World Bulletin / News Desk
TOKYO (AA) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to Japan from his summit meeting with United States President Donald Trump like a conquering hero -- his public approval rating standing higher than 60 percent.
Two weeks later he was defending himself from a burgeoning sandal, which is sure to cost him popularity points -- no polls have been taken as yet. There is already speculation that he might have to resign.
The scandal involves a Tsukamoto Kindergarten planned for Osaka.
Abe’s wife Akie had to withdraw her name as being the “honorary principal” of the new school when it became apparent that the curriculum seemed to have been lifted entirely from pre-World War II Japan.
Among other things, the students at a companion school -- aged 3 to 5 -- recite daily the Imperial Receipt on Education proclaimed in 1890 by the Meiji Emperor.
The rescript also implores Japanese children to “offer yourself courageously to the state should the need arise”.
"We’re aiming to foster ‘Japanese-ism’," Principal Yasunari Kagoike told Kyodo News service.
The students bow everyday to the portrait of the Emperor and Empress, something that is unheard of in most of Japan. Their pictures are not common even in public buildings such as post offices.
The Americans, who occupied Japan for seven years after the war, abolished the education receipt on the grounds of liberalizing Japan’s schools and promoting democracy.
Most school controversies in Japan involve left-wing protests over flying the national flag and singing the anthem.
In parliament, Abe denied any connection between himself and his wife and the school and its ultra-nationalist agenda.
“I had no idea what was being taught,” the prime minister said.
He was further embarrassed by reports of children forced to chant: “We’ll root for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” which the premier said was inappropriate for primary school children.
The school earned more bad publicity when it sent a letter to parents disparaging Chinese and Korean people living in Japan as “wicked”.
At the moment, the story is mostly just an embarrassment to the premier and his wife.
However, the furtive way the parent school, Maritomo Gakuen, obtained the state-owned land for the new kindergarten at a severe discount could come back to hurt Abe if he is seen to have been involved.
The school paid the equivalent of $1.2 million for property assessed at $8.4 million.
To further the embarrassment for Abe, the school had planned to name it the Shinzo Abe Memorial Elementary School. (Abe says he asked the school repeatedly to remove his name from the new school).
Sensing vulnerability in the so-far nearly invulnerable premier, the opposition in Parliament has been piling on.
“Didn’t the state give the land away for free?” queried Takeshi Miyamoto of the Japanese Communist Party.
The school controversy comes on the heels of another flap involving ultra-nationalists in Japan.
The Apa chain of hotels got in trouble for distributing the book of the group president, Toshio Motoya, in hotels in China.
He claimed in it that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre never happened. This is a common trope among extreme right-wingers in Japan, who maintain that the massacre did not occur or that the commonly accepted figure of 300,000 deaths is greatly exaggerated.
In retaliation, China and South Korea pulled their athletes competing in the Asian Winter Games in Hokkaido from staying in Apa hotels.
Motoya defiantly said he would never withdraw the books because of foreign complaints.
The irony in the school scandal is that Abe is personally sympathetic with ultra-nationalists’ controversial views but he has had to play these opinions down since he became premier, knowing that voters in general do not share them.
His administration has sought to inculcate greater Japanese patriotism and morality in public schools and in history texts, but not to the extent of the Tsukomoto Kindergarten.