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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011

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Schools of thought: Teachers at schools overseen by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government walk to the Tokyo District Court on Jan. 30, 2004, before filing a lawsuit against the Tokyo metropolitan board of education. KYODO

Film documents teachers' battles with Tokyo decrees


A documentary depicting the struggles of three teachers against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's educational policies is set to be screened next month at a theater in the capital.

The film shows the three standing firm in their principles, refusing to budge against what they call unfair policies despite the threat of punishment.

One of them, for example, was suspended from work after refusing to stand and sing the national anthem, "Kimigayo," at school ceremonies.

"I expect people to see through this film what the three want to protect, even though they have something to lose," said Toshikuni Doi, who directed the film, "Watashi wo Ikiru," or "True to Myself."

Among the three is Kimiko Nezu, a junior high school teacher who has retired since the film was made. In one scene, Nezu stages a sit-in at her school's gate following a six-month suspension for refusing to sing "Kimigayo." She is seen with a banner questioning the constitutionality of her punishment. Her intended message to students: Don't mindlessly obey authority.

Nezu's punishment was based on a Tokyo metropolitan board of education notice on Oct. 23, 2003, directing school principals to order teachers to stand and sing "Kimigayo" in front of the Hinomaru flag at school ceremonies or else be reprimanded.

A significant number of teachers have refused to follow the directive and have consequentially been punished. Most believe the directive violates the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of thought and conscience, with many considering the anthem and flag symbols of Japan's militaristic past.

Nezu, a home economics teacher who has also taught lessons on issues such as wartime sex slavery and the treatment of homosexuals, echoed those criticisms in the film.

"I think it is a problem that this society has accepted top-down practices, as symbolized by (Tokyo's education policy on the) Hinomaru and 'Kimigayo,' " she said.

Miwako Sato, a music teacher featured in the film, was punished for wearing a blue ribbon to express her opposition to the compulsory display of the Hinomaru at a graduation ceremony.

Sato, a Christian, likens the past suppression of Christians in the country to the coerced singing of "Kimigayo" at ceremonies.

She demanded compensation from local authorities, arguing she had suffered psychologically from the punishment and that the directive had violated her freedom of conscience.

Rejecting her plea, however, a court ruling said: "Even if a person has negative feelings toward the national flag, it is possible for him or her to attend a school ceremony as a courtesy without expressing such thoughts, and many people follow official orders in such a manner."

Looking back on her legal battle, Sato said, "It is impossible to create a tolerant society as long as courts remain reluctant to rebuke the compulsion."

Nobuo Dohi, the third teacher in the film, was principal of Tokyo Metropolitan Mitaka High School. He stood up to the city's policy of banning all votes taken by a show of hands at faculty meetings, arguing the practice would lead to the curtailment of free and democratic discourse among teachers.

The controversial policy also is seen as giving more power to principals.

Dohi had forged strong bonds with his students, greeting each by name at the school entrance every morning and participating in club activities.

However, he was not retained as a part-time teacher for postretirement employment, although most applicants are rehired.

"This means those who are against the Tokyo board of education's policy are placed in an unduly low position," Dohi said. "Under such circumstances, freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed."

Filing a damages suit against the local government, Dohi — who left a major trading company before becoming a teacher after uncovering bid-rigging schemes there — said: "Enthusiasm among teachers for serious debate over school policies would be lost" under such a policy.

The Tokyo District Court is due to hand down a ruling in the case Jan. 30.

Doi, the film's director, is a veteran freelance journalist who has been deeply involved in covering Palestinian issues.

"I have tried to report how the Palestinian people live under extremely difficult situations, while, at the same time, reflecting on my own way of living," he said. "I want to show in this film how the three teachers struggle to live by their own values. . . . I doubt I could live like they do."

After completion in 2010, the film has been shown mostly through independent distribution channels. Doi decided to present it at a Tokyo theater, Auditorium Shibuya, to allow a broader range of people to view it. He also plans to create an English version to exhibit at international film festivals.

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