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.