The ongoing scandal involving the private educational corporation Kake Gakuen hinges on whether or not Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indirectly pushed the Cabinet to approve a new veterinary department for Okayama University of Science, a school run by Kake, whose chairman, Kotaro Kake, is a close friend of Abe’s. Consequently, various media are investigating the actual need for another veterinary school. No Japanese institute of higher learning has opened one in 52 years, reportedly because, as with convenience stores and dentists, Japan already has too many animal doctors.

In a June 6 article, Tokyo Shimbun said that the “capacity” of the proposed veterinary department, which Kake plans to build in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, is 160 students per year. There are now 16 schools in Japan with veterinary programs that produce a potential maximum of 930 graduates annually. Nihon University in Kanagawa Prefecture produces the most, up to 120 a year, so if the Imabari project goes ahead, it will be the biggest veterinary department in Japan.

Tokyo Shimbun asserts that despite Cabinet approval there is no consensus in the government about the necessity of a new veterinary program. The regional revitalization ministry, which administers special deregulation zones as part of Abe’s plan to stimulate local economies, says the school meets all the conditions for reviving Imabari, thus paving the way for the local government to offer Kake a free plot of land for its campus, which wouldn’t be completed until next spring. But the agriculture ministry, which is in charge of anything animal-related, says that Japan has enough veterinarians, though there are “regional shortfalls.”

Kake calls the department a future “international base of operations” for veterinary studies, especially with regard to preventing infectious diseases for livestock, an area where Japan is still lacking. But experts interviewed by Tokyo Shimbun are skeptical of this claim. One professor who is helping Kake recruit faculty says there really aren’t enough qualified teachers to fulfill the company’s goals. Another professor assumes the school will end up hiring “young teaching assistants and associate professors” to fill the roster “if they are promised promotions down the line.”

A June 8 article in the Asahi Shimbun reported that Japan already has 39,000 working veterinarians, 8,000 of whom entered the profession in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the number of livestock in Japan has declined by about 10 percent during the same period.

Regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto insists that more vets are needed by the pharmaceutical industry to breed and raise animals for drug tests. He told the Asahi that in the past decade, the number of vets who work for drug companies has increased by as much as 60 percent, but the Asahi found that the government has only been keeping such records since 2012. So the newspaper talked to a pharmaceutical industry insider who admitted that drug firms and universities could hire veterinarians. However, he didn’t seem to think there was going to be any new demand, since the general trend is away from animal testing due to pressure from animal rights groups.

The Asahi concludes that the government cannot honestly predict future demand for veterinarians owing to an age-old administrative problem: The various concerned ministries are not coordinated. In September 2016, the office in charge of special economic districts said it was working with the health ministry to make a plan with regards to vets needed for animal testing. The health ministry, however, told the Asahi that it has never been in contact with the special deregulation zone group and added that even if the group had asked for its help it would have referred it to the agricultural ministry. During his press conference about the Kake scandal last month, former vice minister of education Kihei Maekawa stressed that before the new department was approved, the demand for vets should have been determined, “but no ministry convinced us of the need” for them.

The media point man for Kake is Hideaki Karaki, who used to be the president of Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, a Kake school. In broadcast interviews and a piece he wrote for the Asahi’s Webronza page, he says he has nothing to do with plans for the Imabari school, but believes that there will be increased demand for vets in Japan due to greater concern over food safety with regard to bird flu and livestock diseases. There is an acute shortage of vets in rural areas and so these problems, he says, could worsen.

Karaki says young people should be encouraged to enter these particular disciplines and to live in areas where such knowhow is needed. That’s why the Imabari school is important. Ehime Prefecture, not to mention the island of Shikoku, doesn’t have many vets. However, Shikoku doesn’t have much in the way of livestock or pharmaceutical companies, either, and, according to the education ministry, less than 20 percent of vet school graduates remain in the regions where they studied, so the school isn’t necessarily going to revitalize the region.

The majority of veterinary school graduates go to big cities and get jobs at pet clinics, hoping eventually to open their own establishments, because that’s where the money is. Kitasato University, which has a large veterinary program, reports that 69 percent of its 2016 graduating class went to work at animal hospitals, an aspect of the Kake issue that few people talk about, maybe because the number of pet dogs is decreasing (cats seem to be stable).

Even if there is a demand for vets in the agricultural and pharmaceutical fields the government is talking about, most young people don’t become vets because they want to work with cattle, pigs or lab animals — in other words, creatures whose whole purpose for existing is to die. They want to work with sick pets and make them well. Without acknowledging that truth, any justification for creating a new veterinary department in Imabari sounds contrived.

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