BIASED “KAKE GAKUEN” REPORTING IS CAMPAIGN BY LIBERAL PRESS TO OVERTHROW ABE ADMINISTRATION
Deliberations in the Diet on the so-called “Kake Gakuen affair” were resumed on July 10. The affair concerns a government-authorized plan by a private educational business group called Kake Gakuen to open a veterinary medicine department for its science university in a special national strategic zone in Imabari, Emihe Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku.
The one-off committee deliberations, held three weeks after the Diet formally closed its regular 2017 session, heard from three witnesses. The hearings prompted two liberal national dailies—the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun—to exhaustively engage in biased reporting on what has now turned into a scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his friend Kotaro Kake, who heads Kake Gakuen headquartered in Okayama. Biased reporting seems to have unfortunately become the norm for the Asahi and the Mainichi.
The Japanese media generally suspect that Kake must have received some special treatment from the Ministry of Education, as documents were found from within the ministry allegedly insinuating that its bureaucrats had been told by the Cabinet Office to approve his application because it was “the prime minister’s will.”
The two dailies devoted much space to testimony by Kihei Maekawa, a former vice minister of education, who claimed that pressure from the office of the prime minister resulted in twisted administrative processes in granting Kake Gakuen authorization to open the department in question. Meanwhile, the dailies nearly ignored the remarks by another witness—former Ehime governor Moriyuki Kato— who maintained that strategic zone initiatives spearheaded by Abe helped cut through bureaucratic red tape that had long held back necessary new programs.
The Asahi and the Mainichi arbitrarily portrayed Abe as the villain. The reporting of the “Kake Gakuen” scandal by most television stations has been similarly biased against Abe. Overall, reporting on the scandal by the Japanese media makes one feel as though they were engaged in a concerted attempt to overthrow the Abe administration.
Another witness whose testimony was barely covered by the media was Eiji Hara, a staff member of the Cabinet Office serving on the National Strategic Zone Working Group. Appearing on my weekly news show on the internet-distributed Genron TV program on July 14, Hara couldn’t wait to fume over the current controversy:
“The real problem with the Kake Gakuen matter is the bizarre way in which Education Ministry bureaucrats have restricted the opening of new veterinary medicine departments across the nation. Among all the tight regulations worked out by bureaucrats at various ministries, the Education Ministry’s restrictions stand out as extreme. To begin with, the ban that the ministry has imposed on the creation of new departments is itself simply ridiculous.
“When it comes to approval for an ordinary department of any university, the ministry examines the request after receiving a formal application. But an application for a new veterinary medicine department never has a chance of being approved, because newcomers do not qualify. No matter how solid their application may be, all newcomers are automatically turned down. That’s how things work under the regulations. I don’t know of any other ministry’s regulations that are this prohibitive.”
Hara, who has previously dealt with the reform of the nation’s public employee programs, looked frustrated, appearing to not know how to vent his pent-up anger. He asserted:
“The ministry’s regulations are bizarre for yet another reason. Basically these tight regulations constitute a cluster of vested interests not implemented under law but by way of mere notifications from the ministry. There are no deliberations at the Diet or cabinet approval. Instead, these notifications are determined arbitrarily by the ministry.”
Absolute Shortage of Veterinarians
The ostensible reason for the ministry’s dogmatism is explained by its officials as necessary to balance the supply and demand of veterinarians in Japan. In other words, they must make sure there are no more veterinarians than necessary. In reality, however, the crucial element is the fear of increased competition on the part of the current members of the Japan Veterinary Medicine Association (JVMA). Universities feel the same way, according to Hara, who noted:
“In Japan, there currently are 16 universities with a veterinary medicine department. These departments are very popular, attracting a steady number of applicants annually—15 times more students than they can accommodate. Nationwide, the fixed number of new students these universities can officially take is 930 in total, but they end up with between 1,200 and 1,300.”
What are the reasons for not sanctioning new departments when there obviously is a need to accept 50% more new students than officially stipulated? The JVMA firmly maintains that there is a surplus of veterinarians in Japan, which it claims makes it unnecessary to foster more.
As governor of Ehime for 12 years until 2010, Kato has closely observed the reality of livestock farming in his prefecture. Based on that experience, he stresses that Ehime Prefecture has suffered from an absolute shortage of veterinarians, explaining:
“When I was governor, there was a nasty bird flu breakout. In order to prevent infection from spreading out of control, we urged every single veterinarian in our prefecture to rush to the aid of the farmers. In point of fact, we put to work all the large animal veterinarians we had as employees of the prefectural government by extending their mandatory retirement age. We even scraped together vets in their 70s, but still needed more. I don’t know how often I resented the unbending regulations that deny newcomers the legitimate chance to open a veterinary medicine department when and where necessary.”
“Where there are farm animals, there is always a shortage of veterinarians in Japan,” comments Hara. “I don’t want bureaucrats to make statements without even seeing what the farmers are faced with.”
What has been happening to the Japanese veterinarian profession? How has this situation, criticized by Hara as bizarre, come about? The conservative national daily Sankei Shimbun ran a scoop in its July 17 edition which leads to a highly credible answer to this question.
The Sankei reported on a conversation on September 9, 2015 between then state minister Shigeru Ishiba and some members of the JVMA’s Political League, including its chairman Naoto Kitamura. Ishiba was in charge of overcoming population decline and revitalizing local economies. The Sankei quoted Ishiba as telling his guests:
“As regards the conditions for opening new veterinary medicine departments at universities under the government’s latest growth strategy, we’ve really wracked our brains. We have gone over the wording extensively so that no one will be able to actually open a new department no matter how he may try.”
Obviously, Ishiba meant to point out that the government tightened regulations further in order to absolutely prevent the creation of new veterinary medicine departments anywhere in Japan. The Sankei reported that the conditions Ishiba was quoted as referring to in his conversation two years ago are known today as “Ishiba’s four conditions.”
I tried to reach Ishiba in vain for comment, but when the Sankei contacted him he fully discredited the report. However, it is a fact that his remarks as quoted by the Sankei are carried in full on the JVMA’s home-page.
What is the truth behind the government’s authorization of Kake Gakuen’s plans for opening a new veterinary medicine department in Ehime? Explained Hara:
“Our working group at the Cabinet Office began looking into matters pertaining to opening new departments in 2014. At the time, we were examining a proposal submitted for a university in Niigata Prefecture. But the planners for the university—to be named Niigata Food and Agriculture University and initially slated to open in 2018—failed to submit follow-up plans, and we had to drop them. Meanwhile, we received an application from Kake Gakuen towards the end of 2015.
A Landing Spot for Retired Bureaucrats
“Shortly after becoming governor of Ehime, around early 2000, I began working closely with the city government of Imabari, the capital of Ehime. Responding to the zeal and dream of the people, we worked hard to apply for a new department of veterinary medicine in our prefecture for Okayama Science University run in Okayama City by Kake’s group. Many times, we knocked on the doors of government regulators to explain our plans, but were simply turned away each time. It was truly mortifying. The body that objected most strongly to our plans was the JVMA, which as you well know represents the vested interests of veterinarians and their varied organizations.”
Kato worked out elaborate plans based on a proposal submitted by Kake Gakuen, reinforcing the faculty and incorporating additional plans for facilities for new life science research and aggressive countermeasures against infectious diseases affecting farm animals.
“There is no veterinary medicine department in any of the four prefectures on Shikoku,” explained Kato. “I worked out the plans for the veterinary medicine department with not just Imabari City alone in mind, as it is a dream for all of the people of Shikoku. I am confident that Imabari still is the best location for the projected institution. That Imabari has been chosen as its site has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the head of Kake Educational Institute and the prime minister happen to be good friends.”
Hara explained further:
“In point of fact, requests for approval for a new veterinary medicine department were received from three cities—Niigata, Imabari, and Ayabe in Kyoto. Ayabe expected Kyoto Sangyo University to want to open the department, but on July 14, the university formally withdrew the application. Meanwhile, Niigata failed to submit a formal application itself. All in all, only the Imabari-Kake Gakuen team managed to present a formal application, a very well thought-out document no less. Therefore, it was only natural that this team was selected. I can swear there has been absolutely no room for personal factors, such as Mr. Abe’s wishes or his friendship with Mr. Kake, to influence the process.”
As mentioned earlier, Kato testified at the Diet that “bureaucratic red tape” had been cut through to rectify a bad situation when the Imabari-Kake Gakuen team was authorized to open the projected department. Kato thus refuted head-on the claim by a former Education Ministry bureaucrat that the prime minister’s office tried to manipulate the administrative process. One logically conjectures that the real culprits responsible for twisting the course of government administration in approving the department in question have not been the prime minister’s office as Maekawa claims, but the Education Ministry and the JVMA as Kato points out.
I suspect that the so-called “amakudari” system—literally “descent from heaven,” in which senior bureaucrats retire to private corporations linked with, or under the jurisdiction of, their ministries—is a crucial factor behind the collusion between the ministry and the JVMA. Tight regulations are a fertile ground for “amakudari.” The ministry has to handle universities with kid gloves, as they have been obliging landing spots for retiring Education Ministry bureaucrats over the decades. No wonder tight regulations against newcomers must be maintained. The Kake Gakuen scandal has now drifted from the real essence of the matter, sadly giving way to an anti-Abe campaign aimed at overthrowing his administration, with players like the Education Ministry, former senior bureaucrat Maekawa, and the Asahi banding together in a bond of dark motives.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 763 in the July 27, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho）