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Mayor issues ultimatum over suicide

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto was prepared to resign and call a snap election if the municipal board of education didn’t cancel special sports-major slots at a high school where a student committed suicide in December after being repeatedly beaten by his coach.

Last week, the board voted 4-1 to do away with the special slots for physical education majors at Sakuranomiya Senior High School, a specialized school where students major in general studies or two physical education-related programs. A total of 120 slots that had been reserved this spring for students in two other courses of study will be merged with the exams of applicants for the general studies course.

The board’s decision was praised by Hashimoto, who had threatened to cut the school’s budget if it didn’t cancel the slots.

But Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui told reporters Sunday evening the mayor was prepared to resign if the slots weren’t pulled.

“If the board went ahead with the entrance exams (for the slots), Hashimoto said we’d have to seek confirmation from the people of Osaka.

There would have been great opposition in the city assembly if we hadn’t included a budget for the school,” Matsui said.

How serious Hashimoto really was about resigning and standing again for mayor is questionable. It would have meant holding an election less than a year and a half after the November 2011 joint mayoral-gubernatorial poll that brought Hashimoto and Matsui to power. It would have also ruled out any chance of Hashimoto resigning later this year anyway to run in this summer’s Upper House election.

The suicide and Hashimoto’s involvement reopened the debate about corporal punishment in schools.

But the mayor’s own position is unclear. While saying that beating a student 30 or 40 times, as was reported, is clearly a crime, Hashimoto also signaled he approved of limited corporal punishment in certain cases.