Governor of Tokyo is sued for insulting French language

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Monday, July 18, 2005

On July 13, 21 French and Japanese individuals sued Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, for defamation towards people who use the French language. Those 21 were French language teachers and Japanese researchers who taught French. In 2004, Ishihara said that no one can count in the French language. Ishihara was sued for 500,000 yen (approx. US $4,457) for each plaintiff, including Malik Berkane, a French private language school owner in Tokyo. In addition, the plaintiffs demanded that he make an apology.

On October 19, 2004, Ishihara said "French language is a language in which no one can count, therefore it seems to me reasonable that it is disqualified as an international language. People who are tied to the language have taken it upon themselves to oppose [me]. It is all ridiculous" in a speech Ishihara made at the inaugural celebrations of the "Tokyo U-Club". The Tokyo U-club was founded to support the foundation of Tokyo Metropolitan University (Japanese: 首都大学東京, Shuto daigaku Tokyo), which was planned by Ishihara as replacement of universities run by the Tokyo metropolitan government including the same name in English (Japanese: 東京都立大学 Tokyo Toritsu Daigaku).

On August 1, 2003, Ishihara issued his plan to found the new university. His plan had no relation to the restructuring plan of the former Tokyo Metropolitan University which had been on-going for years in cooperation with faculty and Tokyo prefectural government. In his new plan faculties of Humanities, Economics and Law would be drasticially changed and divided into newly organized faculties and departures. As for humanities, literature and language studies would be re-organized into language section and literature section, reduced in number of students, and undergraduate and graduate would be relocated into separate campuses. Quite a few members of the Faculty of Humanities opposed this idea strongly and called for opposition widely. As to that its all faculty issued the opposition on the consensus of all faculty on September 25, 2003. The department of French literature and language was a key group in the movment. Also in 2004, Professor Masato Goda, a teacher of French literature, resigned to express his opposition toward Ishihara's educational policy.

Berkane said "I was very shocked when I heard that. Of course we can count numbers in French, and it is used as an official language in international organisations." "I have been in Japan for 23 years. I am sad that what I have taught in that time is denigrated." Berkane said that he had sent a memorandum to Ishihara in February to ask the governer to apologize but he had as yet received no reply from Ishihara.

On July 15, Ishihara again expressed his opinion that French was formerly a diplomatic lingua franca but due to its complexity it had been falling back. He mentioned that no student had registered in French language lessons at the newly founded Tokyo Metropolitan University. He also stated plaintiffs should have considered seriously if his criticism was appropriate or not.