TOKYO, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- A Japanese kindergarten with ties to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife apologized for comments described as hate speech against Koreans and Chinese people, as the incident has underscored the seemingly indelible nature of racial discrimination in Japan.
The private Tsukamoto kindergarten in Osaka, western Japan was alleged to have handed out to students' parents a copy of a statement slurring both Korean and Chinese residents in Japan.
The kindergarten has a curriculum taught to 3-to-5 year old students based around notions of instilling national pride and patriotism.
The school has also come under fire for posting remarks on its web page that could have also been construed as hate speech.
According to Kyodo News, the statement handed out by the kindergarten described Korean residents in Japan and Chinese people as those with "wicked ideas," calling the latter with a term considered derogatory toward Chinese people.
Following these allegations, officials at the school, operated by Moritomo Gakuen, were questioned by Osaka prefectural officials for suspected hate speech.
A separate pamphlet was also distributed to parents in December, stating: "The problem is that people who have inherited the spirit (of Koreans) exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people," Kyodo News said in a recent article, having obtained a copy of the pamphlet.
On Feb. 17, local media here said the school apologized for its online remarks in a post stating: "We apologize for expressions about foreigners that caused misunderstanding," although added it believed some online reports about the kindergarten were "malicious criticism."
While the school may deny that it is a breeding ground for racial hatred, discrimination and nationalism, the children there begin their days singing Japan's national anthem in front of the country's flag and recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, which demands devotion to the emperor and sacrifice for the country.
The rescript was abolished after World War II, but reintroduced 15 years ago by Tsukamoto kindergarten, the walls of which are lined by historical pictures of the imperial family to which the students bow to as they pass in the corridor, according to local accounts.
Along with the rescript and other such "cultural" instruction, according to the kindergarten's principal, Yasunori Kagoike, the school's curriculum is supposed to foster patriotism and not nationalism.
However, with the students' visits to military bases and the fact that Kagoike heads the Osaka branch of Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, a nationalist, non-political entity which supports the State Shinto religious organization, it would not be a huge leap to link the school, its teachings and supporters to discriminatory issues that plague the area and the broader nation.
Areas in Osaka, for example, the Tsuruhashi districts, and regions in Tokyo, like Shin-Okubo, which are home to hundreds of Korean restaurants, shops and businesses, and thousands of residents, have often been on the receiving end of discrimination, in the form of hate speech.
Such discriminatory contempt can be seen in the anti-Korean protests and hate speeches that are organized on the streets primarily by Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai - or the ultra-nationalist group Zaitokukai - a self-claimed "citizens" group that will not tolerate special privileges being given to Korean and Chinese residents in Japan.
Zaitokukai believe that some Koreans, known as "Zainichi Koreans" are being given special legal rights by the government to integrate them into Japanese society. The group also object to the fact that Koreans can use Japanese names here so that if they were, for example, to commit a crime, on the news or in the newspapers the offender would come across as being Japanese.
Zaitokukai also vocally oppose long-term Koreans who have been given permanent residence status by the Ministry of Justice and as such are eligible to claim welfare benefits like Japanese citizens.
And in Japan, there is a difference between a "hate crime" and a "hate speech" in terms of law, as only the former can be punishable by law, meaning that those who make hate speeches can do so with absolute impunity, although there has been a minor shift in this respect recently.
Human rights groups here have long been calling for legislation to curtail instances of hate speech, but have seen their efforts gain little traction in parliament.
According to a previous survey of attitudes toward discriminatory language among more than 700 Japanese lawmakers, only 46 of those polled at the time had an interest in the topic, despite the fact that Japan has been a signatory to the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination since the mid-1990s.
Japan's hate speech malady hit the international headlines in 2013 when a Japanese junior high school student was recorded yelling a torrent of abuse at a Korean passerby in Tsuruhashi in Osaka.
The 14-year-old girl yelled: "I can't tell you how much I despise you and wish I could kill you all. You have smug faces and if you continue to behave in that way we will have a massacre here in Tsuruhashi. This is Japan, and you should go back to Korea. You do not belong here," she screamed.
While many denounced the young girl's actions, she had many supporters who, as is often the case with instances of hate speech, maintained that "freedom of speech" is the bedrock of any democracy and as such her comments were acceptable and need not be punished.
However, last year the Osaka District Court ordered Zaitokukai to pay compensation to a Korean resident of Japan for defamation of character, as a result of the group's hate speech, in an unprecedented case that could pave the way for legislation leading to the criminalization of such racially-motivated verbal assaults.
Lee Sin Hae, the plaintiff, claimed the group, and in particular its leader at the time, defamed her by dubbing her "anti-Japanese" in speeches made between 2013 and 2014. She also claimed that the right-wing group repeatedly made discriminatory remarks and mocked her looks in person and online.
Some headway on this social malady may be in the process of being made albeit at a snail's pace. However, the prime minister's connection to a school embroiled with instances of hate speech and itself has a jingoist ideology that it may be passing on to its pupils, does not bode well for Japan.
Abe and his government have been grilled in parliament recently over the sale of a plot of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen for far below the valuation price. The prime minister has also been quizzed as to whether he knew his name had been used to solicit donations for an elementary school purportedly to be built in his name.
According to local reports, Moritomo Gakuen, operator of the Tsukamoto kindergarten, bought the 8,770-square-meter piece of land last June in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, for 134 million yen (1.18 million U.S. dollars), which is equivalent to just 14 percent of its appraisal price.
The land, state the reports, is intended for a new elementary school to be opened in April, with the prime minister's wife Akie, reportedly a frequent visitor to Tsukamoto kindergarten, as its honorary principal.