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Education board unveils ministry emails questioning whistleblower's school talk

Ex-administrative Vice Education Minister Kihei Maekawa is seen in Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture, on March 13, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAGOYA -- The Nagoya Municipal Board of Education on March 16 disclosed emails it received from the education ministry apparently suggesting that a former top ministry bureaucrat who helped expose a scandal shouldn't have been invited to speak at a school in the city.

The former ministry bureaucrat, Kihei Maekawa, played a key role in exposing a scandal relating to the establishment of a veterinary school by Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The emails from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology touched on Maekawa's career -- which changed paths after he resigned over a separate scandal relating to the practice of "amakudari" (former public servants parachuting into post-retirement jobs in related industries). The emails also asked the board why Maekawa had been chosen to speak at Nagoya Municipal Hachioji Junior High School -- suggesting he was an inappropriate person to talk at the school.

Maekawa resigned as administrative vice education minister in January 2017, and was openly critical of both the Cabinet Office and the prime minister's office over the Kake scandal -- describing the administrative process concerning the planned vet school as "distorted."

At a news conference on March 16, the Nagoya Municipal Board of Education released a total of four emails between the two organizations concerning Maekawa's Nagoya talk and other issues, spanning 22 pages of A4-sized paper.

According to the board, the ex-top bureaucrat delivered his lecture at Hachioji Junior High School during an open lesson as part of a comprehensive learning program on Feb. 16.

On March 1, the first email arrived from the education ministry. It was broken down into 15 parts -- consisting of questions regarding the background to and objectives behind inviting Maekawa, reactions from parents and guardians, as well as a request for an audio recording of the talk.

The email correspondence also included statements on Maekawa's resignation from his role, as administrative vice education minister, well as his "visits to so-called dating bars," and demanded concrete and specific reasons why Maekawa had been invited to a school where moral education is taught.

Regarding the objective of the lecture, the board of education replied in the evening on March 5 that "It was desired that Maekawa give a talk about his own experience at junior high school, as well as his life in the education ministry and beyond, and that students use the information as a reference for their future careers."

The next morning, a follow-up question came from the education ministry. It asked whether or not the school principal was aware that Maekawa had effectively been suspended.

At the news conference, Hachioji Junior High School principal Yasushi Uwai commented on the ministry's persistent questioning over the reasons for selecting Maekawa, saying, "I felt that the ministry wanted to know the reasons in great detail."

Uwai added, "I heard a talk by Maekawa about three years ago, and found it both thought-provoking and very easy to understand," explaining that this was a factor behind Maekawa's selection.

According to Masaya Fujii, a senior manager at the board of education, it is unusual to receive questions of this nature from the education ministry over the content of a specific lecture. Fujii was also very surprised by the speed at which follow-up questions arrived -- a signal that the ministry had high interest in the talk.

Fujii added, "The board values diverse points of view highly, and we do not consider Maekawa's selection to be a mistake. We will try to ensure that this matter will not hinder future attempts to invite outside speakers."

The audio data was apparently not passed on to the ministry, as Maekawa has not given his permission.

Commenting on the emails, one middle-ranking official at the education ministry said, "It is very rare for the ministry to use its 'trump card' and interfere with a specific lecture. To carry out a probe simply on the basis of not liking someone is too much."

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