A Japanese court for the first time yesterday punished a teacher for disrespecting the national anthem, which liberals associate with World War II militarism, officials said.
Retired instructor Katsuhisa Fujita, 65, was fined ¥200,000 (US$1,800) but escaped prison time for delaying a graduation ceremony when he urged the audience to stay seated during the national anthem.
The anthem, Kimigayo, or "His Majesty's Reign," praises the emperor. Critics say it harks back to the militarism under late Emperor Hirohito, who was considered divine during World War II.
It is the first known time that a court has punished a teacher over the anthem, although the Tokyo metropolitan education board has disciplined 345 teachers for refusing orders to honor it, a board official said.
"It's clear that there was concern that the defendant's behavior may have negatively impacted the smooth running of the ceremony," Judge Hitoshi Murase of the Tokyo District Court said in handing down the fine.
But he refused prosecutors' demands to imprison Fujita for eight months.
"Considering the actual interruption in the ceremony was short, it is not appropriate to order imprisonment," said the judge, as quoted by Jiji Press.
Fujita, who had retired before the incident, said he was practicing his right to free speech.
"I regard the ¥200,000 fine as opposed to eight months in prison as a de facto acquittal. I will appeal the ruling, though," he said.
Japan has gradually been adopting symbols of patriotism it shunned after World War II, causing concern in neighboring countries invaded by imperial Tokyo.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has infuriated China and South Korea by visiting a shrine to the war dead, has backed legislation that would promote "patriotism" in schools for the first time since World War II.
According to the court verdict, Fujita shouted at parents of graduating high school students: "Today we have an extraordinary ceremony and teachers will be punished if they don't stand and sing the national anthem. Please stay seated on your chairs when singing."
When senior colleagues tried to stop him, Fujita told them, "Don't touch me. Why are you trying to push me out?"
Emperor Akihito, the late wartime emperor's son who is forbidden from meddling in politics, has made unusually open comments recently saying that people should not be forced to respect the anthem and flag.