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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008

Nakagawa has ministry hoist Hinomaru


Staff writer

Despite opposition from media organizations, the Finance Ministry displayed the Hinomaru flag in its press briefing room Friday under orders from Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa.

News photo
Issue flagged: Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa (right) gives a press conference Friday with the Hinomaru nearby. KYODO PHOTO

In other nations, displaying the national flag in a government press briefing room may be normal. But in Japan, the Hinomaru, which officially became the national flag in 1999, remains contentious due to its association with the country's past militarism.

When Nakagawa was agriculture minister that same year, he riled ministry press club members by placing the Hinomaru in the farm ministry's briefing room.

"When the law on the national anthem and national flag was enacted, then Prime Minister (Keizo) Obuchi told Cabinet ministers to display the national flag in the ministry, where it carries an official function," Nakagawa said Friday while conducting a regular news conference.

The briefing room is a place where the Finance Ministry provides information to the public, which makes it an official event, said Nakagawa, a right-leaning lawmaker in the Liberal Democratic Party.

"Not displaying the flag in the press briefing room means (the minister) disobeyed orders from the prime minister," he said. "That is my understanding."

About one-half of government ministries currently have Hinomaru flags displayed in their press briefing rooms. When Nakagawa served as minister of economy, trade and industry from 2003 to 2005, the flag was already on display.

The press club at the Finance Ministry submitted a statement to the ministry Wednesday, requesting that it "make a careful decision" on whether it will display the flag in the briefing room.

But the ministry ultimately decided to display the flag on Nakagawa's instructions, officials said.

In the statement, some press club members strongly opposed the move, while others said it should be up to the ministry to decide.

"The press briefing room should be a neutral place on policies and politics," one member said. "The national flag should not be displayed there because some people are not comfortable with it."

Nakagawa should display the flag if he wants to and the next minister can do so as well if so compelled by political beliefs, another member said.

During Friday's news conference, one reporter said he strongly opposed Nakagawa's move.

"Press club members have been discussing the matter in a gentlemanlike manner" to avoid clashing with Nakagawa, the reporter said. "But you decided to display the national flag anyway and I protest."



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