Sun sets for Japan's flag-burner

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TOKYO - A Japanese court yesterday ruled that the Rising Sun flag, under which Japanese troops marched in their brutal invasion of Asia 50 years ago, should be regarded as Japan's national flag - the first such ruling since 1945, writes Terry McCarthy.

The court also sentenced a man from the southern island of Okinawa to a one-year suspended prison sentence for burning the flag in a protest against Japanese militarism.

Shoichi Chibana, a supermarket owner from Yomitan in Okinawa, burnt the Rising Sun flag - known as the Hinomaru in Japan - in October 1987, as a protest against Japanese militarism, which led to the devastation of Okinawa during the Second World War. Because there is no law which establishes the Hinomaru as Japan's national flag, he was charged with damaging public property. But the trial was closely watched by right-wingers who have been pushing for the rehabilitation of the flag.

Judge Kyoichi Miyagi said that the Hinomaru is recognised by the majority of the Japanese people as the national flag, and that burning it 'cannot be approved'. The ruling was welcomed by Japan's chief cabinet spokesman, who said the Hinomaru had long been used as the national flag.

Okinawans have bitter memories of Japanese militarism. More than 100,000 civilians - a third of the population - died when the Japanese army made its last stand on the island against the United States in the closing days of the war.

Some were caught in the crossfire, others were forced to commit mass suicide by the Japanese troops. Eighty-four people, including 45 children, died in one such mass suicide in a cave in Mr Chibana's village. When he discovered this 40 years later, Mr Chibana decided to burn the flag at a public sports meeting.

The judge said it was 'understandable' Mr Chibana had a strong aversion to the flag because of his research into the causes of the mass suicide.


The Independent yesterday carried an illustration of Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force's ensign with a report on the trial of an anti-military demonstrator who burnt a Rising Sun flag (below). The significance of the case was the judge's ruling, for the first time since 1945, that the Rising Sun flag - known as the Hinomaru in Japan - should be regarded as Japan's national flag. Until this ruling, the Hinomaru had no clear status in Japanese law.