Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been entangled in a scandal over the establishment of a right-wing elementary school that has implicated his wife Akie Abe and Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada.
Moritomo Gakuen is a Japanese education group that owns Tsukamoto Kindergarten, a school known for its ultra-conservative curriculum in Osaka. The kindergarten supports methods of inspiring rightist sentiments among youth, such as requiring students to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education from the Meiji era.
Moritomo planned to expand its scope of education by building the Shinzo Abe Memorial Elementary School and designating Akie Abe as its honorary principal. In June 2016, it purchased an 8,700 square kilometer plot of land at $1.2 million from the government to build the elementary school. However, the Japanese government assessed the land to be worth around $8.5 million originally. As Moritomo successfully purchased the land at $7 million lower than its estimated value, speculations arose about possible ties between Moritomo and Abe and whether Moritomo received special treatment during the purchase.
“My wife and I are not involved at all in the school’s licensing or land acquisition,” Abe said in February. “If I were, I would resign as a politician.”
Yet, new evidence seems to point out that Abe has previously funneled donations to Moritomo to help consolidate its right-wing curriculum. Yasunori Kagoike, the head of Moritomo Gakuen, appeared before the National Diet, Japan’s bicameral legislature, on March 23 and testified that he received a donation from Akie on behalf of the prime minister.
“She said to me, ‘Please take this. It’s from Shinzo Abe,’ and she handed me an envelope containing 1 million yen as a donation,” Kagoike said. “Although I hear Mrs. Abe has denied the donation and claims she doesn’t recall it at all, I clearly remember it as it was such an honor for us.”
Because of the scandal, Moritomo decided to revoke the establishment of the elementary school. The Japanese government ordered the land to be returned.
The scandal also implicated Tomomi Inada, the highest-ranking female public figure in Japan, over her possible role in Moritomo when she was a practicing attorney.
Inada initially denied her affiliation with Moritomo as a legal adviser when lawmakers questioned her during a session of the Upper House Budget Commission. Such inquiries came in the midst of a freelance journalist’s social media post of a court document that showed that Inada served as a court attorney for Moritomo in 2005. Kyodo News also obtained court records that indicated that Inada served as an attorney for Moritomo during a trial hearing.
The Minister of Defense subsequently reversed her position and admitted that she attended the trial session in her husband’s place during a Lower House plenary session. She apologized and claimed that she had forgotten about the incident.
Akie Abe and Tomomi Inada are the two most prominent female public figures in Japan. Akie has been complementing Abe’s conservative persona by presenting herself as a socially liberal figure who often interacts with the public through social media to appear more approachable. Inada’s hardline conservative stance prompted Abe to appoint her as the Minister of Defense, with the possibility that she may eventually make her way up to prime minister.
The implications of Akia and Inada have damaged the Abe cabinet over the course of scandal’s development. Abe’s approval rating fell to 56 percent, the lowest recorded rating since September 2016, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. It dropped by 10 percent from the previous poll, also marking the sharpest decline since December 2012, when Abe’s second cabinet held its inauguration.