The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education punished 52 public school teachers Thursday for refusing to stand up and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem at March graduation ceremonies.
The penalties ranged from warnings to pay cuts -- depending on how many times the teachers disobeyed orders from school principals to rise and sing the anthem.
A law enacted in 1999 recognizes "Kimigayo," or "His Majesty's Reign," as the national anthem and the Hinomaru as the national flag. But their status remains a sensitive issue due to their links to Japan's militarist past.
Yurio Aosaki, a teacher of Osaki High School who twice refused to stand at commencements and will have his salary cut by 10 percent for a month, said the right of an individual to refuse should be respected in line with the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience.
Aosaki said he does not like the anthem because of its link to the nation's past militarism and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. "I cannot bear being compelled to sing the song," he said.
An increasing number of local governments are pressuring teachers to sing the anthem.