The operator of three cooking schools in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, is scrapping its long-standing policy of barring foreign students, its chairman said Friday.

Ever since its establishment in 1976, Konsho Gakuen has maintained a Japanese-only policy “without thinking it’s a big deal,” Chairman Akio Imai told The Japan Times on Friday.

“I’m very sorry that I was immature and stubborn,” he said, pledging to overcome what he described as his own long-standing fear of accepting foreigners.

In November 2012, a 19-year-old Peruvian student complained to the Saitama Prefectural Government that he tried to take classes at one of the private schools but was rejected. This prompted the prefecture to urge Imai on several occasions to revise the policy. He ignored it.

The discriminatory policy then started drawing attention from local media.

When contacted by The Japan Times, Imai said he had decided to ditch the policy and said all three schools would start accepting applications from foreign students from the next academic year.

The decision came only a few months after an incident at a J. League soccer game fueled a nationwide debate about racial discrimination. At the game, fans of the Urawa Reds hung a banner above the stadium entrance declaring, in English, “Japanese Only.” The J. League punished the team for failing to remove the banner by forcing it to play its next home game in an empty stadium.

“I acknowledge that the (‘no-foreigner’ part) of our admission policy was terribly misleading,” Imai said without elaborating.

Imai said the remote location of his cooking schools in Kumagaya kept them somewhat isolated from the trends of globalization, making the mere thought of taking in foreign students “inconceivable.”

“I also acknowledge that we’ve had this fear about what would happen if we accepted foreigners. We’ve been afraid that there will be unpredictable consequence if we do,” Imai said without elaborating.

As for the no-foreigner policy, Imai said he never thought it would be considered discriminatory or xenophobic, despite warnings from the prefectural government, which has no authority to order a change in the private school’s policy.

“I thought other schools were doing the same, too,” he said.

After media pressure built, however, he spoke with the schools’ principals and decided Friday that he should make the admission policy “fairer” and bring it “up to date.”

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