Japan’s new Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto has dismissed calls from South Korea to ban the “Rising Sun” Flag at Tokyo 2020, as she became the latest official to comment on the row threatening to overshadow next year’s Olympic Games.
Hashimoto, a former athlete confirmed as Olympics Minister this week, rejected claims the flag is a political symbol.
“On the issue of whether the rising sun flag conveys a political message, I don’t see it that way at all,” she said, according to Bloomberg.
The dispute escalated earlier this week when the South Korean Sports Ministry wrote to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to express its “deep disappointment and concerns” over Japan’s refusal to ban the flag.
The Sports Ministry reportedly told the IOC the flag should be compared to the swastika symbol used in Nazi Germany.
They said the Rising Sun Flag was used in Japan by “extreme right-wing organisations” and in “xenophobic demonstrations”.
Tokyo 2020 has insisted it has no plans to ban the Rising Sun Flag, which is not Japan’s national flag but is still used in Japanese society, from the Games as organisers do not consider it a political statement.
The IOC Olympic Charter declares that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.
A spokesperson for Tokyo 2020 said, however, that it was “widely used in Japan”.
“It is not considered to be a political statement, so it is not viewed as a prohibited item,” the spokesperson added.
FIFA is among the organisations to have banned the flag, viewed by some overseas as a symbol of Japan’s aggression leading up to, and during, the Second World War.
Japan conquered large parts of Asia, including the entire Korean peninsula, before their surrender in 1945.
The row over the flag is the latest example of rising diplomatic tension between South Korea and Japan in the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A trade war has developed between the countries, with both restricting the other’s products in a series of retaliatory measures.
The Koreans have also expressed concerns about food from Japan’s Fukushima region being served during Tokyo 2020.
Fukushima was struck by one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit Japan, in 2011, when a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused an accident at a nuclear power plant.
The Koreans have also threatened to review their pre-Tokyo 2020 training camp plans due to apparent fears over “radioactivity” from the region.
The two countries have clashed over a disputed territory on the official Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay map, which includes the Liancourt Rocks, governed by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
On August 15, South Korean protesters tore a huge Rising Sun Flag to shreds during a rally marking the anniversary of the country’s liberation.