Japanese flag giving rise to further tension with S. Korea

The Japanese government said Thursday that South Korea has misunderstood the significance of a type of flag widely used in Japan that was recently criticized by some lawmakers in Seoul for evoking memories of wartime militarism.

A group of South Korean lawmakers, including some from the ruling Saenuri party, have submitted to parliament a bill to revise the penal code and punish those who raise the Rising Sun flag in public places, apparently aiming to ban its use by Japanese supporters of the national soccer team, for example, at matches held in South Korea.

"There seems no point in saying the flag represents a political statement or militarism. There is considerable misunderstanding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

The flag was used by the Japanese military during World War II, and there has been a move in recent years among South Koreans to have the flag banned as a symbol of Japanese former aggression.

Suga denied any such linkage, stressing the flag has been used in Japan to celebrate the birth and growth of children, while adding it also helps identify the vessels of the nation's Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The flag in question, which has a red circle close to the middle with sun rays on a white background, is similar to the national flag of Japan.

The top government spokesman said Tokyo plans to ask Seoul to "appropriately" consider the matter, the latest episode of friction over historical issues stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The two governments have been struggling to restart dialogue despite a continuing territorial dispute and tensions over remarks by some Japanese lawmakers seen as justifying history, but South Korean leaders have urged Tokyo to show strong leadership in dealing with the problems.