Kanji tester’s shady deals prompt raid

Kyodo

The education ministry raided on Monday the head office of a public-interest corporation for administering kanji aptitude tests over allegations it engaged in illegal business practices.

Ministry officials searched the headquarters of the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation to review financial reports and other documents. The foundation’s head, Noboru Okubo, is alleged to have been at the center of the illegal practices.

According to ministry officials, the Kyoto-based body, which is allowed to seek strictly limited profits, posted hefty gains of ¥1.5 billion over two years from fiscal 2006 amid the ever-growing popularity of kanji examinations.

The foundation also paid roughly ¥6.6 billion to outside businesses during the 2006-2008 fiscal years, including ¥800 million to an advertising company on whose board Okubo serves, and ¥2.7 billion to a publishing firm. Another company, represented by the foundation’s deputy head, got ¥3.1 billion for scoring the tests.

In addition, the foundation allegedly bought land and buildings in Kyoto for a combined ¥670 million.

The education ministry had earlier called for a lowering of test fees and greater transparency in business deals, only to receive tepid responses from the foundation, prompting the latest raid that also included interviews with its employees.

The foundation said on its Web site it is currently trying to establish whether the allegations are true, while arguing that the ministry’s search of its office “had been scheduled in advance.”

Kanji achievement tests began in 1975 with only 700 applicants, and the ministry began issuing certificates in 1992 as the size of tests steadily grew.

In fiscal 2007, the number of applicants totaled 2.7 million and ranged from age 3 to 97, an upsurge from 120,000 in 1992 and about 1 million in 1997. There are a dozen degrees of difficulty, with the top level requiring knowledge of about 6,000 characters. Current test fees vary between ¥1,500 and ¥5,000 depending on the difficulty.

Indicating how widespread the tests have become, a growing number of colleges and junior colleges use kanji certificates as part of their entrance examination screening process.