The Tsukamoto Kindergarten (école maternelle) is a private school with some very public supporters including the wife of the current prime minister. Elements of the curriculum are definitely on the very conservative side of the political spectrum and are meant to instill pride and patriotism in Japanese children. Children stand before the Japanese flag, bow to a portrait of the Emperor, recite the Imperial Rescript on Education (1890) and learn what are called "pre-war" (World War II) values. Here is a short video filmed at the school that shows a few of these activities. (Note that uniforms are not something particular to this school, but are common in public and private schools.)
The scandal was not so much about the curriculum (though criticism of it abounds) as it was about anti-foreigner comments by school officials and corruption. The corruption is said to have occurred when the Japan government sold a piece of land to the school's owners at a very good (some say ridiculously low) price so they could construct an elementary school . The bigotry was discovered in letters and pamphlets issued by the school with statements like, “The problem is that people who have inherited the spirit (of Koreans) exist in our country with the looks of Japanese people” and reports that the school administrators were espousing belief in the "uniformity of the Japanese race."
And for the cherry on the top, the school's principal is a member of a Far Right organization called Nippon Kaigi (The Japan Conference). Lest you think that this is a marginal organization with few members, think again. Nippon Kaigi is reported to have around 38,000 members but more importantly it enjoys strong support from the prime minister, members of his cabinet, and parliament.
Here is a short video from France 24 in English about the organization which I think is fairly balanced reporting. Looking beyond the title of the piece, The Return of Japan's Imperialists, Nippon Kaigi members are interviewed and give their side of the story.
This is a classic modern battle over national identity, one that is very similar to such debates going on elsewhere. The tactics are also very familiar: revising the curriculum, arguing for a different interpretation of historical events, creating a top-down movement led by political and social elites, and using religious, philosophical or ethical systems to support a return to an older (and ostensibly better) framework of national values. (And here I deftly avoid the question of whether or not Emperor worship is a religion.) It reveals a belief that it is possible to construct a different national reality through institutions, the education of children, and persuasive efforts led by political elites. And it makes me wonder to what extent these tactics, even in a democratic society, are a way of circumventing the wishes of the citizenry. I do not see great enthusiasm for the prime minister's commitment to a more militarized society and yet, he seems to be moving forward anyway.
Ultimately, the big questions for me are: How successful is this movement likely to be? In other words, is Japanese national identity going to change significantly in the near future as a result of neo-nationalism? (Perhaps it has already changed in some ways.) And, if so, how might it change citizenship laws and immigration policies? Or to put it another way do migrants and naturalized citizens have good reasons to be very concerned about where this might go?