TOKYO – Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology may need lessons in morals, honesty and political finance laws from Japan.
Hakubun Shimomura, who lobbied for education minister in 2012 when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government took power, stands out as an example of how not to behave in power; he is the quintessence hanmen kyoshi– which is Japanese for “someone who teaches by his bad example”.
Even without a moral education, most Japanese know that it is wrong to take money from the yakuza, accept questionable campaign contributions, or get caught covering them. Apparently, this is a lesson that Shimomura took a long time to learn.
The scandal began last month when the news weekly Shukan bunshun reported that Shimomura had received illegal political funds, including some from an individual linked to Japan’s largest mafia group, Yamaguchi-gumi. He quickly denied nearly all of the allegations, admitting only a donation of 48,000 yen (about $ 400) from a man linked to the Japanese Mafia. He said it was returned to the donor in January and there was no problem. (The amounts in these cases are small, but considered the tip of the proverbial iceberg.)
Since then, Shimomura’s story has changed several times and even among members of his Liberal Democratic Party and the conservative press, some say: âMaybe it is time for Minister Shimomura to step down. Its actions require clarification. The front page of the liberal Japanese daily, Nikkan Gendai, was less subtle: “Shimomura: LIAR. “
If Shimomura is fired or allowed to resign, he will be the fourth minister appointed by Abe to do so under the guise of political scandals in the past six months.
Shimomura, a six-term member of the Lower House, has long been a key member of the Abe cabinet and a close friend of the Prime Minister, spearheading the revival of “moral education” in the school system. It is a revival that some critics fear is a pretext for restoring the war mentality and making Shintoism the state religion again. This is something he has publicly denied, saying: âSections of the media are allergic to moral educationâ¦
According to Shimomura’s memoir, he experienced financial difficulties from the age of 9, after the death of his father and the young Shimomura struggled to complete his studies. He was industrious and opened a bac school (juku) while attending the prestigious Waseda University. Cram Schools is a huge business in Japan known for its juken jigokuâthe hell of entrance exams because getting into the right school can determine a student’s future success.
The Japanese university system is designed so that entering the right schools is extremely difficult but graduation is almost assured. When looking for a job, most companies pay little attention to the student’s GPA, but instead focus on the name and ranking of their university.
The result was to create a school system with two levels, one for general education and one for entering the right university. Cram and prep schools are extremely profitable. And it’s no surprise that many of Shimomura’s supporters are, as they once were, drunk school operators.
Shukan bunshun and other media reported that regional support groups acting on behalf of Shimomura had not been registered as political organizations and therefore had improperly raised funds for its benefit. In addition, they organized regular meetings in the presence of Shimomura. Almost all of the regional support groups were consortia of private school and high school business owners.
The Political Funds Control Act states that any group that supports a politician or runs a political candidate must register as a political group and submit reports on its income and expenditure of political funds.
When Shimomura appeared before the Lower House Budget Committee on February 26, he said he had never received donations from regional groups, never received money for “taxi fares” or “fees. of travel “. He also described political groups as voluntary organizations created by friends in the education sector. âThere is no legal problem. If necessary, I will give further explanations, âShimomura told reporters after the budget committee hearing.
At first, Shimomura said he planned to protest the magazine’s report and also denied receiving a donation of 100,000 yen (now around $ 830) in 2009 from a yakuza associate and former school operator. cram, Masahiro Toyokawa.
Yes, bac schools may seem like a strange business to yakuza, but âeducationâ scams have always been big money for groups, including âEnglish conversation schoolsâ.
Police sources told the Daily Beast that Toyokawa is a long-time associate of Japan’s largest organized criminal group, the Yamaguchi-gumi – specifically the Kodo-kai faction – and that Toyokawa and Shimomura had known each other for several years. They think Toyokawa may still be running bac schools behind the scenes.
Toyokawa has also reportedly loaned around $ 6 million to a chain of sex massage parlors run by the yakuza. Toyokawa was a central figure in the creation of the Chubu Hakuyukai, one of the political groups supposed to raise funds for Shimomura. Local law enforcement sources told The Daily Beast: âToyokawa is an influential figure in the private school industry here and a known associate in organized crime. He and Shimomura have certainly met and they have been spotted attending events together in the area, but the extent of their friendship remains unknown to us.
To date, Shimomura has admitted that his secretary has sent emails urging support groups not to speak to reporters about allegations he has embezzled political funds. He also admitted receiving the 100,000 yen donation from Toyokawa, overturning previous denials. He has since returned the money.
Thusday, Shukan bunshun published an interview with a former executive member of a regional group saying that she handed Shimomura 100,000 yen in cash for a conference, and that the money came from associate yakuza Toyokawa. Shimomura denied it during questioning to the Diet. The 60-year-old then spoke to the press the same day, showing evidence to support her claims.
While the jury is out on how Japan’s “moral education” works, it’s hard to imagine that it tolerates taking money from criminals or lying while in public office. As of October 1, 2011, it is also illegal to accept money of any kind from “anti-social forces”, which include the yakuza and their associates.