Japan's education ministry has declined to say whether it was contacted by a ruling party lawmaker before it made controversial inquiries into a junior high school lecture by the former vice education minister.
Ministry officials were grilled by an opposition bloc on Monday over the ministry's unusual inquiries to the education board of Nagoya City in central Japan.
The education ministry had asked the board by email to explain the purpose and content of the lecture at the school by former Vice Education Minister Kihei Maekawa. The board was also asked to submit its audio recording of the event.
Maekawa had accused the prime minister's office of showing favoritism in connection with a veterinary project initiated by a friend of the prime minister.
The ministry's email pointed out that Maekawa had resigned from his post after illegally helping retired bureaucrats land private-sector jobs.
At the opposition hearing, ministry officials admitted they received an outside inquiry on February 17th about Maekawa's lecture, the date when it was also reported in the media.
Officials said they first contacted the board by phone 2 days after the outside inquiry.
Opposition members asked whether the ministry was prompted to make the move by an inquiry from a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker.
The officials denied any influence from outside, and said the inquiries were made based on a decision the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau made on its own.
Asked how the ministry plans to respond if Maekawa gives a lecture at another school, the officials said they would act on a case-by-case basis.
Maekawa issued a statement on Monday. He said the government's direct interference with an individual school's curriculum is extremely rare. He said it highly likely amounts to unjust control by the state, behavior that is banned by the country's Fundamental Law on Education.
He said he had asked the school not to provide a recording of his lecture because accepting the ministry's request will set a bad precedent.
He said the ministry must have been under strong political influence because he doesn't believe its officials would have made such inquiries on their own.