National

Osaka Prefecture relaxed school-approval system rules after Moritomo Gakuen request

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said Tuesday the prefecture relaxed regulations regarding the approval system for opening schools after nationalist private kindergarten operator Moritomo Gakuen requested it, but denied the company influenced the local government’s decision.

“Compared to other Kansai area prefectures, the hurdles (to run private schools) in Osaka were quite high,” Matsui said, adding the reason for the decision was to attract more schools.

In April 2012, a few months after Matsui became Osaka’s governor, the prefecture relaxed regulations. Nearly six months earlier in September 2011, Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagoike, who wanted to build an elementary school despite financial difficulties that might have disqualified it from getting prefectural approval, asked Osaka to ease the rules.

Matsui added he has never met Kagoike.

Moritomo Gakuen has been under fire recently following revelations of a questionable land deal and for distributing anti-Chinese and anti-Korean literature at its kindergarten. The operator paid just ¥134 million for land last year that it is currently building a new elementary school on even though the central government had appraised the tract of land’s value at ¥956 million. Similar size plots in the same neighborhood have sold for nearly ¥1.5 billion.

Matsui said the prefecture is expected to formally decide later in March on whether the company’s elementary school can open in April, but has indicated permission might be withheld.

Last week, during questioning at the Diet by Japanese Communist Party Lower House member Takeshi Miyamoto, who is based in Osaka, it was revealed a meeting was held between construction company officials building the new elementary school and the Finance Ministry’s local bureau on Sept. 4, 2015.

During the meeting, the cost of removing garbage that had been buried under the plot was discussed. The Finance Ministry admitted late last week that records of those negotiations were discarded.

Opposition lawmakers have also been questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s relationship with the school operator, as it in the past has collected donations using the name “Abe Shinzo Memorial School.” Abe said he protested the use of his name and told Moritomo Gakuen many times to stop.

Questions have also been raised as to why Abe traveled to Osaka to appear on a television program on the same day a meeting between the construction firm and Finance Ministry officials took place there. Abe’s decision to suddenly fly to Osaka during contentious Diet debates over two national security bills drew criticism even from members of his own party.

The Osaka trip also came the day before his wife, Akie, visited a kindergarten run by Moritomo Gakuen and delivered a speech. Akie was introduced as the school’s honorary principal, a title she held until last week.

While there is no evidence Abe attempted to directly influence decisions that would affect the operator’s business activities during his trip, the timing of the visit means opposition party investigations will continue.

The prime minister said he had no involvement with the school issue and will resign if evidence is found of his involvement.

Information from Kyodo added