Home GRASP GRASP/Japan Bigotry and Fraud Scandal at Kindergarten Linked to Japan’s First Lady

Bigotry and Fraud Scandal at Kindergarten Linked to Japan’s First Lady

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An ultraconservative school backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife is facing claims of promoting discrimination and of receiving illicit financial favors.
TOKYO — At Tsukamoto Kindergarten, an ultraconservative school at the center of a swirling Japanese political scandal, children receive the sort of education their prewar great-grandparents might have recognized.
They march in crisp rows to military music. They recite instructions for patriotic behavior laid down by a 19th-century emperor. The intent, the school says, is to “nurture patriotism and pride” in the children of Japan , “the purest nation in the world.”
Now Tsukamoto and its traditionalist supporters — including the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — are under fire. The school has been accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans and of receiving illicit financial favors from the government.
A growing outcry has put Mr. Abe’s conservative administration on the defensive and drawn attention to the darker side of an increasingly influential right-wing education movement in Japan.
Mr. Abe said on Friday in Parliament that his wife, Akie Abe, had resigned as “honorary principal” of a new elementary school being built by Tsukamoto’s owner. The school sits on land that the owner, a private foundation, bought from the government at a steep discount — a favorable deal that invited charges of special treatment after details surfaced this month.
“My wife and I are not involved at all in the school’s licensing or land acquisition,” Mr. Abe told the legislature. “If we were, I would resign as a politician.”
Mr. Abe and other Japanese conservatives often accuse the education system of liberal bias, seeing it as a place where left-wing teachers spread “masochistic” narratives about Japanese war guilt and promote individualism and pacifism over sturdier traditional values.
Tsukamoto is at the extreme edge of an effort by rightists to push back, said Manabu Sato, a professor who studies education at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.
“It’s a rejection of the postwar eduction system, whose basic principles are pacifism and democracy,” Mr. Sato said.
At Tsukamoto, displays of old-style patriotism have sometimes shaded into prejudice.
The school apologized on its website last week for statements that contained “expressions that could invite misunderstanding from foreigners.” Parents said complaints about mundane-seeming matters like parent-teacher association fees would be met with chauvinistic diatribes, with school officials accusing “Koreans and Chinese with evil ideas” of stirring up trouble. They said the school’s principal, Yasunori Kagoike, accused parents who challenged the school of having Korean or Chinese ancestors.
“The problem,” Mr. Kagoike said in one notice sent to parents, was that people who had “inherited the spirit” of foreigners “exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people.

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