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Japan educators rap govt's request for universities to join mourning for ex-PM Nakasone

Yasuhiro Nakasone (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Professors and students have lambasted the government's request that national universities and other educational institutions across Japan raise mourning flags and offer a moment of silence during an Oct. 17 memorial service for former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, run by the Cabinet and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Nakasone, who was also the LDP leader, passed away in November 2019 at age 101.

    "It's like thought control and simply gives me the creeps," fumed a male professor at Osaka University in western Japan. "We aren't under any obligation to comply with such a request just because we are employed by a 'national' organization, given that it's not a state funeral. They must have gotten things confused."

    Referring to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's recent refusal to appoint six scholars to the Science Council of Japan despite the body's nomination, the professor continued, "Are they going to say that every organization that receives money from the state must obey the government and the LDP?"

    A male professor in his 50s at Hokkaido University in Japan's northernmost prefecture also slammed the move. "The government's actions have obviously crossed the line and are out of touch with the public's views," he said. "Former Prime Minister Nakasone may have been a big presence in Japan, but people can express their grief individually. Even if politicians gave these kinds of instructions, bureaucrats must stop them."

    A 29-year-old graduate student at Kyoto University in western Japan said, "It's obviously political intervention in universities. Kyoto University is not the LDP but a national university, and it's strange for the school to have to raise a mourning flag. Universities could get their budgets slashed if they decline a political request, and little by little be transformed into institutions that obey the administration."

    Takeshi Komagome, a professor at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Education and former chairman of the school's faculty union, stated, "Like with the Science Council of Japan issue, the government's move suggests that public servants must follow the government's views. The Suga Cabinet is trying to change Japan's regime into one where (national institutions) must comply with state orders."

    A male professor at the University of the Ryukyus in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa condemned the government's request for flags to be raised half-staff and silent prayers to be observed. "It's a form of coercion and tramples upon the mechanisms that support the basics of our society, such as academic freedom and the freedom of thought and creed," he said. "Such an act would further increase the tendency of universities to curry favor with the state."

    Prefectural boards of education across the country also received a similar notice on observing mourning practices for the late Nakasone, sent as guidance under the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato.

    Upon receiving the notice on Oct. 14, the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education discussed its response and concluded that complying with the central government's request could infringe upon Article 14 of the Basic Act on Education, which stipulates: "The schools prescribed by law shall refrain from political education in favor of or against any specific political party, and from other political activities." The board then decided not to refer the notice to prefectural schools in Osaka.

    The memorial service for ex-Prime Minister Nakasone will be held at Grand Prince Hotel Shin Takanawa in Tokyo on Oct. 17. The event is expected to cost some 190 million yen (about $1.8 million), with the LDP shouldering about half that amount.

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kondo and Koki Matsumoto, Science & Environment News Department, Masaki Ishikawa, Osaka City News Department, and Satoshi Fukutomi, Kyoto Bureau)

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