How quickly the political sands can shift. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s grip on power looked unassailable a couple of weeks ago, now he’s being hammered in parliament over the two perennial bugbears of Tokyo politicians: Comments about China and Korea, and possible shady money deals.
The first one involves a school in Osaka run by an operator known as Moritomo Gakuen, which has a curriculum referred to as “nationalist” by some elements of Japan’s media as it requires kindergarten pupils to memorize what’s called the Imperial Rescript on Education.
The Imperial Rescript is Confucian in tone, but was used in schools during World War II as part of so-called Emperor worship and hence is identified with that militaristic period of Japan’s history.
Every country, of course, has its nationalist view of history, but where this becomes a problem for Abe is a Moritomo kindergarten recently released a statement to the families of potential pupils denigrating Koreans and Chinese. And the prime minister’s wife Akie Abe is an honorary principal of a Moritomo kindergarten.
To paraphrase, the statement said: Some people have Japanese names but they are descended from Chinese and Koreans and have evil ideas.
The media and local officials jumped on this as “hate-speech” forcing Moritomo Gakuen and its President Yasunori Kagoike to issue an apology.
The issue may well have blown over, except it then came to light that the land on which a new Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten is being built in Osaka – the same one where Aki Abe is listed as a principal – was sold to the school at what seems a huge discount.
The 8,770-square-meter plot of government-owned land was sold to Moritomo Gakuen last year for 134 million yen (US$1.2 million), while its appraised value was 956 million yen, Kyodo news agency reported. Apparently, the land needed to be “cleaned up,” so 822 million yen was lopped off the price, Kyodo said.
The Democratic Party, the largest opposition group in Japan and incidentally now headed by a woman of Taiwanese descent, and other parties let loose on Abe in parliament. They are also demanding that Moritomo school head Kagoike appear for questioning.
Kagoike heads the Osaka branch of Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, a nationalist lobby group with close ties to Abe and his cabinet.
The kindergarten school revelations have clearly rattled the prime minister. He said in parliament that he and his wife were not a part of any land transaction involving the school.
He went further, adding that he would quit as prime minister if it was shown that he and his wife were involved.
It is highly unusual for a politician to put his head on the block with such a statement and no doubt Japan’s opposition politicians are now searching furiously for an appropriate axe.