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Scandals Provoke Anger Over Abuse of Advantages

June 27, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s race to postwar prosperity was fueled by the belief that hard work was the ticket to success.

But widening scandals in the nation’s hallowed school system and stock market have shaken that faith and led many Japanese to question the fairness of the establishment they were taught to trust.

While stock markets have reverberated with revelations of major brokerages dealing with gangsters and compensating their best customers for investment losses, a smaller but perhaps more unsettling drama has shaken the educational system.

Three men connected with Meiji University, a prestigious private college in Tokyo, have been arrested on suspicion of falsifying entrance exams early this year.

The allegations are particularly galling in Japan because careers, even marriage prospects, are largely determined by what school one attends.

The ranks of top corporations and the national bureaucracy are filled almost exclusively with graduates from a handful of top schools, including Meiji.

Passing entrance exams is so important that students frequently cram for months on end. Some parents obsessed with getting their children into the right schools start preparing them as early as age 2.

Takeshi Mitsuzawa, an ex-manager of the university’s baseball team and a former professional pitcher, and two administrative officials were charged with forging school documents and helping proxies pass exams for more than 10 Meiji applicants, police said.

Meiji University law professor Shinichiro Kurimoto resigned Monday to protest what he contended was the ″lukewarm″ response by school authorities.

″I think this shows the Japanese education system is corrupt,″ Kenzo Murakami, 60, told the mass-circulation Mainichi Shimbun in a response typical of the widespread outcry.

″I understand parents’ desperate desire to give their children the educational background society values, but using money to buy it is out of the question,″ Kosuke Taguchi, 69, told another national newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun.

Japan’s system of rigorous entrance exams for universities and high schools traditionally has been viewed as rigid but fair.

With the stakes so high, however, teachers and other school officials have occasionally yielded to temptation. In a separate case in April, a high school principal and two teachers were arrested and charged with forging entrance exams to help a student gain admission.

The Meiji University scandal has been all the more sensational because one of the students who allegedly benefited was the son of a well-known television entertainer.

Many people also are disillusioned over the arrest of the former baseball player, Mitsuzawa, who became a national hero because of the courage he displayed after losing his sight in a car accident.

Private universities such as Meiji are more likely targets for scandal because they are less carefully regulated than top public schools such as Tokyo University, according to Kanji Nishio, a professor at Tokyo’s Telecommunications University and a campaigner for educational reform.

″The stuffy, hierarchical atmosphere inside the private schools is almost impossible to describe to an outsider,″ Nishio says. ″People can still use money to get in. It happens.″

But critics are pessimistic that the scandal will result in reform. Already, educators are playing down its significance, calling it an isolated incident.

It is also unclear whether the financial scandal that led to the resignation of two presidents of major brokerage houses this week will lead to major reform of the industry.

Leading securities companies are accused of giving major clients tens of millions of dollars in compensation for their stock and bond losses and of arranging huge loans for an underworld kingpin.

″Up until now, those practices were viewed as normal. And having the presidents resign will just make it blow over that much more quickly,″ Nishio says.

Although the Ministry of Finance is expected to crack down on the practice of providing compensation for trading losses, smaller investors remain skeptical.

″The large investors can face stock price falls without losses, while we at the other end just lose and lose. ...″ a 72-year-old widow complained to the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper.

Many Japanese say they think the scandal shows a deep erosion of values that has made financial success more important than honor or kindness.

″When will the knife be put to the ‘moral illness’ that festers in the roots and trunk of the Japanese economy?″ asked a commentator for the Asahi daily, Saburo Ito.

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