TOKYO – Japanese police arrested a teenager accused of cheating on his university entrance examination by consulting online forums with his mobile phone, prompting outrage Friday in this gadget-loving country that prizes hard work and fairness.
The arrest of a 19-year-old applicant to prestigious Kyoto University dominated the major newspapers and TV news shows. Japanese media say he could become the first person to be prosecuted in the country for cheating.
The case raised questions over whether the country's top universities -- the gateway to top jobs in Japan's corporate culture -- have adapted to the Internet's new opportunities for cheating.
"It's not a mere cheating case," an editorial in the nationwide Mainichi newspaper said. "The impact of the wrongful use of the Internet, capable of massively spreading information instantly, is huge."
Police said they arrested the student Thursday on suspicion that he obstructed business through fraud. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison or a fine of 500,000 yen ($6,000), though media reports have indicated that he will likely not be charged.
Even if convicted, he would likely be able to reapply to universities, since most Japanese schools don't check applicants' criminal records. His name has been withheld because he is a minor under Japanese law.
The suspect admitted to wrongdoing, and the case will be sent to prosecutors Saturday, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules.
Admission to Japan's top universities, seen as a prerequisite for a good job in government or business, is determined by applicants' performance on grueling entrance examinations, and young people face enormous pressure preparing for them. Many high school graduates who fail to get into their school of choice cram full-time for a full year for another shot -- and sometimes longer until they make it.
The suspect is accused of turning to a popular question-and-answer site run by Yahoo Japan for help during a test. His eight alleged postings from Feb. 25-26, the exam days at Kyoto University, are still viewable online.
Using the online alias "aicezuki" -- whose meaning was unknown -- the suspect asked for help in solving mathematical formulas and translating Japanese passages into English. After one, he ended politely, "It's a rather long passage, and I apologize for the trouble."
Various answers were then posted throughout the day.
The case was brought to light after someone who saw the Yahoo message board postings called the university on the second day of the test, triggering an investigation.
Police also suspect that he used similar cheating tactics at three other top universities -- Doshisha, Waseda and Rikkyo -- earlier in February. Officials at the those universities found similar questions posted under the same online alias on exam dates for those schools and have requested an investigation.
Police have confiscated the youth's cell phone, subscribed under his mother's name, for further investigation and analysis. There was no indication he had accomplices, police said.
The case also has some wondering whether the nation's venerable colleges are keeping up with modern technology. At Kyoto University, test takers must switch off their mobile phones and keep them in their bags. But many students take the test at the same time, and modern phones can quickly scan in long chunks of Japanese text through their cameras.
"Entrance exams should be strictly impartial, and that the occurrence of such an incident could spread alarm to the applicants as well as society, and is highly regrettable," wrote Kyoto University President Hiroshi Matsumoto in a statement posted online.
If the student is found to have cheated, the universities plan to disqualify him.
Other universities are scrambling to take measures, such as having test takers keep each of their cell phones in envelopes after switching them off and place them on desktop.
"Supervision is very important. Universities have always been aware of this, but especially because this case occurred, they should proceed properly," said Education Minister Yoshiaki Takaki told reporters Friday.