Foundation must come clean

Learning the Chinese characters called kanji is so much fun for some people that it has become a fad. Interest in kanji can be gauged by the number of people who take kanji aptitude tests. In fiscal 2007, some 2.7 million people, age 3 to 97, took the tests known as kanken (literary kanji certification), offered by the Kyoto-based Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. This entity also holds the annual “Kanji of the Year” event at Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the ancient capital.

The education ministry targeted the foundation in a raid last month because it was suspected of having accumulated excessive profits. Since the foundation is a public-interest corporation, it is not allowed to generate profits greater than that needed to properly carry out its operations. Its violation of this rule is regrettable.

Mr. Noboru Okubo, formerly an employee of an appliance maker, set up the kanken foundation in 1975, when only 672 people sat for the foundation’s first tests. In 1992, the education ministry approved the kanken tests and the foundation gained the status of a public-interest corporation. The number of applicants for the tests topped 1 million in fiscal 1997 and reached 2.7 million in fiscal 2007.

The foundation racked up profits of ¥880 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.

It has also been found that the foundation paid a total of ¥6.6 billion to four firms with ties to Mr. Okubo, chief director of the foundation, as fees for contracting out work to them from April 2006 to December 2008. The education ministry must answer why it did not scrutinize the “kanken” operations prior to its raid. For its part, the foundation must announce clear-cut plans to plow its profits back into society.