The Japanese first lady has resigned as “honorary principal” of a private elementary school run by a man with ultra-nationalistic views following an escalating controversy over the low price the school paid for government land. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Friday’s parliamentary session that his wife Akie had resigned from the role. His confirmation comes a day after an endorsement of the school from her was removed from its website. Abe, however, has said he was aware that Akie served in an honorary position for the school, whose president is a passionate supporter of the prime minister’s views.
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Abe said today that Akie decided to step down after the couple talked following “various developments” surrounding the school. He said he has protested to the school over its use of his name in a donation form despite Abe’s repeated objections. The Osaka property was sold in 2016 for 134 million yen (USD 1.2 million), one-seventh of its appraised price. Abe has denied he or his wife had any influence over the land deal.
The same school operator runs a kindergarten with a curriculum said to resemble that of pre-World War II Japan. It plans a similar approach for the new elementary school, which is set to open in April, pending final approval by Osaka prefecture. The scandal has dominated parliamentary debate, with opposition lawmakers summoning finance and education ministry officials to clarify how the school obtained the large discount.
Opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Masato Imai told reporters that the land deal must be scrutinized further because it’s the taxpayers’ money. “As honorary principal, Mrs. Akie Abe has served as a billboard for the school with various problems. We believe she bears a responsibility at least indirectly, if not directly.”
Nobutaka Sagawa, an official at the Finance Ministry, which oversees state land transactions, told parliament this week that industrial waste had been found on the land after the initial appraisal and the deduction involved the cleanup cost.
He denied any illegality or political influence in the process. Officials said the waste removal was not compulsory, and they could not confirm whether the school had actually done it.