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Japan may give official status to flag, anthem

TOKYO (Reuters) -- The Japanese government Friday submitted to parliament a bill to grant official status to the nation's flag and anthem, despite a key opposition party's wariness about formalizing the controversial symbols.

"I would like to meet with each (opposition) party and discuss with great solemnity as to why we should pass the bill," Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi told a news conference.The Rising Sun or "Hinomaru" flag, a red disc in the centre of a white field, has been used since the early 1600s but became widely identified with Japanese militarism during its expansion into Asia in the years up to and during World War Two.

The flag and the "Kimigayo" anthem, whose lyrics are taken from a 10th-century poem that venerates the emperor, have no legal or constitutional status as national symbols.

The bill designates them as the national flag and anthem but would not require people to "respect" them, as some countries do.

The bill, first submitted in March but then dropped, was revived last month when it appeared it might win the support of the Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party, which has a swing vote in the Upper House of parliament.