At an anime convention in Boston, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu said off-handedly that the Super Mario Bros. theme should have been played at the Olympics, and not Japan's national anthem. Is there something deeper going on, though?
From Kotaku's earlier post: "Like any good video game composer, Nobuo said that video game music, especially the Mario theme, is very important to the Japanese. He said he felt that Japan has had a lighter outlook since the song was composed. "I felt they should've run that during the Olympic medal ceremony instead of the Japanese national anthem", he said.
Japan's national anthem is "Kimigayo" (His Majesty's Reign). Composed during the late 19th century, the anthem is incredibly short and despised by some Japanese. Many younger Japanese, however, are largely indifferent about the song, and some, of course, love the tune — not for imperialistic yearnings or even nationalistic pangs, but rather, because they think it's a beautiful song and are proud to be Japanese.
(Disclaimer: I personally do not know what Uematsu thinks about the national anthem of Japan, nor do I profess to. Without further clarification from Uematsu, it is unfair to assume his thoughts on the song — and given the controversy surrounding the song, he very may well wish to keep those view private. This post is not meant to imply that Umematsu dislikes the Japanese national anthem, but rather, explore the ambivalence and ill-will some in Japan have towards the song.)
A translation of the anthem's lyrics are as follows:
Thousands of years of happy reign be thine
Rule on, my lord, till what pebbles now
By age united to mighty rocks shall grow
Whose venerable sides the moss doth lie
Based on a Heian era (794-1185) poem, the anthem is about Japanese imperial rule. While the country still has an Emperor, the position is symbolic, meaning the Emperor is a figurehead. What makes some (not all) Japanese uncomfortable is not only that the song is so somber, but that it glorifies imperial rule and carries connotations of the country's militarism during the 20th century.
In a post-World War II Japan, things like war and the Japanese monarchy evoke bad memories of a difficult past. After the song was selected as the official national anthem in 1999, many teachers would later protest the compulsory singing of the song by not standing, facing the Japanese flag or singing the song at school ceremonies. Ten teachers even filed a lawsuit over the song, while another teacher was fined heavily and nearly imprisoned over his protest of the song 2006.
To avoid singing the lyrics, there are even parody protest lyrics. Many of them use English words that sound like the original Japanese words — something that bothers Japanese nationalists. One version is even about comfort women! These parody lyrics allow those to protest the song in a largely undetected fashion.