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Moritomo Gakuen captured the hearts of conservative lawmakers

Calls are mounting for a full-scale probe into a shady land deal involving scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen and its lobbying to purchase state-owned land lot.

It has recently emerged that Moritomo Gakuen Chairman Yasunori Kagoike lobbied the office of Yoshitada Konoike, a House of Councillors legislator of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who formerly served as state minister for disaster management, to seek favor in the operator's attempt to acquire the land lot to open an elementary school. Konoike's office conveyed requests from Kagoike to the government and mediated between them.

Konoike once gave a speech in 2008 at Moritomo Gakuen's Tsukamoto Kindergarten, and said he was moved by the sight of kindergartners reciting the Imperial Rescript on Education -- an educational edict issued by Emperor Meiji in 1890 and linked with militaristic education in prewar Japan. The website of the kindergarten in Osaka's Yodogawa Ward states that every morning its students recite the Imperial Rescript on Education and sing the national anthem Kimigayo.

In the past, Konoike, who was elected to the upper house from the Hyogo constituency, which neighbors Osaka Prefecture, had visited Tsukamoto Kindergarten and had reportedly sympathized with its educational philosophy. A conservative member of the Osaka Municipal Assembly recalled accompanying Konoike on a visit to the kindergarten, saying, "I thought he (Konoike) was passionate about education."

Konoike is not the only lawmaker who was fascinated by Moritomo Gakuen. In mid-February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet about Kagoike, "He empathizes with my way of thinking to a great extent." Abe had his name used by the school operator in its donation collection activities without his permission.

Abe's wife, Akie, was also apparently lured by Moritomo Gakuen. She had been named honorary principal of an elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen plans to open in Osaka, but she later stepped down from the position. On Sept. 5, 2015, Akie made a post on her Facebook page about her speech at Tsukamoto Kindergarten, which reads, "Kindergartners there are well-mannered. ... They sing Kimigayo and recite the Imperial Rescript on Education every morning."

Some local assembly members belonging to Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party) have also expressed their sympathy with Moritomo Gakuen's educational philosophy.

According to a source familiar with the matter, Kagoike has told those close to him over the past decade that he wanted to establish a general school with an elementary, junior high and high school.

Kagoike serves as a steering committee member at the Osaka branch of the conservative group Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, which seeks revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution. Prime Minister Abe, Konoike and other leading politicians belong to a group of Diet members affiliated with Nippon Kaigi, while more than 1,000 members belong to a local legislators' group affiliated with the organization. A source in the Kansai region said Kagoike has rarely attended committee meetings recently.

Konoike revealed on March 1 that he was lobbied by Kagoike over the land acquisition. According to records obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, Kagoike lobbied the legislator's office a total of 15 times between August 2013 and March 2016. An observer says that Kagoike and his wife may have expected that Konoike would be able to exert influence on the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau, with which the school operator was negotiating over the land deal.

Konoike said his relationship with Kagoike ended three years ago, after trouble arose between them. When Kagoike and his wife visited Konoike at the latter's office at the House of Councillors members' office building in Tokyo, "(Konoike) got really mad as Kagoike's wife brought out what appeared to be an envelope. He (Konoike) threw the envelope down, saying, 'You such an insolent fellow, go home!'" a source close to Konoike's office told the Mainichi. While Kagoike's lobbying of the legislator's office continued after the incident, Konoike -- who belongs to an LDP faction headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso -- silently accepted it.

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