kanji scandal

The Kyoto-based Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation — the group behind the Kanji of the Year announcement and which runs Japan’s well-attended kanji aptitude tests — is registered as a public-interest corporation, which means that it is not supposed to generate profits greater than it needs to operate (much like a non-profit organization in the United States). On March 10, however, Japan’s Ministry of Education stepped in, saying that the foundation was making too much money and needed to overhaul its operations.

How much money are we talking about?

The foundation racked up profits of ¥880 million [US$8.8 million] in fiscal 2006 and ¥660 million in fiscal 2007. The value of its assets increased from ¥5 billion at the end of fiscal 2004 to ¥7.35 billion at the end of fiscal 2007. It would not be far-fetched to say that the foundation has created a kanji business. Kanken became a registered trademark. In fiscal 2007 alone, the foundation sold some 1.5 million copies of books. It is also providing kanji-related questions to TV shows.

But there are more problems than just how much of the money the foundation makes. It has been funneling money into companies controlled by the foundation’s director and his son, the deputy director. “In fiscal 2007, commissions to these companies amounted to 2.48 billion yen [US$24.9 million], accounting for about 40 percent of the foundation’s annual expenditures,” the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Moreover, it appears the companies did little work for the large amount of money they received.

The Ministry of Education has warned the foundation before, with not much in the way of results. The foundation is to report back to the ministry by April 15. Given how entrenched the foundation is within Japan, I don’t expect much to change.

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