TOKYO -- Opposition lawmakers have slammed new education minister Masahiko Shibayama for his remark on his first day in office that the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education stressing loyalty to the emperor is "universal" and can be used for moral education classes.
Other new ministers also had some bumpy starts when asked at press conferences to explain past gaffes. An individual linked to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) worried that the ministers "many not be able to survive the extraordinary session of the Diet" beginning soon.
The Imperial Rescript on Education was issued under the name of the emperor in 1890. The document called for the "subjects" to "guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth." This document was nullified by a 1948 Diet resolution, which stated that the instruction was "based on the concept of sovereignty residing in the monarch and a myth-based view of the country" and therefore "violated basic human rights and eroded international trust" in Japan. Critics say the document formed a basis for the totalitarian system of governance that came to control Japan before the end of World War II.
The Abe administration made a decision at a March 2017 Cabinet meeting that it was "inappropriate" for the document to be used as "the only foundation for education" but that it was acceptable to use it as instructional material in ways that did not violate the Constitution or the Basic Act on Education.
Shibayama told a press conference on Oct. 2 that the rescript has "portions that have universality in a sense that they can be used for moral education today." He also talked positively about moves to rearrange the document's wording for contemporary education, saying they are "worth consideration."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quick to downplay Shibayama's statement. He told an Oct. 3 press conference that the government "has no intention to actively utilize the Imperial Rescript on Education for school education," adding, "I assume that the remark was intended as a general argument that it is up to schools to decide" on the use of the document.
Opposition leaders didn't let Shibayama off the hook. Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii criticized the education minister saying that the rescript's core is "to give one's life for the emperor when an emergency occurs." Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) Diet affairs chief Kiyomi Tsujimoto also attacked Shibayama, emphasizing that "he would have been fired right away in the past" and suggesting that she would pursue this issue in the upcoming extraordinary Diet session.
Shibayama was the first candidate to win a Diet seat among those picked in an open recruitment drive by the LDP when Abe was the party's secretary-general. The new education minister is also a senior member of the conservative Japan Conference group. In his address to education ministry officials on Oct. 3, Shibayama demanded his subordinates salute him when they pass him in the ministry building.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya was asked about his 2015 statement in the Diet that it is a "fact" that Self-Defense Forces troops would face the "danger of greater risks" if required to perform new missions under new security legislation being debated at the time. As this remark could be construed as running counter to the government's view, Iwaya explained that what he meant was that "risks have to be minimized."
Many of the new Cabinet members have histories of gaffes and questionable actions, and a senior administration official instructed them "not to be provoked by reporters or answer questions that are beyond your areas of responsibility."
Some Cabinet members seem to realize they are perceived as liability. "Some people may think it's risky," said Hiromichi Watanabe, minister in charge of reconstruction from natural disasters.
Minister for the Environment Yoshiaki Harada stopped short of answering a reporter's question about his past request to the government to review its stance on the 1937 "Nanjing Massacre," in which the Imperial Japanese Army was accused of killing up to hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Chinese city.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, Olympic and Paralympic minister, has a history of saying "comfort women" were "a business" when they were forced to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers before the end of World War II. During the Oct. 2 press conference, he misspoke Paralympic as "Parapic." In his Oct. 3 speech to his subordinates, he made extra effort to just read the prepared text.
The only woman in the Cabinet, Satsuki Katayama, revealed that she was asked by the prime minister to "work like you are three people," adding that she will do her best "to live up to his expectation."
A government official commented in response to her statement, "People under her will have trouble if she goes overboard."