Land Deal For Right-Wing Elementary School Plagues Japanese Prime Minister : Parallels Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has denied involvement in a discounted sale of state-owned land for a new primary school. He says he'll resign if proof of his involvement is found.

Land Deal For Right-Wing Elementary School Plagues Japanese Prime Minister

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Now a story about the history of Japan, a past that is now making things difficult for the Japanese prime minister. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Speaking in Japanese).

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In this YouTube video, students of the Tsukamoto Kindergarten in Osaka are reciting an imperial decree from the year 1890. It teaches kids Confucian virtues - respect your parents, work for the public good. Some parents say they sent their kids to the kindergarten because they like this traditional style of education.

MRS. SAKAMOTO: (Through interpreter) My son became well-spoken and well-behaved, and his posture straightened up.

KUHN: That's Mrs. Sakamoto. She asked that we not use her full name in order to protect her son, who no longer attends the school. Mrs. Sakamoto says she didn't like some parts of the imperial decree, which instructs students to behave as the emperor's obedient subjects.

SAKAMOTO: (Through interpreter) I think it's dangerous. There may be some good things in it. But in the end, it says you should die for the sake of the emperor.

KUHN: So you do not want your child to die for the emperor?

SAKAMOTO: (Through interpreter) No, no. Nobody ever wants that.

KUHN: The U.S. occupied Japan after World War II. It imposed a new constitution reducing the emperor to a figurehead, and it banned the decree's recitation. Last month, Japan's Cabinet lifted the ban. Japanese conservatives have welcomed the decision. Japan's first family, meanwhile, has supported the kindergarten.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie, served for more than a year as its honorary principal. Sophia University political scientist Koichi Nakano says the school's teachings fit in with Abe's conservative agenda. His government has downplayed textbook references to Japan's atrocities in World War II, and it's loosened postwar constitutional restrictions on deploying Japan's military overseas.

KOICHI NAKANO: It seems that, you know, if you're ideologically close to the prime minister and if you have good personal relationship with the spouse of the prime minister, then doors open mysteriously.

KUHN: Here's the allegation of corruption at the center of this scandal. Last year, when the kindergarten's owner, Yasunori Kagoike, acquired state-owned land to build a new school, he got a 90 percent discount. Kagoike told opposition party lawmakers that the government saw his as a special case.


YASUNORI KAGOIKE: (Through interpreter) I told the person in charge of our case at the finance ministry that I was reporting back to Mrs. Abe about the process. I figured this is what resulted in our special case.

KUHN: There's no hard proof that either of the Abes influenced the decision. The finance ministry says it destroyed government records of the land sale.

TOMOAKI IWAI: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "He's got a Teflon coating," says Nihon University political scientist Tomoaki Iwai. He says that Shinzo Abe's ambition is to stay on and preside over the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Iwai says Abe's ratings remain high, and he faces no challengers from within the ruling or opposition parties.

IWAI: (Through interpreter) At the start of Abe's term, people supported him for his leadership and his policies. But in the last two years, polls show people support him mainly because there's no alternative.

KUHN: The only problem, Iwai says, is that Abe has promised to resign if he's found to have been involved in the land deal. And if a smoking gun is ever found, he might just have to do that.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Osaka.


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