The hubbub over school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution seems to be boiling down to nothing more than a witch hunt. The disputants who perpetuate the commotion over the supposed scandals seem intent on burning their chosen victims at the stake, condemning the scapegoats by hook and by crook, irrespective of factual evidence and reality.
For this writer, the bid by opposition legislators and some mass media to manipulate public opinion over the past one and a half years seems full of contradictions, such as:
“Vested interests must be highly regarded, and the existing bedrock business regulations are in conformity with the principles of justice. The idea of introducing fair competition through deregulation can never be permissible.”
“A mastermind behind the amakudari practice of parachuting retired bureaucrats into positions in private and semipublic firms and organizations, who has been found frequenting adult entertainment businesses while making false claims of obedience through his words, should be considered an infallible model of all virtues.”
“Testimonies given by a guy known as a habitual liar, who is currently under suspicion of defrauding the government of subsidies, are trustworthy, but words of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are entirely false.”
“Bureaucrats are always good and righteous, but politicians elected by eligible voters are bad at all times, so that politics swayed by bureaucrats should be preferable to politician-led politics.”
“Should the Prime Minister make any comments about administrative affairs, the administration is bound to become distorted, in spite of Article 72 of the Constitution that stipulates he (the Prime Minister) ‘exercises control and supervision over various administrative branches.’”
“Media should issue a broadside against the government even in disregard of facts and evidence.”
These contradictions are not for the sake of wordplay or jocosity. Summing up how issues have been discussed on TV programs and in newspaper articles day after day, this writer cannot help but draw the conclusion that they are only intended to manipulate the public.
Beneath the Mask of Justice
On the one hand, the Kake Educational Institution was demonized through and through for its effort to launch a new veterinary medicine department, an educational field new to the school’s operator. On the other hand, those attacking the Abe government levied no criticism at all against the Japan Veterinary Medical Association, the nationwide group of veterinarians, which intensely pressured the government to keep their own vested interests intact by leaning strongly on politicians who are the beneficiaries of the group’s political donations.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) also remains immune from their criticism, despite its arbitrary application of authority over the establishment of new university departments as it works to protect its own interests by ensuring the availability of amakudari positions for bureaucrats when they retire from the ministry.
The question of the sale of a state-owned tract of land to Moritomo Gakuen is another case in point. The words of its former director general, Yasunori Kagoike—who provided false testimony before a Diet committee that his planned elementary school would have been named “Shinzo Abe Commemoration Elementary School”—were published and spread extensively without verification, as if they were true beyond doubt.
Likewise, remarks alleged to have been made by the Prime Minister’s wife, Akie Abe, have been spread by the media and opposition politicians as if they are indisputable facts, even though it is highly doubtful she truly made them. The alleged remarks comprise an extremely unnatural expression—and at least part of the allegation has been proven to be utterly groundless.
This writer is profoundly depressed to think that the state of affairs in today’s Japan is essentially no different from the witch trials of the Dark Ages—acts of outrageousness and absurdity, embedded with malicious intentions, have been triumphantly rampant.
A senior official of one of Japan’s opposition parties, for that matter, recently revealed his true feelings when he said: “We don’t have any material solid enough to inflict a lethal wound on the Abe administration. Nevertheless, we are confident that if we continue to attack the government [on the Moritomo-Kake imbroglios], the public will come to suspect that Prime Minister Abe and his close aides may have committed something wrong, a development that will certainly lead to further drops in approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet.”
Image Manipulation via TV
As things stand, the scenario has been evolving precisely as envisioned by that opposition leader. It is doubtful whether any members of the opposition parties and media really believe Prime Minister Abe and his associates were actually involved in the sale of state-owned land at a discounted price, but that won’t change what they do and say.
The facts are that the land in the disputed Moritomo Gakuen deal was owned by the Osaka Regional Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism—which estimated both the land value and waste removal costs upon which the sale price was based.
In the end, according to official documents before alterations that were disclosed by the Finance Ministry on March 19 and other sources, the land price was reduced by a little more than JPY800 million (approximately US$7.58 million) at the bureau’s own discretion. The Osaka Regional Bureau, after calculating the proposed sale price, submitted its recommendation to the Finance Ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau, the documents showed.
Why on earth would the Prime Minister have concerned himself with matters of such minor importance that took place during exchanges between two local government offices?
Senior opposition party leader Mizuho Fukushima and many other opposition party legislators have been blasting the Abe administration on this issue, even making political use of the suicide of a human being whose motive for killing himself is not yet known.
In a session on the same day as the House of Councilors’ budget committee hearing, Fukushima dared to make the following heedless allegations: “You (Prime Minister Abe) have narrowly managed to protect yourself even by driving bureaucrats into committing criminal offenses, haven’t you? Furthermore, through the process of falsifying documents in order to keep yourself safe, one government official had to commit suicide, you know?”
The Prime Minister hit back at Fukushima, noting, “All you say is your unilateral opinion. So long as you stick to that opinion, you should come out with a convincing reason for doing so.”
Fukushima’s goal in making her statement, however, was probably to prompt a negative impression of the Prime Minister for the television audience.
‘That Means Nothing to Us’
The media, for their part, have placed a peculiarly strong emphasis on bureaucrats’ penchant for giving “proper consideration to how the Prime Minister feels about something.” What, though, is the reality of the bureaucrats’ thought process?
The Prime Minister himself was recently quoted as saying he was told the following to his face by a former high-ranking, influential bureaucrat: “I’m very sorry, but I had better tell you straightforwardly that things regarding a Prime Minister and other members of his Cabinet mean nothing to us bureaucrats.”
Given that any prime minister as well as other Cabinet members are certain to be replaced in a few years, superiors in their respective bureaucratic machineries, with whom rank-and-file bureaucrats share far longer periods of time and upon whom their prospects for career advancement depends, are of far more importance. As a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat put it, “In our ministry, we sometimes act obsequiously in face of our superiors. But we don’t have to do so when associating with those who are outside the ministry, including politicians.”
Bureaucrats at the Finance Ministry are known especially for grooming politicians to the ministry’s side, beginning in their early years as legislators and irrespective of whether they are in the ruling or opposition blocs. It is a particularly powerful ministry, including one of its arms, the National Tax Agency, an organ with investigative authority. Other than the possible need to stem moves by the media that might be adverse to the ministry’s interests, its bureaucrats have no reason to be concerned with the views of anyone on the outside, even though they give a lot of thought to their peers within the ministry.
In addition, a will and memos left by the local Kinki Finance Bureau official who committed suicide have been reported to contain names of officials at the Financial Bureau and at the headquarters of the Finance Ministry, but not to mention either the Prime Minister or his wife, Akie. Notwithstanding, some media have the nerve to suggest the Prime Minister and his wife should be held responsible for leading the official to suicide. This is undoubtedly a violation of human rights, while at the same time disparaging the person who died.
The day after the Upper House budget committee hearing, the March 20 morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun carried an article with big headlines, “Battle of words over ministry memos referring to Mrs. Akie Abe” and “Finance Bureau Chief: Reference to her because of her status as Prime Minister’s spouse.” There also was a story on page two of the same edition, gaudily headlined, “PM full of excuses about influence exerted by Mrs. Abe.”
Aren’t these stories designed simply to seduce readers into thinking that the Prime Minister’s wife may have something to do with an irregularity within a ministry? This writer’s impression is that these articles clearly constitute a personal attack.
Can the opposition parties and media engaged in this repugnant behavior really hold themselves up with pride, unconcerned about the ugliness of their demeanor? Can they ever believe in themselves when they resort to this sort of modus operandi?
It might end up meaningless gibberish to try to speak to those whose sentiments toward “Abe, the hateful guy” have deepened, but this writer cordially wishes to see them stop and consider the wisdom of their behavior while gazing at themselves in a mirror of the mind.
Rui Abiru is editorial writer and senior political news writer at the Sankei Shimbun.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)