Tsukamoto Kindergarten, whose traditionalist supporters include the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans and of receiving illicit financial favors from the government.
TOKYO — At Tsukamoto Kindergarten, an ultraconservative school at the center of a Japanese political scandal, children receive the sort of education their prewar great-grandparents might have recognized.
They march in crisp rows to military music. They recite instructions for patriotic behavior laid down by a 19th-century emperor. The intent, the school says, is to “nurture patriotism and pride” in the children of Japan, “the purest nation in the world.”
Tsukamoto and its traditionalist supporters — including the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — are under fire. The school, which is attended by 3- to 5-year-old students, has been accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans and of receiving illicit financial favors from the government.
A growing outcry has put Abe’s conservative administration on the defensive and drawn attention to the darker side of an increasingly influential right-wing education movement in Japan.
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Abe said Friday in Parliament that his wife, Akie Abe, had resigned as “honorary principal” of a new elementary school being built by Tsukamoto’s owner. The school sits on land that the owner, a private foundation, bought from the government at a steep discount, a deal that invited charges of special treatment after details surfaced this month.
“My wife and I are not involved at all in the school’s licensing or land acquisition,” Abe told the legislature. “If we were, I would resign as a politician.”
Abe and other Japanese conservatives often accuse the education system of liberal bias, seeing it as a place where left-wing teachers spread “masochistic” narratives about Japanese war guilt and promote individualism and pacifism over sturdier traditional values.
At Tsukamoto, displays of old-style patriotism have sometimes shaded into prejudice.
The school apologized on its website last week for statements that contained “expressions that could invite misunderstanding from foreigners.” Parents said complaints about mundane-seeming matters like parent-teacher association fees would be met with chauvinistic diatribes, with school officials accusing “Koreans and Chinese with evil ideas” of stirring up trouble. They said the school’s principal, Yasunori Kagoike, accused parents who challenged the school of having Korean or Chinese ancestors.
“The problem,” Kagoike said in one notice sent to parents, was that people who had “inherited the spirit” of foreigners “exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people.”
Abe has made overhauling Japanese education a priority throughout his career, championing a similar, if softer, version of the traditionalism practiced at Tsukamoto. In early publicity pamphlets for its new elementary school obtained by the Japanese news media, Kagoike proposed naming it after Abe. Kagoike later opted for a different name, a change the prime minister said had been made at his request.
Abe has supported a drive to amend history textbooks, toning down depictions of Japan’s abuses in its onetime Asian empire, and he passed legislation to make “moral education” — including the promotion of patriotism — a standard part of the public-school curriculum.
Tsukamoto has taken the patriotic approach to schooling further. It first gained notoriety a few years ago for having pupils recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, a royal decree issued in 1890 that served as the basis for Japan’s militaristic prewar school curriculum and that was repudiated after World War II.
In interviews, five mothers who pulled their children out of Tsukamoto said they had encountered chauvinism at the school or had been attacked by Kagoike or his wife, who serves as vice principal, often in ethnically bigoted terms. They asked for anonymity because they feared social ostracism for speaking out.
One mother said her family liked South Korea and often vacationed there, but that when her son told his teacher of a planned trip, the teacher said Korea was a “dirty place” and the family should visit “somewhere better in Japan.”
Another mother said teachers had told her that her son “smelled like a dog,” and that Kagoike had called her “an anti-Japanese foreigner.” (She is Japanese.)
Attempts to reach Kagoike failed. A woman who answered the telephone at Moritomo Gakuen, the foundation that operates Tsukamoto, said the Japanese news reports about the school and its land deal had been “unfair.”
In addition to serving as principal of the kindergarten, Kagoike heads Moritomo Gakuen and is a director of the Osaka branch of Nippon Kaigi, a prominent right-wing pressure group that includes Abe and other influential conservative politicians as members.
The land deal that turned into a scandal took place last year. The Finance Ministry allowed Moritomo Gakuen to have a 2-acre vacant lot in an Osaka suburb for 134 million yen, or about $1.18 million, though it had been previously assessed at 956 million yen, seven times higher.