A modern Japanese leader should ideally be an epitome of ancient values such as - capacity to march 100 kilometres in 24 hours, fight using the way of the sword and serve tea with grace.
That is according to the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, whose Jedi Knight-like curriculum has produced more than 30 parliament members since the early 1980s, including current Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
AdvertisementSet on a quiet seashore south of Tokyo, the institute seeks to sculpt bold leaders "who will strive to make Japan a better place in the 21st century" and put their ideas and strong convictions into practice.
Students follow an austere routine rooted in ancient Japanese practices bordering on monasticism, which they say provide the inner strength and mental stability essential to become modern leaders.
More than 100 of its total 242 graduates are now in politics including Noda, who as finance minister is charged with bolstering Japan's fragile finances with an eye on eventually reducing the industrialised world's biggest debt.
Others include Japan's telegenic Transportation Minister Seiji Maehara, one of the more vocal critics of the Democratic Party of Japan's fallen leader Yukio Hatoyama and his backroom fixer Ichiro Ozawa.
For recent graduate Yutaka Kumagai, 34, the lessons learned at the school have steeled him to campaign for a seat in Sunday's upper house elections.
"What I've learned at Matsushita has influenced all of my political activity and shaped my ambitions," he said, his voice hoarse after a day of shouting slogans and speeches in streets to woo voters.
"Japan's traditions of meditation, martial arts, tea ceremony -- they help build virtue, self-discipline, self-control."
Kumagai, drawn to politics after witnessing first hand the bursting of Japan's economic bubble in the 1990s, is running on a Liberal Democrat ticket promising to revitalise his native northern Sendai city.
"What's necessary in politics is the concept of virtue. Today, people have lost confidence in politics because politicians spew negligent statements."
He said the more testing parts of the course, such as 5:00 am starts and a gruelling 100-kilometre (60-mile) march in one day, taught "thoughtfulness, compassion and mutual aid," which for many may not sound typical of politicians.
Through its teachings the school aims to produce leaders who can wield influence on the world stage in the same way that some of Japan's corporate titans have done, including the school's late founder Konosuke Matsushita.
The creator of electronics giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, famed for its Panasonic brand, set up the school in 1979, which covers all costs and only accepts a handful of students from hundreds of applicants yearly.
"In order to become Japan's leader, you need to firmly understand your country's culture and tradition," said the institute's director of training Kazuhiro Furuyama, a former alumnus and a classmate of Noda and Maehara.
"Kendo (Japanese martial art of sword fighting) and zazen (meditation) are extremely good for character-building, something we lack today. That's why they are included in our curriculum," he added.
"If a leader understands the greatness of his own country's culture, and wears its greatness on himself, then he will be able to participate in world affairs with confidence."
Internal Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, and lawmaker Shinji Tarutoko, who lost out to Naoto Kan in the recent race to replace Hatoyama, also passed through the school's corridors.
Other alumni include city mayors and governors, including one for Kanagawa prefecture, the second-biggest region after Tokyo.
Their increasing presence may reflect a sea change in Japan's political landscape, which until now has been populated by second and third-generation politicians or graduates of elite institutions such as Tokyo University.
It may prove challenging for students to transfer Matsushita's tenets of gratitude, cooperation and independence to a political arena that in the past has been tainted by accusations of corruption, and pork-barreling.
But if its teachings can help bring an end to a period of damaging revolving-door politics that has seen five new premiers in four years, then Matsushita school will have borne fruit, said Furuyama.
"I am sure an alumnus will become prime minister within ten years' time," he said.
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