Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Conservatives once close to scandal-hit school operator now maintain distance

A section from a pamphlet for Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School created by Moritomo Gakuen. (Mainichi)

Many conservative pundits and intellectuals were used by the nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen to advertise an elementary school it had aimed to open in April. Now that the plans for the school's opening have been retracted due to a multi-layered controversy, how do those people feel?

Listed as "People who have visited Moritomo Gakuen," photos of 20 conservative public figures appear on a pamphlet for the group's Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School, the construction of which had almost been completed in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka. In addition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie Abe, who had at one point been appointed the school's honorary principal, the faces of ruling Liberal Democratic Party veteran lawmaker Yoshitada Konoike -- who has been suspected of giving political favors to Moritomo Gakuen's president, Yasunori Kagoike, for the latter to obtain a sweetheart land deal -- and other public conservatives surround a section in the pamphlet listing the school's history and other information.

The Mainichi Shimbun contacted those whose photos were found on the pamphlet, or who had given lectures at a kindergarten also run by Moritomo Gakuen, in writing or by phone.

Since reports emerged alleging that Moritomo Gakuen had received an unusual and massive discount on state-owned land on which to build the elementary school, Akie Abe has done a complete turnaround, creating distance between herself and the school operator.

In September 2015, she had given a lecture at Tsukamoto Kindergarten in Osaka's Yodogawa Ward, where the pupils are made to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education issued by Emperor Meiji in 1890, which is linked to militaristic education in prewar Japan. Later on her Facebook page, Akie wrote, "The pupils were very well-behaved and full of energy." She was set to be the honorary principal of Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School, whose opening by Moritomo Gakuen was scheduled for next month, but stepped down from the position after the controversy came to light.

Akie Abe has since refused to be interviewed by the media, but at an event in Tokyo held March 7, she said, "I'm really confused about why I'm in this position right now, and why I've attracted so much attention." She also said, "My husband is facing a lot of challenges right now, including being attacked by the opposition in the Diet."

Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School had been collecting donations in the name of Abe Shinzo Kinen (commemorative) Elementary School. When the scandal first emerged on Feb. 17, the prime minister told the Diet, "My way of thinking seems to have resonated with (the president of Moritomo Gakuen)," He also said, "I've heard from my wife that Moritomo Gakuen's teachers have a tremendous passion for education."

Later, however, Abe criticized Kagoike, Moritomo Gakuen's president, for using his name without permission to collect donations, saying, "As an educator, such behavior is questionable."

When asked about the use of their photos on Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School's pamphlets, Hidetsugu Yagi, a professor of constitutional law at Reitaku University who is said to be a chief strategist behind Prime Minister Abe, and Terumasa Nakanishi, professor emeritus at Kyoto University, both denied endorsing the school or giving the school permission to use their images.

"I came away with the impression that Mr. Kagoike was someone who believed anything goes as long as you label it patriotic," said Yagi, who gave a lecture at Tsukamoto Kindergarten in 2014. "I do not want to be lumped together with pseudo-conservatives."

Nakanishi, who gave a lecture at Tsukamoto Kindergarten in 2012, said he believed there were people who saw the rise of conservative ideology as a business opportunity. "I didn't feel that the school operator had any sort of true ideology. Forcing pupils to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education seemed like a performance set up for others to see."

Journalist Yoshiko Sakurai said she believed that the question of whether politicians were involved in the controversial land deal should be cleared up, but did not comment on Moritomo Gakuen's educational policy.

The Mainichi Shimbun was not able to obtain a response from political pundit Tsuneyasu Takeda. However, he tweeted about the school operator, "I could relate to some of its policies, such as teaching the virtues of the Imperial Rescript on Education, and lectured at the kindergarten twice." However, he also tweeted, "The pledge the pupils made on their sports day was too much." In sporting event pledges, participants generally promise to dedicate themselves to fair play, but footage emerged of pupils assigned to give the pledge at a Tsukamoto Kindergarten sports day saying, "We're so glad the security legislation passed. Go for it, Prime Minister Abe!"

Meanwhile, some defend Moritomo Gakuen, saying it is "trying hard to rebuild Japan." One of them is former Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Toshio Tamogami, who is currently being tried on charges of violating the Public Offices Election Law. He has given a lecture for Moritomo Gakuen, but his photo was not included in the Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School pamphlet.

"The current scandal has been incited by anti-Japan Japanese people bent on destroying Japan," he tweeted.

* * *

List of comments related to Moritomo Gakuen

Journalist Yoshiko Sakurai: "Whether politicians mediated the land deal should be cleared up."

Author Naoki Hyakuta: "I am watching the story unfold with interest, but have no particular views on the school operator Moritomo Gakuen's educational methods. (If I were to be asked to give a lecture by Moritomo Gakuen again) I would think about it then."

Reitaku University professor Hidetsugu Yagi: "Moritomo Gakuen is 'pseudo-conservative.' I don't want to be lumped together with it."

Kyoto University professor emeritus Terumasa Nakanishi: "I didn't feel that the school operator had any sort of true ideology. Forcing pupils to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education seemed like a performance set up for others to see."

Political pundit Tsuneyasu Takeda: "I could relate to some of Moritomo Gakuen's policies, but the pledge the pupils made on their sports day was too much." (From a tweet by Takeda)

Liberal Democratic Party House of Councillors lawmaker Shigeharu Aoyama: "(I accepted an invitation to give a lecture) but only learned of the school operator's name, 'Moritomo Gakuen,' in recent media reports. We are at a stage in which the judiciary should investigate the allegations over subsidies given to the school operator."

Author Ayako Sono: "I don't ask for the details of the educational policies of institutions that invite me to speak to them. I am not in a position to punish the school operator (regarding the allegations)."

The Association for Promoting Parental Education founder and Chairman Shiro Takahashi: "I am surprised by media reports that the school operator held parental education lectures. I cannot comment, because the relationship between Moritomo Gakuen's educational policies and parental education is unclear."

Former Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Toshio Tamogami: "The current scandal has been incited by anti-Japan Japanese people bent on destroying Japan." (From a tweet by Tamogami)

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media