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The Education of Minister Hakubun Shimomura

Shimomura SkytreeBy Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — Only days after Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa saw himself forced to resign over allegations of campaign funding irregularities, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet faces renewed challenges with another senior minister suffering similar allegations, as well as a concern about the role of government subsidy receiving firms that has touched even the prime minister and chief cabinet secretary themselves.

As for Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, according to an article in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, he received a considerable amount of financial donations from unregistered political support groups.

Funding scandals among ministers seem to be a recurring theme for Prime Minister Abe. In the last six months he lost three ministers over allegations of fraud, although the support rates for his cabinet have hardly been dented. During his first premiership in 2006-2007, financial scandals proved fatal to his administration.

Shimomura is not just any minister; he is the minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, one of the biggest prestige projects that Japan has taken on in the new millennium and crucial to Abe’s plans to promote Japan as a proud nation. Shimomura’s role is not limited to the designing of sports events, but as Shinzo Abe’s ideological compatriot he also has a big influence on the course of the Cabinet.

In an alliance that really launched when Hakubun Shimomura was appointed deputy chief cabinet secretary in Abe’s first cabinet, they have both spoken out about revising the 1993 Kono Statement and several other historical issues. In last year’s election Shimomura played a leading role in the LDP campaign, with his commitment to revising school textbooks in line with the revisionist historical views he shares with Abe. Seeing how important the educational reforms are to Abe’s ideological agenda, it seemed no more than logical that Shimomura was appointed to execute them.

As an education minister, however, Shimomura has been careful not to be seen as being solely driven by a conservative agenda. In his personal blog, Shimomura recalls how his father died in a drunk driving accident when he was only nine and the hardships he had to go through in order to study: applying for scholarships and eventually running a cram school while graduating from the Waseda University. He states that his mother was a big influence on him during that time: “My mother, who worked day and night to support us and who put her own needs aside in order for us to become successful in society… taught me how to be a good parent.” He continues, “That also influenced my view of the education system.”

When asked about his own son, who has a learning disability, in an interview by the New York Times, Shimomura stated that he let his son get his Art degree in London because he probably couldn’t have done it in Japan: “I felt the British system is more open to a broader range of people and talents. I would like to see the system here be revamped so that avenues of opportunity will be open to all children.”

It remains unclear if Shimomura will be given the time to complete his reform plans. Although he has denied any allegations of campaign fraud thus far, the pressure for his resignation may increase, as it did in the case of Koya Nishikawa.

His rise from a poor family to become the ideological backbone of Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet has been an impressive one. His departure from the Abe Cabinet would deal a significant blow to the ideological heart of his administration.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.