Yuriko Koike’s election as Tokyo governor could complicate already strained Japan-South Korea ties if she follows through with her promise to kill the metropolitan government’s plan to lease a property in Shinjuku Ward to be used as a new Korean school.
Officials of Korean community groups in Tokyo expressed hope Monday that the plan will survive despite her overwhelming win in Sunday’s race. They said Korean residents desperately need a second school in Tokyo as the existing one — also in Shinjuku Ward — has reached its capacity and has a long waiting list.
“We’ve been looking for a site for a new school for years, but it was really hard to find a good property,” said Jeong Yong-soo, secretary-general of the Federation of Korean Associations, Japan. “The Shinjuku site is ideal, as it is close to the other Korean school, and because a lot of Koreans live in the ward.”
During a visit to the planned site on July 9, Koike said she intended to cancel the leasing plan if she was elected.
The property, which used to host a public high school until it closed down in March 2009, is now the temporary home for an elementary school undergoing renovation elsewhere in the ward.
“We need to meet the needs of the local community,” Koike told reporters then. “The site can be utilized as a nursery school or a facility for the elderly.”
The idea to turn the premises into a new school for Korean students emerged after a meeting between then-Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in July 2014.
In that meeting, held in Seoul, Park requested Tokyo’s help in opening a new school. In response, the metropolitan government announced in March that it would begin negotiations with the South Korean government on leasing the property after the elementary school vacates the premises next March.
“The site has a school building and a gym, and can be swiftly used as a new school,” the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said in a statement in April.
But some members of the metropolitan assembly have protested the plan, saying Tokyo should build a nursery school there instead amid the acute shortage of such facilities. Some conservative lawmakers have also argued that Tokyo should “put the interests of its citizens first, not foreigners.”
Metropolitan government officials were silent on the school’s fate Monday.
“We are aware” of Koike’s intention to review the lease plan, said Keita Takashima, the metropolitan official in charge of asset management. “We are unable to comment now, because we don’t have a new governor yet. We haven’t made any moves.”
A spokesman for the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), a Tokyo-based group of South Korean residents, said it is the “collective wish” of Koreans in Japan to have a new school in the metropolis.
“We want the metropolitan government to take it positively, considering that Tokyo and Seoul have sister-city relations and the two countries are next-door neighbors,” the spokesman, who declined to be named, said. “It will be a challenge, as she made it a campaign promise and won. But this is a pledge made between the former governor and the president.”