If you've read the news lately, you may have heard there's a political scandal simmering over the operators of Tsukamoto Yochien, a kindergarten in Osaka whose website advocates 愛国心と誇りを育て (aikokushin to hokori o sodate, nurturing a sense of patriotism and pride). Its young pupils are obliged to commit to memory the long-defunct 教育勅語 (Kyōiku Chokugo, Imperial Rescript on Education), issued in October 1890 and nullified in June 1948. This has raised accusations from various quarters of attempts to revive the prewar education system.

I learned about the rescript from "Japanese in Action," in which author Jack Seward related an anecdote from the late 1940s. It seems the manager at the ryokan (Japanese inn) where Seward was staying was unable to get it through his head that Seward could actually converse in Japanese, and Seward devised a ploy to convince him.

"Knowing when the manager would come to take our order for dinner," he wrote, "I had one of the maids bring some ice to my room. ... I pretended to be writing in Japanese (and) while she was mixing a drink for me, I asked her, 精華の「華」はどうやって書きますか? (Seika no ka wa dō yatte kakimasu ka?, "How do you write the 'ka' in 'seika'?")