Soaking up the jingoism like sponges

EVERY morning the children of Tsukamoto kindergarten stomp their tiny feet in time to military anthems, bow to pictures of the emperor and vow courageously to offer themselves to defend the state. At school functions, the three-, four- and five-year-olds exhort watching parents to protect Japan from foreign threats.

The great-grandparents of Tsukamoto’s pupils were once taught similar fare, but state schools toned down the nationalism in the aftermath of the second world war. Until recently few Japanese realised that any private schools were still peddling such jingoism. They were even more surprised to learn that the government seems to have been encouraging them.

Last year Moritomo Gakuen, the firm that runs the kindergarten, bought a plot of public land in the city of Osaka at a knock-down price—perhaps 14% of its value. It began building a primary school to propagate the same ultranationalist ideas. It invoked the name of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, when soliciting donations. His wife, Akie, gave a speech at the kindergarten and was named honorary head teacher. Tomomi Inada, the defence minister, sent a letter thanking the kindergarten for raising the morale of Japan’s soldiers, after it had dispatched pupils to the docks to welcome returning warships.

Mr Abe denies any involvement in the land sale, and says he will step down if anyone can prove otherwise. He and his wife were badgered into helping the kindergarten, he insists, by its head teacher, Yasunori Kagoike, who had used his name to raise money “despite my repeated insistence he should not do so”.

Mr Abe had previously praised Mr Kagoike, however, saying he had an “admirable passion” for education and that they shared a “similar ideology”. As scrutiny grows, there are signs of revisionism on both sides: all references to Ms Inada and Mrs Abe have been unceremoniously scrubbed from the kindergarten’s website.

Tsukamoto has been investigated under hate-speech laws. It sent notes home to parents referring to Chinese people as shinajin—the rough equivalent of “chink”. Mr Kagoike’s wife, the deputy head, sent a letter to the parent of an ethnic-Korean pupil saying she did not discriminate but “hates Koreans and Chinese”.

Moritomo Gakuen is now squirming as much as Mr Abe. Officials in Osaka say the primary school may not receive a licence to operate when construction is completed. There have been fewer applicants than expected. And it has had to change its planned name, to Land of Rice memorial school, from the much grander Prime Minister Shinzo Abe memorial school.