Japan Times Saturday, May 27, 2000
Oldest international school's
closure leaves many questions
Japan's oldest international school closes
its doors today, leaving behind a 99-year legacy that started as a result of
nationalist upheaval and ended under a cloud of bitter protests and
suspicions of greed.
Just 13 students of the class of 2000 will
attend today's graduation ceremony of St. Joseph International School in
Yokohama, although it's likely that they'll be joined by several hundred
alumni and former staff, many of whom still remain in the dark as to why the
school is to fold.
St. Joseph was established in 1901 by
Marianist brothers as an all-boys Catholic school to provide education for
children of the foreign community here. Approximately 1,500 students have
graduated since, including Charles J. Pederson, the 1987 Chemistry Nobel
St. Joseph's closure was announced in late
1995 by the school's directors, who cited financial woes, a dwindling
religious faculty and decreasing numbers of foreign students as the reasons.
A CYCLIST PASSES the entrance to St. Joseph International School in Yokohama,
which closes today, ending its 99-year history SATOKO KOBAYASHI
An organization to protest the decision
was immediately established by parents, alumni and teachers, who suggested a
number of ways to counter the problems outlined by the school board.
Each suggestion was turned down flat,
Parent-Teacher Organization members said.
"No concerted efforts were made to
increase the number of foreign students," said Philippe Eymard, who
spend a total of 24 years at St. Joseph, first as a student and then as a
teacher, and whose son was a student there at the time of the announcement.
of the problems stated could have been solved. I still believe it was all a
Although St. Joseph's principal, Brother
John O'Donnell, refused to talk to the Japan Times about the future plans for
the school building, Brother Yasuyuki Taue, chairman of the school's board of
directors, said that "in the case of the school's closure, any assets
remaining after calculations (for liabilities and so on), will either be
returned to the school or a public entity according to the law."
One alumnus said he had no doubt the land
would be sold off.
His research into the issue had revealed
that the land on which the school is located started as a 99-year permanent
lease hold but now the Marianists have "complete ownership of the
The property, he said "is located on
the biggest piece of land available on the most expensive patch of land (in
Kanagawa prefectural officials, he said,
had also revealed that the Marianists "can transfer the right to the
land to any private party." A major land developer has already put in a
bid for the land, he added.
"Rumor has it (the Marianists) will
give up the land, which I think they'll be happy to do since their reputation
has been tainted in the community," the former student said on condition
A Kanagawa official said that while the
land cannot be used for development by the school per se, it could be sold to
a private party on condition that any funds accrued from the sale of the land
be handed on to either another educational institution or a publicly owned
Some alumni say that St. Joseph is
effectively controlled by Gyosei Gakuin, one of the original Marianist-run
schools in Japan, and thus they have no doubt about where the funds might end
Suits against religious order by PTO
members, who were advised by Kanagawa Prefecture officials that it would be
difficult to close a school with some 200 students without the PTO's
acceptance, have cost the Marianists dearly, said former PTO member Marie
After the first court case in 1996, the
Marianists opted to settle the dispute by declaring they "would keep the
school open as long as students were there," Fujita said.
"But they reneged on that
decision," added Fujita, whose daughter was a student at St. Joseph at
that time. "A new principal was brought in who started saying the school
will close at any time and that the wording of the settlement had been
According to former teacher Eymard, the
final straw came when a letter regarding payment of school fees for the
1998-99 school year informed the parents that the fees had been increased 30
"This was just one of the tactics
used to try and get rid of the students," he said.
Another tactic, said Eymard, was the
board's "exiling" of the former principal, Father James Mueller, to
Osaka in 1996. Five other brothers were sent to other Marianist schools as
they were thought to be too sympathetic to the students and parents, he said.
"James Mueller" was a man who
had actually made efforts (to attract students). He was sent to Osaka and
told not to set foot on Yokohama soil again," he said.
Meanwhile, Fujita said that in a separate
court case, the Marianists had agreed to pay Y80 million compensation to
students and families who had been inconvenienced by the closure.
Class of '66 graduate Chiaki Homma said a
major concern for many alumni was to secure preservation of the school's
history, if not its continuation.
Homma is hopeful that in the event of the
land being sold off, a portion will be set aside to preserve the school
Brother Taue said that, in accordance with
the law, this was unlikely.
One of the 13 students graduating today
spoke of mixed emotions about her big day, saying she was "sad"
about the school's closure but "honored" to be among the last
Asked what she thinks will happen to the
school, she said: "Everyone says it's a mystery, but that land - It's
worth a million. What do you think?"