Japanese families call for probe into hate speech, abuse at Moritomo Gakuen-run kindergarten

2017-03-16 09:47Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping ECNS App Download

Families of children who had previously attended a controversial kindergarten run by a school operator in Osaka Prefecture, on Wednesday asked local officials to investigate incidents of hate speech and child abuse at the preschool.

The parents and guardians of former students at Tsukamoto Kindergarten along with their lawyer, submitted a request to the Office of Education in Osaka Prefecture to look into cases of their children being treated abusively and the kindergarten disseminating hate speech.

The kindergarten which is known for its nationalist curriculum is run by Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator central to an ongoing scandal involving its cut-price purchase of government-owned land to build a new elementary school in Osaka.

The petition submitted to local officials Wednesday claims the kindergarten "often does things to the children verging on abuse, and uses discriminatory language toward Chinese people and others in its newsletters."

The parents, who held a press conference after submitting their request for a probe, said their children on several occasions were treated abusively after wetting their pants and were repeatedly and excessively scolded.

The parents also said their children were exposed to discriminatory language that could amount to racial discrimination or hate speech.

"We can't allow the kindergarten to get away with anything just because it's a private school," a representative of the group was quoted by local media as saying at the press conference.

The private Tsukamoto kindergarten in western Japan, with its curriculum taught to three-to-five year old students based around notions of instilling national pride and patriotism, was alleged to have handed out to students' parents a copy of a statement slurring both South Korean and Chinese residents in Japan.

The school has also come under fire for posting remarks on its web page that could have also have been construed as hate speech.

Following these allegations, officials at the school including its head teacher, Yasunori Kagoike, who runs Moritomo Gakuen, were questioned by Osaka prefectural officials for suspected hate speech.

Moritomo Gakuen is also embroiled in a cut-price land deal which saw the operator purchase a 8,770-square-meter piece of land last year in Osaka, for 134 million yen (1.18 million U.S. dollars), which is equivalent to just 14 percent of its appraisal price.

The operator has since withdrawn its application for approval to open a new elementary school, with Moritomo Gakuen saying Kagoike would step down as its would-be head. The land is to be repurchased by the government.

The land deal and the kindergarten have come under intense scrutiny recently in the Diet, as opposition parties have linked senior politicians from the ruling camp to the school.

The politicians include Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after which the new school was supposed to named and whose name was allegedly used to raise funds for the school's construction.

Abe's wife Akie was also supposed to have been the school's honorary principal, but has since stepped down. She is known to have given several speeches at the kindergarten.

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has also been linked to the school with demands from the main opposition Democratic Party for her to resign on Wednesday intensifying.

The party's deputy Diet Affairs Chief Hirofumi Ryu said Inada had provided a false explanation to the Diet regarding her links to a controversial school operator and that this should not be excused.

On Monday, Inada told the Diet that she did not provide legal advice to Kagoike, but on Tuesday she reversed her position saying she did provide legal counsel to him and represented Moritomo Gakuen as a defense attorney.

Inada retracted her initial remarks saying she did in fact provided legal counsel to Kagoike in a civil lawsuit and court records also showed she represented Moritomo Gakuen as its defense lawyer in court.

Inada, a lawyer-turned-politician, said her initial statement was not a lie and was based on her forgetting what had happened.

Ryu slammed Inada Wednesday saying she was not fit to serve as the nation's defense minister.

Inada's resignation was also called for by Democratic Party lawmaker Hideya Sugio, who also claimed she was not fit to stay in her post.

Ruling coalition party members also took aim at the defense minister on Wednesday including Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue and LDP Diet Affairs Chief Wataru Takeshita, who said she should have taken more care in her ministerial role and would be cautioned.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to which Abe and Inada belong, has rejected calls for Kagoike to be summoned to the Diet to give testify.

Local media quoted an official from the finance ministry as saying on Wednesday that the ministry plans to demand that Moritomo Gakuen demolish the new school buildings it has constructed on the state-owned land.

Moritomo Gakuen will have to repay subsidies it received and the prefecture will send investigators to the site next week to further look into the case.

The prefecture may file a criminal complaint against the operator for listing erroneous construction costs in contracts submitted in connection with building the new school, Osaka officials said recently.

Amid public and political uproar over the kindergarten's alleged hate speech and abuse, and its operator's shady land deal, Kagoike on Wednesday canceled a scheduled press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.



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