OSAKA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, resigned as honorary head of a private elementary school in Osaka whose parent firm is caught up in a growing scandal over a suspicious land deal and allegations of hate speech, as questions mount about not only the prime minister, but also Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s ties with the school.
Abe’s wife had been named honorary principal of Moritomo Gakuen’s Mizuho no Kuni elementary school, which is expected to open this April. A photograph and a message from her had been prominently displayed at the top of the school’s web page until Thursday, when it was removed without explanation.
“Based on its remarkable moral education, Mizuho no Kuni elementary school fosters children to have pride as a Japanese and a strong inner self,” Akie had written in the deleted greetings.
In September 2015, she attended an event held at a kindergarten run by Moritomo Gakuen and said in a speech: “If they receive education from public schools, the strong inner self that they’ve grown here might be weakened,” according to an edited version of the speech televised Thursday night.
Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee on Friday that his wife originally refused to be named honorary principal but was introduced by that title just before she delivered it.
When she complained afterward, there was a lot of back and forth between her and the school concerning the fact that because she’d just been introduced in that role, it would now be difficult to refuse, the prime minister added. But she has now officially resigned, he emphasized.
In addition to Akie Abe, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada admitted during Diet questioning Thursday that she sent Moritomo Gakuen President Yasunori Kagoike a certificate of appreciation last October in her role as minister. Inada said she is now considering withdrawing the certificate.
Moritomo Gakuen faces growing questions in both the Diet and the Osaka Prefectural Government over a discounted land deal for the new elementary school that saw the company pay only ¥134 million for a parcel that was appraised at over ¥956 million.
The land is near Osaka’s Itami airport and was formerly owned by the transport ministry.
The school also finds itself facing a possible hate speech investigation by the prefecture after it sent a letter insulting Korean and Chinese residents.
Moritomo Gakuen forces its students to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, an 1890 edict issued by Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) that has been linked to Japan’s prewar militaristic education, which emphasized Japanese superiority over other nations.
Abe’s approval rating rose five points to 66 percent in a media survey after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. But analysts warned that his popularity could soon take a hit.
“The thing that makes a scandal really serious is when it keeps getting headlines,” said Chuo University political science professor Steven Reed.
Information from Reuters added