank you very much." "I heard from a friend of mine that you've come here". These comments made me feel happy and that I was not alone. On the other hand, there were people who wouldn't reach out their hand to take the letter or refused to take it, saying "I will take it when you can come inside (the school)". Well, this is how a general public is like.

Shortly afterwards, two vice principals came to tell us to stop handing out letters. They probably thought it was their professional duty to stop me. But they were not persistent and went inside right away.

Today I "left work" in a short amount of time.

The following is the letter I handed out to my colleagues.

Dear faculties and staff at Minamiosawa Gakuen for Children with Special Needs,

My name is Kimiko Nezu. I was transferred to work here as of April 1st. You might have heard about me in newspaper reports on March 1st.
This year, 35 teachers were subject to disciplinary action because they did not stand up or refused to be an accompanist while Kimigayo was played/sung during graduation ceremonies in March. I got suspension from work for 6 months, so even if I am assigned to work here, I am not allowed to come inside. I asked the principal to let me introduce myself to you all, but "after confirming with the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education"; he replied to me that he couldn't approve this.

Therefore, I would like to introduce myself by this letter. Please read until the end. Thank you very much and I look forward to working with you this coming year.

I am 56 years old who was born in 1950. My teaching subject is Home Economics. The first school was Oshima Junior High School in Koto-ward, but since my first child had asthma, we moved to Hachioji-city. Until my child's asthma got better, I taught in Hachioji for several years in elementary schools, and then taught at two junior high schools for ten years each. While teaching there, besides teaching my own subject, I also dedicated myself, along with my colleagues, to Peace Education. Those were fun-filled days.

In 2000, I was transferred from Hachioji-city to Tama-city, then after 2003, I was forced to transfer from Chofu-city to Tachikawa-city, then to Machida-city every one to two years.

Thus, I have no experience of working at a school for children with special needs, nor do I have much knowledge (of educating special needs children). Thus I must indulge your kindness, support and advice.

By the way, I am not given any more reprieves after this 6-month suspension. The next punishment will be dismissal. Unless the principal decided not to exercise his administrative order to ask people to stand up (while Kimigayo is sung), I would be dismissed. But I will keep saying that wrong is wrong and act upon my belief even if I might lose my job.

I believe that "Kimigayo" is in conflict with the Constitution's principle that the sovereignty of the nation resides in its people. I also think that the historical issues surrounding the issue of Kimigayo have not settled yet. But that is not the reason I do not stand up. The reason is I oppose any form of coercion, not just "Kimigayo".

I have always told my students in this way---"I would be glad to receive a rice cake if someone is simply giving it to everyone here. However, if everyone were forced to eat the rice cake, I would never eat it, even if I liked rice cakes. This is because it would violate a right of a person who would not want to eat. For the same reason, I am against (singing) Kimigayo.

The end result of coercion is fascism, the state of a society in which freedom and democracies are deprived. If we only recall what Japan went through 70 years ago, no one would approve this. This is my large premise (of my action).

In addition, I believe the fact that Tokyo Board of Education is pushing forward "Hinomaru & Kimigayo" is not only something that is against the principle of education, but also one that destroys education. Education should be about thinking together based on knowledge and material. Unless we give students an opportunity to form their own opinions, it is almost like training animals to merely order students to stand up and sing the song.
It is the same as the prewar militaristic education that drove children to go to war.

The way in which Tokyo Board of Education reinforces coercion by punishing disobedient teachers is like teaching students to "follow an order without thinking" and to "yield to the powerful". It is an unforgivable act to make children think according to the likes of today's government.

I have been educating the students so that they would be able to use their own head to think and to make their own judgment, and to "aspire for truth and peace" (as stipulated by the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education). Thus I cannot support what the Tokyo Board of Education is doing.

I have not had any contact with children at special needs schools so far, thus it may sound presumptuous of me to discuss (the relationship between) special needs schools and the issue of "Hinomaru-Kimigayo" (or "Kimigayo"). But there should not be any difference in reasons for education no matter who is receiving it. The important thing is not controlling (students) by coercion but encouraging them to express their feeling, and to think together and respect each other.

In Japanese society, there still exist prejudice and discrimination against people who are mentally challenged and have low educational degree (translator's note: so students in this school are likely to face these challenges in society). Thus I hope that in this school, children will learn to be proud of themselves and to be able to assert themselves. "Kimigayo" will be an obstacle for such a learning process.

I doubt that there are any teachers in Tokyo who support the Board of Education's coercion and punishment. There are also some principals who do not support the Education Board's order.

I decided, from my experience at a graduation ceremony two years ago, that I would never lie to myself again. I decided to start saying wrong is wrong. During the war, under the Peace Preservation Law, people (who did not obey) risked their lives, but now I do not see my life being threatened yet. I am 56 years old and do not have dependents. I do not have family responsibility. I can survive even if I receive disciplinary discharge. That is why I could make this decision (not to obey). Thus I would also like to raise a voice for younger colleagues who still have their future ahead and have families to take care of.

Even when I am suspended, I am not accepting this improper measure, and I am in a full spirit to work. So I will "go to work" all the way up to the school gates. I will visit three schools in turn: two in Tachikawa-City and Machida-city where I received "Kimigayo" punishment previously, and this school where I was supposed to start working today. I will also go to the Tokyo Board of Education to hold a protest.

I appreciate your understanding. I would be very happy if you could talk to me when you see me.

April 2, 2007
Kimiko Nezu
Address and phone #