Letter to Governor Ishihara: "Leadership Please"
Daniel Dolan (Associate Professor, Meikai University)
Dear Tokyo Governor Ishihara,
First, let me thank you for taking on the difficult task of leading Tokyo. The burden of leadership in democratic societies includes cultivation of a keen sense of fairness, appreciation for cultural diversity, and recognition of the value of individual freedom of expression. A leader also needs the wisdom not to force his or her personal beliefs on those within the leader's sphere of influence.
I wonder, then, about your position regarding recent moves by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education to take official disciplinary action against school teachers who do not successfully require students to stand and sing Kimigayo, the national anthem, during entrance and graduation ceremonies, or who do not themselves stand and sing. Surely you must know all or most of these board members, and of course you are aware of what the board is calling "guidance" in this matter. A May 28, 2004 Asahi Shimbun article reports that 250 teachers have been disciplined so far, which effectively ends the careers of many of these individuals. "Stern warnings" apparently will go out or have already gone out to an additional 57 teachers.
I and many others believe that it is important for you to exercise leadership in this matter immediately, thereby re-affirming Article 19 of Japan's constitution which insures that "freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated". Citizens of Japan have confidence that you fully support such key democratic freedoms, as evidenced by your rather original and repeated public proclamations concerning the moral character of Chinese residents of this country and the unquestionable sanctity of the Imperial family.
Just one more question related to this muddle-headed Tokyo Board of Education directive. Although I am sure you were misquoted or were the victim of some kind of smear tactic to attempt to make your views seem backward (whereas of course a leader's views must, by definition, be forward-thinking), did you notice that journalists have quoted you as saying at a March 2004 news conference that "the very act of obeying is what education is all about"? The Asahi Shimbun translated your remark as "following the rules itself is a part of education", but you get the idea.
Governor Ishihara, you have a reputation as a learned man of letters, so I am confident that you would agree that while obeying the rules is what prisons and traffic laws are all about, education is fundamentally about exactly the opposite. The hallmark of quality education in democracies developed from Socrates' notion of dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be pursued by modifying one's position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas. Soldiers, beginning with the Spartans of ancient Greece, generally are expected to follow orders of superiors to ensure operational integrity and efficiency, but students thrive on critical thinking. To facilitate learning, schools must actively encourage students - let's call them "learners" - to engage in rigorous questioning and analysis of any and all scientific, philosophical, political, legal and religious tenets or established wisdom. Here are two examples: (1) When Japan Tobacco encourages smokers to observe proper smoking etiquette, should we suppose that overwhelming evidence of horrific health effects wrought by smoking ought to lose out to pleas for good smoking manners? (2) If Tokyo has legally enforceable public noise restrictions, why are huge trucks armed with loudspeakers allowed by police to blast ear-splitting political rants at seemingly oblivious pedestrians, even when parked illegally for hours at a time only 100 meters directly in front of the police box at Hachiko square in Shibuya?
Governor, many citizens prefer not to have to endure these outrageous violations of our constitutional right to reasonably peaceful public spaces, although most seem too frightened of political extremist groups (who seem to enjoy the quiet protection of government officials and policies) to protest. But I digress.
Returning to the importance of leadership, I conclude this letter with a final request: This week please mandate freedom of expression in our schools by rescinding the scary national anthem "guidance" by the Tokyo Board of Education. Then next week let's give public peace and an associated higher quality of life to the city by banning all non-emergency services uses of loudspeakers in public spaces.