Japanese News: Moritomo Gakuen scandal

Although it was one of the major political issues of last year, I have not read much in Japanese about the Moritomo Gakuen scandal. It is a complex story with difficult vocabulary, and the titles of the related articles have always discouraged me.

I wanted to believe that this scandal was a last-year-thing and that I could skip studying it altogether. Alas for me, new developments have put the Moritome Gakuen in the headlines again and given the number of articles that have appeared on this subject, I am forced to admit that I can no longer avoid it.

I will not study a specific article but focus on key vocabulary. Of course, the first thing I did was to pick up my Asahi Keywords and study the double-page devoted to the Morimoto Gakuen scandal.

Context and Vocabulary

Moritomo Gakuen

Moritomo Gakuen” is the name of a private “school corporation“. It has a very conservative education line and would, for example, include the reading of the Imperial Rescript on Education to its program.

  • 森友学園・もりともがくえん: the school Moritomo.
    • 学園・がくえん means “school” or “educational institution”.
  • 法人・ほうじん: a corporation or a legal person.
  • 保守・ほしゅ conservatism
  • 教育勅語・きょういくちょくご: Imperial Rescript on Education, signed by Emperor Meiji in 1890. Maybe not the most useful word, I admit… 🙄

The scandal

In 2016, the director of Moritomo Gakuen obtained a 10-year lease to buy a state-owned land. Such a long-term lease is unprecedented. But the real problem lies elsewhere: the state has sold the land to 1/10 of its value (compared to other properties in the same area)

  • 10年分割払い・10ねんぶんわりはらい: 10-year lease.
  • This lease is described as “前例のない・ぜんれいのない”, without precedent.
  • 国有地・こくゆうち: it is easy to guess the meaning of this word thanks to its kanji: state-owned land.

To justify such a drastic reduction, the state argued that a large quantity of garbage was buried in the ground. Both the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Ministry of Finance settled the clean-up costs. These costs were deducted from the sale price, and this is how the land was sold to 1/10 of its value.

  • 国土交通省・こくどこうつうしょう: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). To be precise, it is the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau of Osaka 大阪航空局 that is concerned here. The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau is a division of the MLIT and to simplify, we can drop it and mention only the MLIT. The problem is that Japanese articles are likely to be accurate and talk of “国土交通大阪航空” which is a long series of kanji.
  • 財務省・ざいむしょう: Ministry of Finance
  • 撤去費・てっきょひ: the removal cost.

When all this has been made public, specialists have observed that the documents provided by the government were not able to corroborate the presence of garbage as stated at the time of the sale. There is a suspicion that the estimation made by the state was exaggerated. Finally, the Board of Audit concluded that there was not enough evidence concerning the quantity of garbage.

  • ゴミの位置や量が不明確
    • 不明確・ふめいかく: unclear, indistinct.
  • 見積もりが過大だった疑いがある
    • 見積もり・みつもり: estimation
    • 過大な・かだいな: excessive, exorbitant, exaggerated
    • 過大見積もり・かだいみつもり: overestimation
  • 会計検査院・かいけいけんさいん: the Board of Audit
  • 根拠・こんきょ: grounds, reason, support, evidence, justification

Furthermore, there were contradictions between what several actors said. While an official from the Kinki Local Finance Bureau said that they made efforts to get closer to Moritomo’s request, a high official from the Ministry of Finance, Nobuhisa SAGAWA, said the opposite.

  • 矛盾・むじゅん: contradiction
  • 近畿財務局・きんきざいむきょく: “Kinki” is the name of the region. We may recognise “財務” which means “financial affairs” because we saw it earlier in “Ministry of Finance”. In place of 省 for “ministry”, we have here 局・きょく for “Bureau”.
  • 佐川宣寿・さがわのぶひさ: Nobuhisa SAGAWA was at the time the head of the Financial Bureau of the Ministry of Finance
  • 財務理財・ざいむしょうりざいきょく: The Financial Bureau of the Ministry of Finance. Here again, I think we can simplify and keep simply “Ministry of Finance”.

After the scandal, the director of Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori KAGOIKE, and his wife have been arrested on charges of fraud.

  • 籠池康典・かごいけやすのり: Yasunori KAGOIKE. I am definitively going to write this name in my “Japanese names notebook“, together with the others that appear in this post.
  • 国などの補助金をだまし取る
    • 補助金・ほじょきん: a subsidy, a subvention, a grant of money
    • だまし取る・だましとる: defraud, cheat.

Involvement of Abe’s wife.

What gave the scandal a further dimension is the involvement of Abe’s wife, Akie ABE. She was named honorary principal of the new school but resigned when the scandal broke. Her involvement in this affair raised the question of her status: is she a private citizen or a public official?

  • 安倍昭恵・あべあきえ: Akie ABE, another name I must add to my notebook!
  • 名誉校長・めいよこうちょう: honorary principal.
  • 私人・しじん: a private citizen
  • 公人・こうじん: a public official

Why is it resurfacing now?

There are suspicions that the Ministry of Finance falsified a document relative to the sale. To be honest, there are many articles on the subject, but I don’t see that there is much to say except that we wait for clarification from the Ministry.

Let’s have a quick look at this article from NHK News: 財務省が文書の写し提出し予算審議再開へ 森友文書問題.

The sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen is referred to as 「森友学園」への国有地売却.

  • 売却・ばいきゃく: sale.

The “falsified” document is 書き換えられた.

  • 書き換える・かきかえる means “rewrite” and “forge”, “alter a document”.

The Ministry of Finance submitted a copy of the documents to the Diet on the 8th. The House of Councillors (the Upper House of the Diet) is ready to open the budgetary discussions, but the opposition is asking for more transparency. They want to hurry the declaration of the persons concerned and determinate clearly if the documents have been altered or not.

  • 写し・うつし: a copy, a duplicate
  • 国会・こっかい: the National Diet
  • 参議院・さんぎいん: the House of Councillors, the Upper House of the Diet.
  • 予算審議・よさんしんぎ: budgetary discussion.
    • 審議・しんぎ means “discussion”, “deliberation” and often appears in this sort of articles.
  • 文書の作成に関わった関係者からの聴き取りを急がせる.
  • 文書の書き換えがあったのかどうかを明確


What makes articles on this subject so difficult to read is definitely the abundance of names. Names of persons that I cannot even pronounce (but this will change!) and names of institutions. This last point is the most challenging one. Whenever a paragraph gives me a headache, it certainly contains at least one or two names of political institutions or persons like 参議院財政金融委員会 or 衆議院議院運営委員会 or 参議院国会対策委員長 or even 麻生副総理兼財務大臣. If I look at them without panicking, I can see or guess what they are referring to, but I use all my willpower in this process and lose the energy to read the whole article.

Nevertheless, I feel a huge satisfaction to have been through the Moritomo Gakuen scandal in Japanese. I feel also rewarded to have bought and studied the Asahi Keywords book, it helped me greatly here! And finally, I am more than ever motivated to get on with my “Japanese names notebook“.