Newly appointed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may compare himself to a “dojo” (loach), but in reality he is an elite politician with a diploma from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, better known as Matsushita Seikei Juku.

The prestigious private school, established by the late Konosuke Matsushita, founder of the Panasonic group, is quickly becoming the ticket to the top in Japanese politics.

Following are some questions and answers regarding Matsushita Seikei Juku:

How many active lawmakers are graduates of Matsushita Seikei Juku?

Other than Noda, who is the first graduate of the school to be elected prime minister, the Democratic Party of Japan’s alumni include Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, policy chief Seiji Maehara, former Internal Affairs Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi and former Deputy C hief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama.

Alumni in the Liberal Democratic Party include Diet affairs chief Ichiro Aisawa and former Cabinet member Sanae Takaichi.

How about graduates outside of the Diet?

Former Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakada and Hiroshi Yamada, former mayor of Suginami Ward, Tokyo, both studied at Matsushita before kicking off their political careers. So did Yoshihiro Murai, the current governor of disaster-hit Miyagi Prefecture.

Former Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa and the DPJ’s acting secretary general, Shinji Tarutoko, were all classmates at Matsushita.

According to the school, Matsushita Seikei Juku had 248 alumni as of April 1, of which 73 have become local or central government politicians.

Why was Matsushita Seikei Juku established?

Konosuke Matsushita shelled out ¥7 billion of his own money to build the school in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 1979, after forming the foundation of electronics giant Panasonic.

According to the school’s website, his aim was to “nurture leaders who can promote new styles of managing the nation.”

Who is eligible to attend?

According to the school, you have to be between the ages of 22 and 35 to apply for the curriculum, which lasts four years. The school receives about 200 applications per year. All applicants undergo resume checks and three interviews, and only a handful are accepted.

This year’s entrance exam included handing in a 1,600-letter thesis on what changes should be made in Japan by 2030 and how the applicant intends to contribute to that change.

What is it like for the students?

The four-year program begins in April. Students are given lectures on politics and other fields during the first two years and are required to work on individual research and projects over the final two years, including interning with domestic and overseas firms.

Students are requested to quit their jobs or schools and live together in Chigasaki throughout most of the program.

A typical day begins at 6 a.m. with an exercise routine and cleaning up the institute’s facilities. Meals are provided for free. Drinking alcohol is allowed at night. During the summer, students attend Self-Defense Forces training camps.

Are there any perks?

Classes are free and no payment is required upon entering the school. In fact, the school provides a monthly salary of ¥200,000 for students in addition to fees needed for research.

Who was Konosuke Matsushita?

Matsushita, born in 1894, is known in Japan as the “god of management,” a man who built the Panasonic giant from scrap without any capital or formal education.

Some of Panasonic’s top-selling items sold under Matsushita include bicycle lights, batteries and household light bulbs. Matsushita died in April 1989 at 95.

Does Japan have any similar schools?

Yes. For example DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa has his own “Seiji Juku,” or a private school for politics, while former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his brother Kunio used to run a similar institution.

What are some controversial issues with Matsushita?

Some say that, in an ironic twist, the surge of Matsushita Seikei Juku graduates in the world of politics has made the school a “brand” and has begun attracting applicants who do not share the ambition of those who graduated ahead of them.

“Those who enter the school now are in it just to gain the reputation as a Matsushita Seikei Juku graduate,” Yasuhiro Idei, author of “Matsushita Seikei Juku to wa Nanika” (“What is Matsushita Seikei Juku”), said in an interview this month with the Weekly Asahi magazine.

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