National / Politics

Abe moves to distance himself from Osaka school after praising principal's ideology

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday sought to deny allegations that he is linked to an Osaka-based ultranationalist kindergarten as the public outcry over the operator and its alleged efforts to indoctrinate children with xenophobia and pre-war militarism grows.

At the center of the controversy is Tsukamoto Kindergarten, a private school that recently came under fire for distributing letters to parents that accused Korean residents and Chinese of “possessing wicked thoughts.”

It has also emerged that the principal, Yasunori Kagoike, had briefly used Abe’s name in the past to raise funds to build Mizuho no Kuni, an elementary school slated to open April this year.

It was at this elementary school that Abe’s wife, Akie, had assumed the position of honorary principal until Thursday last week, when her name was abruptly removed from the school’s website amid a groundswell of public attention focused on the pair’s dealings with Moritomo Gakuen, which runs both schools.

TV footage has surfaced online over the past few days showing kindergartners participating in a sports festival at Tsukamoto, lined up, standing at attention, and shouting a nationalist chant that said: “Japanese adults should make sure South Korea and China repent over treating Japan as a villain,” and “refrain from teaching lies in history textbooks.”

“Go, go Prime Minister Abe! We’re happy you passed security legislation at the Diet!” the children chanted in the finale, referring to divisive laws rammed through the Diet in 2015 that have considerably expanded the legal scope of oversea operations of the Self-Defense Forces.

The video footage was brought up during Diet deliberations on Monday, with Democratic Party lawmaker Nobuyuki Fukushima comparing Tsukamoto’s approach to education with a certain dictatorship country.”

In a bid to dissociate himself from the preschool, Abe claimed that he had no idea about its curricula or what was being taught there.

“Of course I don’t want the kids to root for me like that, and I don’t think it’s an appropriate thing for them to say,” Abe said.

Referring to Principal Kagoike’s alleged slurs against Koreans and Chinese, Abe said it was unbecoming for an educator to discriminate “based on race, nationality and religion,” echoing criticism leveled by opposition lawmakers.

Abe’s latest effort to distance himself from the principal required a complete U-turn in his demeanor, which had been markedly friendly.

On Feb. 17, Abe had described Kagoike as someone with an “admirable passion for education” and “whose ideology is similar to mine.”

But on Friday last week, he said Kagoike had used his name to raise funds “despite my repeated insistence he not do so” and that his wife begrudgingly accepted the honorary title after the principal’s “persistent” requests.

Moritomo Gakuen is under scrutiny for a shady deal in which it paid only ¥134 million for a parcel of public land to be used for a new elementary school despite its appraised value of ¥956 million.

Abe promised at the Diet on Feb. 17 that he would “resign as prime minister” if either he or his wife was ever found to have anything to do with the deal.

In the meantime, the public outcry over Tsukamoto Kindergarten has only grown.

Last Friday, lawmaker Fukushima said he interviewed an Osaka mother who lamented at how the militaristic education at Moritomo Gakuen’s preschool made her child unrecognizably docile.

Tsukamoto prohibits children from using bathrooms outside of designated hours, she was quoted as saying. Should they wet their underpants, they must apologize publicly in front of teachers and declare themselves “babies” who are unable to take care of themselves.

“Whenever I get mad at home, (my son) now apologizes profusely and bows deeply down,” the lawmaker quoted her as saying. “I don’t recall ever telling him to do that.”

Sayuri Uenishi, a former Nippon Ishin no Kai lawmaker, recalled what she described on Twitter as the “uncanny” atmosphere at Tsukamoto when she inspected it in 2013. Earlier this month, Uenishi, now an independent, disclosed a report about her tour of the facility that said she witnessed children singing the national anthem and reciting 19th-century instructions for patriotism.

At the end of the tour, Kagoike called on Uenishi to conduct a thorough overhaul of the Japanese education system, the report said.

“What awaits our children after graduation is years of compulsory education that often instill in them a self-deprecating view of Japan and deprive them of patriotism,” the report quotes him as saying.

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