OSAKA – Toru Nakahara, a lawyer-turned-school principal who at 42 became the youngest head of a prefectural board of education, is a pal of controversial right-leaning Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and a stickler for making sure teachers sing the national anthem at school ceremonies.
Nakahara, who took up the post of Osaka Prefecture’s superintendent of education on April 1 and is now 43, said he aims to teach children so they obtain “the ability to remain confident and live in this globalized society.”
He also said he plans to enhance English education in grade schools with a focus on communications skills. This is based on his own time at a U.S. law school, where he said he often felt frustrated during discussion sessions due to his lack of English skills.
A native of Yokohama, Nakahara is a graduate of Waseda University’s School of Law.
He passed the bar exam at age 24, worked at a law office in Tokyo and moved to the United States when he was 28.
After finishing the University of Michigan’s law school, he was licensed to practice law in California and joined a major law firm in Los Angeles, dealing with a number of contracts concerning Hollywood films and the music industry.
Becoming a father for the first time when he was in his mid-30s became a big catalyst for his turning to education.
“I already achieved my dream as a lawyer and would like to return the favors I received from Japan and the Japanese people by engaging in education,” he said.
It was around that time that he was invited by Hashimoto, who was then Osaka governor, to apply for the post of high school principal, and became in April 2010 the youngest principal at a public high school at age 39.
In March 2012, Nakahara sparked a controversy by monitoring whether teachers were complying with a prefectural ordinance and actually singing “Kimigayo” during commencement ceremonies at Osaka Prefectural Izumi High School. Even some members of the prefectural board of education described his monitoring as “bizarre.”
But Nakahara said, “I simply abided by the prefectural board of education’s instruction to check (if teachers were singing) ‘from a distance.’
“We don’t let students break rules, so why would it be OK for teachers to ignore them?” he asked.
Rebutting some who say he chose to quit his U.S. law practice for Hashimoto’s sake, Nakahara said, “I wouldn’t have reset my life and moved to Osaka only to serve one individual.”