Monday, 4 March 2013

I ♥ Kimigayo

I mean it. I love Kimigayo. I know I may have spoken about it before with a certain degree of cynicism, but I take it all back. Kimigayo is great and the politicians who advocate its inclusion in school events - and the compulsory standing of all present during its playing - are benevolent, wonderful people whose insight and wisdom we can all learn from.

High School graduation ceremonies are held on the March 1st every year, regardless of what day of the week it happens to fall on. My schedule for the last few years has been such that last Friday’s iteration was the first one I’ve had to attend for about three years, and I’d forgotten a few important details about how they’re carried out.

Some schools built during the Bubble have fancy auditoriums where they hold these kinds of event, but most don’t. Most fall back on the foldable chairs in the gymnasium arrangement I’m sure we all at least passing familiar with (see below). And, because these chairs only get used a few times a year, they’re really cheap and nasty. Hard, narrow, spiky contraptions that make George R.R. Martin’s efforts at seat design seem like Philip Starck’s.

Doesn't it just?

Nobody actually likes these events. Every single person in attendance would rather be somewhere different doing pretty much anything else. But social convention is a powerful force (as is the desire to keep your job), and the teachers are meant set an example and at least try to look like they’re not actively resenting the whole experience. We all troop in early and take our seats off to the side of the hall, and by the time the graduands have started to slowly, achingly slowly, slouch and meander their way in we’ve been seated for close on half an hour.

Seated on those hard, narrow, spiky chairs. Chairs with less padding and excess weight than the ‘ugly’ friend of the leading lady in a Hollywood romcom. Sure, they look comfortable and homely in comparison to the usual standard, but underneath the half-hearted costume design they’re just as wooden and taught as ever.


So they’re hard, which is bad, and this time I find myself seated at the end of the row next to a teacher whose build I would charitably describe as ‘hideously obese’. He has girth and I must lean. By the time they stick Kimigayo on the CD player I’ve spent close on 45 minutes bearing my weight solely on my left buttock and grinding it into that hard, unforgiving folding chair. I long ago passed through pins-and-needles and sleepy-limb territory and am now starting to wonder if I’ll ever regain feeling in my left leg.

You’ll appreciate my joy and relief as that first ‘stand’ command echoes around the hall. Everyone else hauls themselves reluctantly to their feet, but I’m out of my chair like a pistol-shot, doing my best stork impression as I balance on my right leg and try to discretely shake and pummel some sort of life back into the left.

Whereas before I felt Kimigayo to be a slow, dreary, and depressing dirge, I now take blissful comfort in its patient tempo and almost insolent air of unhurried languor. But I’ve barely got the beginnings of sensation returning in my upper thigh and we have to sit back down again. C’mon guys, what kind of weak-assed unpatriotic horseshit is this? More singing! More standing!




More and longer and slower and sing ALL the verses, you disrespectful fuckers*. Sing it like you mean it; any national anthem worth its salt should have set dance moves at the very least, even if it’s only a hand-jive. We should have whistles and glowsticks. Kimigayo in the fucking house! Everybody throw some shapes and MAKE SOME FUCKING NOOOOOISE!!!!!

No. Sit we must and I spend the remaining hour gazing enviously on as the students get to go through endless cycles of the stand-bow-sit routine. Lucky bastards. If it’s so important that they constantly bow to the flag, dignitaries, teachers, and each other then surely it’s something we should all be doing? I think so, and it slovenly non-adherence to protocol like this that’s sending this country to the dogs.

This is why I have new-found respect for Hashimoto, Ishihara, and all those other politicians I’ve previously dismissed as right wing loons. Far from being overbearing reactionary bigots, they’re actually deeply caring individuals looking for politically acceptable cover in discharging their duty of care towards public employees. They’re not tyrannically imposing a retrograde and damaging ideology, they’re just trying to make sure no-one gets Deep Vein Thrombosis. And Hashimoto’s drive to send out municipal employees to check whether teachers’ lips are moving is simply to ensure they don’t develop lockjaw from keeping their face in the same expression of feigned interest for hours on end. Who’d have thought they’d take Health and Safety in the Workplace so seriously? Not me, and I’ve obviously done them a grave disservice.

That said, I think it’s clear that they don’t go far enough. The time for these lily-livered half-measures has passed and the only logical next step is to form my own political party. There’ll be just a single policy in the manifesto: the replacement of Kimigayo as the national anthem with the Hokey Cokey. Who’s with me?

*This would have the added benefit of really sorting the men from the boys, jingoism-wise. Who could honestly say that they could sing the second verse** of their own country’s national anthem without the lyrics in front of them?
** I know, I know. Kimigayo only has one. That rather proves my point though, doesn’t it? Amateurs.


  1. Do they make you go to the front and say something in English? I used to hate that.

    1. Oh god, I'd forgotten about that. No, not this year, fortunately. Had to do it way back at the start though, so maybe they felt like they'd had their pound of flesh for this year.

  2. I dunno. I see enforced school patriotism as serving the same evolutionary benefit as enforced school religious education lessons; they inoculate the young-uns against any future flare-up of either excess religiosity or nationalism. And are far more effective than flu jabs. Can't help on the flimsy chairs and hockey cockey.

    Carry on.

    1. No help with the Hokey Cokey? I'd have thought that would have been right up the street of a politically engaged chap such as yourself.

      You and me, pal. We'll give them a grassroots insurgency like they've never seen...

  3. Fortunately for my sanity, I taught school in Communist (non-Hashimoto Osaka) Kansai, where this Kimigayo stuff is generally frowned upon. I think they played it anyway, but nobody liked it and most of my colleagues were grumpy Social Democrats anyway.

    That said, the musician in my really loves Kimigayo. Dunno a think about the words, but the music is great. (Especially that it ends on a non-chord note, but I'll save the mumbo jumbo for later.)

    1. You'll should click on that 'unhurried langour' link then. You might enjoy it.

      I should also properly credit Will with the finder's fee for that, given I shamefully forgot to do so in the post itself.

    2. That was definitely langourous. I kept expecting the drum'n'bass to kick in. Oh well.

      I can't recommend Kansai enough. I taught at one school where a teacher would stand every morning during choseikai to plead passionately for human rights or something. None of this Tokyo nationalism BS.

      (Also better food and funnier people.)

    3. Not spent all that much time in Kansai, though I really enjoyed Kobe the couple of times I visited.

      Wife's family is here though. If we're in Japan, we are where we are until/if we leave. There are compensations.

  4. Heheh, this was pretty rich.

    If only we could complain so bitter-sweetly to our Japanese coworkers about such things. It would make the office a lot more lively, and make things feel alittle more like home.

    1. Could? I can and I do. Maybe with less swearing and commentary on our colleagues weight, but still.

      When I say that no-one likes these things, I'm not just making it up, you know ;)