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 #