Bigotry and Fraud Scandal at Kindergarten Linked to Japan’s First Lady
TOKYO — At Tsukamoto Kindergarten, an ultraconservative school at the center of a swirling Japanese political scandal, children receive the sort of education their prewar great-grandparents might have recognized.
They march in crisp rows to military music. They recite instructions for patriotic behavior laid down by a 19th-century emperor. The intent, the school says, is to “nurture patriotism and pride” in the children of Japan, “the purest nation in the world.”
Now Tsukamoto and its traditionalist supporters — including the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — are under fire. The school has been accused of promoting bigotry against Koreans and of receiving illicit financial favors from the government.
A growing outcry has put Mr. Abe’s conservative administration on the defensive and drawn attention to the darker side of an increasingly influential right-wing education movement in Japan.
Mr. Abe said on Friday in Parliament that his wife, Akie Abe, had resigned as “honorary principal” of a new elementary school being built by Tsukamoto’s owner.
The school sits on land that the owner, a private foundation, bought from the government at a steep discount — a favorable deal that invited charges of special treatment after details surfaced this month.
“My wife and I are not involved at all in the school’s licensing or land acquisition,” Mr. Abe told the legislature. “If we were, I would resign as a politician.”
Mr. Abe and other Japanese conservatives often accuse the education system of liberal bias, seeing it as a place where left-wing teachers spread “masochistic” narratives about Japanese war guilt and promote individualism and pacifism over sturdier traditional values.
Tsukamoto is at the extreme edge of an effort by rightists to push back, said Manabu Sato, a professor who studies education at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.
东京学习院大学(Gakushuin University)研究教育问题的教授佐藤学(Manabu Sato)说，塚本处在右翼进行的一场反击行动的最边缘。
“It’s a rejection of the postwar education system, whose basic principles are pacifism and democracy,” Professor Sato said.
At Tsukamoto, displays of old-style patriotism have sometimes shaded into prejudice.
The school apologized on its website last week for statements that contained “expressions that could invite misunderstanding from foreigners.”
Parents said complaints about mundane-seeming matters like parent-teacher association fees would be met with chauvinistic diatribes, with school officials accusing “Koreans with evil ideas” of stirring up trouble. They said the school’s principal, Yasunori Kagoike, accused parents who challenged the school of having Korean ancestors.
“The problem,” Mr. Kagoike said in one notice sent to parents, was that people who had “inherited the spirit” of foreigners “exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people.”
Mr. Abe has made overhauling Japanese education a priority throughout his career, championing a similar if softer version of the traditionalism practiced at Tsukamoto.
In early publicity pamphlets for its new elementary school obtained by the Japanese news media, Mr. Kagoike proposed naming it after Mr. Abe. Mr. Kagoike later opted for a different name, a change that the prime minister said had been made at his request.
Mr. Abe has supported a drive to amend history textbooks, toning down depictions of Japan’s abuses in its onetime Asian empire, and he passed legislation to make “moral education” — including the promotion of patriotism — a standard part of the public school curriculum.
Tsukamoto has taken the patriotic approach to schooling further.
It first gained notoriety a few years ago for having pupils recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, a royal decree issued in 1890 that served as the basis for Japan’s militaristic prewar school curriculum and that was repudiated after World War II.
几年前，该校首次因让小学生背诵《教育敕语》(Imperial Rescript on Education)而一举成名。《教育敕语》是日本天皇在1890年颁布的一份文件，是战前日本军国主义学校课程的基础，二战后遭废除。
Conservatives see the rescript as a paean to traditional values; liberals as a throwback to a more authoritarian era. It encourages students to love their families, to “extend benevolence to all” and to “pursue learning and cultivate arts” — but also to be “good and faithful subjects” of the emperor and to “offer yourselves courageously to the state” when called upon to do so.
In interviews, five mothers who pulled their children out of Tsukamoto said they had encountered chauvinism at the school or had been attacked by Mr. Kagoike or his wife, who serves as vice principal, often in ethnically bigoted terms. They asked for anonymity because they feared social ostracism for speaking out.
One mother said her family liked South Korea and often vacationed there, but that when her son told his teacher of a planned trip, the teacher said that Korea was a “dirty place” and that the family should visit “somewhere better in Japan.”
Another mother said teachers had told her that her son “smelled like a dog,” and that Mr. Kagoike had called her “an anti-Japanese foreigner.” (She is Japanese.)
Attempts to reach Mr. Kagoike failed. A woman who answered the telephone at the foundation that operates Tsukamoto, Moritomo Gakuen, said the Japanese news reports about the school and its land deal had been “unfair,” but she did not elaborate. Multiple follow-up calls went unanswered.
The land deal that turned Tsukamoto from a subject of raised liberal eyebrows into a full-fledged scandal took place last year, though the details took months to emerge.
The Finance Ministry allowed Moritomo Gakuen to have the land — a two-acre vacant lot near an airport in an Osaka suburb — for 134 million yen, or about $1.18 million, according to government records and testimony by ministry officials in Parliament.
The price, which the ministry initially kept sealed, was surprisingly low. The ministry had previously assessed the land’s value at 956 million yen, seven times higher. In comparison, a neighboring plot only slightly larger was bought by the local municipality, Toyonaka City, for 1.4 billion yen in 2010.
The ministry says it lowered the price to account for cleanup costs that Moritomo Gakuen would have had to bear. It said the lot contained discarded concrete and other refuse as well as elevated levels of arsenic and lead.
Opposition politicians are pressing the ministry to explain its calculations. The national daily Asahi Shimbun, which broke the story, quoted Mr. Kagoike as saying Moritomo Gakuen had spent “about 100 million yen” on cleanup, a fraction of the discount it received.
The new elementary school now sits partially built on the lot.