The top bureaucrat at the education ministry stepped down on Friday to take the blame for a series of bribery scandals involving its officials.
Kazuo Todani became the second vice education minister to leave the post in less than two years. His departure came after two former senior ministry officials were arrested and indicted over the bribery cases.
Todani, 61, replaced Kihei Maekawa, who quit in January last year after facing public criticism over the ministry's systematic arrangements of "amakudari," or descent from heaven, a practice in which officials illegally land lucrative post-retirement jobs at educational institutions supervised by the ministry.
The long-standing practice has stirred a public outcry.
The outgoing top bureaucrat, who was disciplined the same day over his involvement in a bribery case, told reporters, "I take my punishment seriously and am deeply sorry for causing public mistrust."
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference, "I want to apologize sincerely. We will work to regain trust."
In one of the bribery cases, Kazuaki Kawabata, a former director general for international affairs at the ministry, was arrested in July on suspicion of being wined and dined by a consulting firm executive, in return for providing a favor to the firm. Kawabata was indicted the following month.
Prosecutors have searched Todani's office, suspecting he was present during the wining and dining by the consulting firm.
Futoshi Sano, a former director general of the ministry's science and technology bureau, was also arrested and indicted in July on a charge of accepting a bribe. He is accused of helping Tokyo Medical University secure a government subsidy in exchange for a place at the institution for his son.
Along with Todani, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau chief Michiyasu Takahashi, 57, and Higher Education Bureau head Hiroshi Yoshimoto, 56, are subject to pay cuts due to their involvement in graft cases. Takahashi also resigned on Friday.
By setting up a probe team, the ministry investigated all its employees about whether they have ever received money or been wined and dined by external institutions.
Last year, the ministry took disciplinary actions against or reprimanded a total of 43 officials for their involvement in organized revolving-door re-employment of retired public servants.