Kanji body should return profit
I once likened kanji characters to "soup stock cubes" in this column. Each cube has a flavor of its own with a story behind it. Kanji also has the power to convey the feeling of things and reflect social conditions.
An organization that spread the fascinating aspects of kanji and rode the crest of a kanji boom has run into kon (a square-shaped kanji), which means trouble.
The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, known for administering kanji aptitude tests and announcing the "Kanji of the Year," was searched by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Despite the fact that it is a public-interest corporation which is given a tax break, it has produced annual profits of hundreds of millions of yen and came under scrutiny for "making too much profit."
In the hope that passing the tests will help them enter schools and land jobs, applicants have continued to increase and reached 2.72 million in fiscal 2007. Some young people must have spent money they earned from part-time work in an effort to pass higher levels.
The proper thing for the foundation to do would be to return the profits it made by lowering testing fees without being told to do so by the ministry.
When foundation head Noboru Okubo started the tests in 1975 under a private organization neither controlled nor protected by law, the project must have begun as a small family-type operation.
Even now, having grown into a testing business that raises 6 billion yen a year, the president and his son control it. In three years, as much as 6.6 billion yen was diverted to businesses run by father and son as subcontract commissions.
Okubo has a keen sense of business and contributed to the development of kanji culture. The kanji test boom that he created even evolved into games on portable game machines.
The announcement of the "Kanji of the Year," held in Kyoto's Kiyomizudera temple, has become a year-end tradition. I also wrote about it in this column on several occasions.
But as businesses grow, they must acquire respect to go with it. It is out of the question to enrich one's family businesses with a "mean spirit" by transferring profits. The operator tried to hide personal gains behind public interests but they were too huge to cover.
We must ask Seihan Mori, chief monk of Kiyomizudera temple and a director of the foundation, to write the kanji sei (self-reflection) in extra large size and have it hang in the office of the Kanji foundation's top official.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11(IHT/Asahi: February 12,2009)