National

North Korean-run schools fall victim to Tokyo-Pyongyang tensions as funding dries up

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

As tensions between Tokyo and Pyongyang mount over a prospective sixth nuclear test by North Korea and a potential pre-emptive attack by the United States, some prefectures have started cutting off funding to North Korean-run schools or placing conditions on their curricula.

Of the 28 prefectures that offer assistance to elementary, junior high and high schools that are associated with North Korea and teach Korean language, culture and North Korean views of Japan’s 20th century history, a few are now refusing to continue such support.

Last year, the education ministry issued a directive ordering prefectural governments to take more factors into consideration when deciding whether to fund such schools. For years, many of them have faced pressure to crack down on North Korean-run schools from conservative, right-wing and anti-Korean groups. A politically influential organization representing the victims and families of those abducted by North Korean agents, mostly during the 1970s and 1980s, has also weighed in.

From this fiscal year, which began April 1, Gunma Prefecture decided to stop funding a North Korean school in Maebashi until it met three conditions. First, its curriculum would have to mention North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals. Second, it would have to provide the prefecture with detailed financial information. Third, it would have to prove that it had no relation to Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), a pro-Pyongyang organization.

“I’ve only read translated parts of the textbooks the school uses. While it is true it’s not ‘anti-Japanese’ education, it’s also true there are some strongly anti-Japanese passages,” Gunma Prefecture Gov. Masaaki Osawa said at a news conference earlier this week, when he called on the school to include information on the abduction victims and the feelings and thoughts of their families in its curriculum.

The government says it has identified 17 Japanese as abductees taken by agents working for Pyongyang. In September 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnappings and let five return to Japan in October that year. Tokyo, however, says Pyongyang has yet to provide an acceptable explanation for what happened to the rest of the victims.

The Wakayama Prefectural Government also decided to withhold funds for a North Korean school this year.

“The ministry’s directive of last year was a big influence on our decision to not fund the school,” Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka said earlier this month in explaining the decision. “When we investigated, we learned the school worshiped a certain country. That doesn’t benefit Japan,” he said at the time.

The decisions to cut off funding come just months after an Osaka court ruled that municipal and prefectural governments have the authority to deny financial assistance to North Korean schools.

The Osaka ruling was prompted by a visit to North Korea by school students in 2012 that angered Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. The prefecture and the city decided to not pay financial assistance in retaliation, which prompted the school’s lawsuit.

In January, the Osaka District Court rejected the school’s claim that the nonpayment was illegal and unconstitutional, saying such funding was at the discretion of the governments involved.