Moritomo Gakuen applies for bankruptcy protection

Kyodo, Staff Report

The troubled Osaka school operator at the center of national political scrutiny applied for protection from creditors on Friday via court-mediated rehabilitation.

The links alleged between nationalism-espousing school firm Moritomo Gakuen and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie, who promoted it, have been extensively investigated in recent months since it acquired a piece of state-owned land last year at a dramatic discount.

The school will try to rebuild its finances after incurring large debts connected with the elementary school, which it had hoped to open on the new but apparently polluted piece of land this month in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

The school is standing empty after prefectural authorities in March refused to grant it accreditation.

The construction company contracted to build the school said Moritomo still owes it more than ¥1.6 billion. Construction costs had been set at around ¥1.5 billion but spiraled to around ¥2 billion, according to the company.

The Osaka District Court, which is handling the bankruptcy filing, has already given provisional approval for the land and buildings of a Moritomo Gakuen-run kindergarten and day care center, and also the home of its president, Yasunori Kagoike, to be seized to pay off the construction company.

At a news conference in the city of Osaka Friday evening, Chinami Kagoike, who took over after her father, Yasunori, resigned last month, apologized but said she wanted to keep the doors of the kindergarten open.

“I want to move forward one step, and I want everyone to keep an eye on our new determination to continue,” she said.

During sworn testimony in the Diet last month, Yasunori Kagoike said his ties with the Abes included a ¥1 million cash donation from the prime minister to help build the now-shuttered elementary school. He said the envelope was handed to him by Abe’s wife.

The Abes have repeatedly denied involvement in the land deal.

Kagoike said he does not believe the Abes were directly involved in getting the drastic land discount but suspects someone else may have intervened on their behalf. The nationalist prime minister is widely considered to have revisionist views of history.

Moritomo Gakuen’s teaching philosophy has come under scrutiny because its kindergarten is known for making pupils memorize the Imperial Rescript on Education — the 1890 edict that was later used to instill Japan’s militaristic and emperor-oriented education.

Prefectural officials questioned Kagoike and his wife, Junko, the principal of the kindergarten, over hate speech allegations in January after they handed parents of some of its pupils letters that disparaged Chinese people and Korean residents of Japan.

In addition to the problems faced by its schools, Moritomo Gakuen is facing more trouble at its day care center, which is headed by Junko Kagoike, because it doesn’t have the proper number of staffers.

The Osaka Municipal Government issued a recommendation to Moritomo on Friday to improve the situation based on the child welfare law.

If the day care center is unable to secure the necessary number of staff after receiving the recommendation, the municipal government will issue an improvement order with an eye to telling the facility to suspend operations, according to municipal officials.

On Thursday, Junko Kagoike told municipal officials that she wants to continue running the facility but she did not say how she plans to secure more staff.

The facility has 45 children in its care and is required to employ six full-time care workers, according to city regulations.

At the moment, it only has one full-time staffer and three part-timers because two others quit. As an emergency measure, the municipal government dispatched qualified child care employees to work at the facility from April 5 to 28.

During talks held at the municipal offices, Junko said she did not recognize that the day care center needed to hire six staffers and said she wanted to secure the proper number by May, according to the officials.