National / Politics

New education minister Shibayama ready to serve despite backlash on Imperial Rescript remarks

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

New education minister Masahiko Shibayama’s work in Japan’s latest Cabinet got off to a rocky start.

In an interview with media outlets Thursday, Shibayama sought to play down the controversy he stirred up last week when he expressed support for basing teaching on the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education — often criticized as promoting a militarist education that emphasizes reverence for the nation’s emperor.

“I never said that the Imperial Rescript on Education should be used as teaching material,” said the new education minister, also a close aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in the interview, scheduled in the wake of the Cabinet reshuffle. Shibayama added that he is ready to perform his duties, including providing more assistance to foreign pupils in need of Japanese language education.

Shibayama drew backlash from opposition lawmakers and educational groups after saying in his first news conference as education minister on Oct. 2 that some parts of the 1890 edict, if modernly interpreted or arranged, could be used in moral education, and that “universality can be found” in the text.

In that same news conference, he also said he was aware of movements seeking to teach what he described as the “basic content” of the rescript, such as cherishing colleagues and putting emphasis on international cooperation, with a modern twist, and that such endeavors “are worth considering.”

On Thursday, Shibayama again referred to movements among individuals and groups to utilize some parts of the edict. But he noted that the rescript was declared null and void by the postwar Diet in 1948, and said that what should be taught is up to each school’s decision in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Act on Education.

Whether his latest remarks will bring an end to the controversy are unclear, with critics slamming the suggestion that it is appropriate to highlight some parts of the edict as “virtuous” when it effectively called for individuals to sacrifice themselves to the nation. Others have questioned the need to refer to the rescript at all for principles such as supporting colleagues, when similar ideas are already taught in moral classes.

Shibayama is not the first ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker to broach such a controversial topic after assuming a ministerial role. Former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, known for her conservative views, said last year that she was against calling the content of the rescript “completely wrong” and that the “spirit” within its writing should be redeemed. Hirokazu Matsuno, when serving as education minister last year, also said that drawing on the rescript in classes would not be a problem as long as there is no violation of the Constitution.

While already under fire himself, Shibayama said Thursday he is determined to work to regain public trust in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which has recently been hit by corruption scandals that have resulted in the resignation of senior officials.

The 52-year-old minister also acknowledged the necessity of enhancing educational support for foreign children attending public schools, many of whom need Japanese language tuition, as Japan braces for the entry of more foreign workers to deal with serious labor shortage as its population grays.

“Due to globalization, the number of foreign students who need Japanese language support in public schools has shown a 1.7-fold rise in the past decade,” said Shibayama, whose expertise includes foreign labor issues. “New systems or system adjustments must be pursued for such students as there are dropout rate issues and problems involving career counseling for them.”