Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 7, 2011
Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana!
- The Heart Sutra
FORMER Prime Minister Kan Naoto — you remember him — is bringing back his atonement shtick. Politicians are attention vampires, and the media’s need to fill enormous amounts of space every day, regardless of quality, is just as compelling. That explains the infotainment industry’s interest in the non-story that Mr. Kan has resumed his pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku.
One of these days, he might finish it. He started in 2004, and this is his sixth crack at feigning interest in a life of religious asceticism. On Monday, he showed up at Enmei-ji in Ehime, which is temple #54. The idea behind the pilgrimage, which began more than a millennium ago, is that an earthly desire is eliminated for each temple visited. Hey, who knows — after another 34, Mr. Kan might even wind up on the wagon. Adding to the comic incongruity is the custom of pilgrims to recite several prayers at each temple they visit, including the Heart Sutra twice. If the former prime minister hews to form, he’ll read the sutras from a large-print cheat sheet prepared by a bureaucrat.
He embarked on his first pilgrimage following his first resignation from the Democratic Party presidency to atone for his failure to pay into the pension system. Several photographers from the industrial media happened to be in the area when he showed up in pilgrim duds, making it a fair trade: He gave them content, and they gave him publicity. It later emerged, however, that the Social Insurance Agency canceled his enrollment in the system by mistake, so he was guilty only of exhibitionism and not negligence. In other words, he went on a partial pilgrimage to atone for a sin he didn’t commit. That says more about a politician’s priorities than I ever could.
Come to think of it, that might explain why he’s had so much trouble finishing the tour. It also might provide a hint to the degree of sincerity behind his stated reasons for resuming the pilgrimage this time: to pray for the souls of the Tohoku disaster victims and to resolve the crisis from the nuclear accident. He could do all of that at a temple near his Tokyo residence, assuming he ever goes, but that would have no PR value.
Be that as it may, Mr. Kan has a legitimate reason for visiting the religious institution of his choice, or even all 88 of them in Shikoku, but praying for the repose of the dead isn’t it. Rather, it would be to atone for his sins in office.
To cite one of many, former Cabinet advisor Matsumoto Ken’ichi revealed last week that it was Mr. Kan and Sengoku Yoshito, then the Chief Cabinet Secretary, who decided to release the Chinese fishing trawler captain arrested after ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkakus Islets last September. Both men insisted at the time that they had nothing to do with the decision, and claimed it was the responsibility of the public prosecutors in Okinawa. Mr. Matsumoto didn’t take up his advisory position until the following month, but he later discussed the matter with Mr. Sengoku — an old friend responsible for his appointment — so he was therefore in a position to know. Several Cabinet ministers have said off the record that Mr. Kan ordered the captain’s release, but Mr. Matsumoto is the first government source to go public.
Leave it to the journos to slough off a Richter-scale magnitude abdication of responsibility while enjoying themselves with the pilgrimage story. Then again, none of this would have surprised anyone in Japan who chanced on the report; nearly 80% of those surveyed in opinion polls at the time thought Mr. Kan was lying.
Mr. Matsumoto also explained that a debate was held within the government about how best to dispose of the matter, and that Mr. Kan finally gave the order by telephone to release the captain when he was in New York on 19 September for a meeting of the UN General Assembly. The captain was set free five days later.
Said Mr. Sengoku at the time:
“It’s my understanding that it was the decision of the prosecutors alone.”
Said Mr. Kan at a 25 September news conference in New York:
“The prosecutors involved comprehensively examined the nature of the case and other factors, and the result was a sober decision based on Japanese law.”
According to Mr. Matsumoto, the Kantei justified the decision by saying the video the local prosecutors sent to Tokyo was “defective”. He also pointed out that the prosecutors thought there were no problems with the video at all, and that the Kantei used that excuse to avoid the charge that they were applying pressure. In fact, a panel of prosecutors in Okinawa reviewed the evidence in July, including the video, and determined that the captain should have been prosecuted.
The Naha prosecutors, however, are sticking with the original story. Now who among these people isn’t telling the truth?
Remembering that Matsumoto Ken’ichi has embarrassed the government in public before might help answer that question. After meeting with Prime Minister Kan on 13 April this year, Mr. Matsumoto held a news conference and passed on the information that Mr. Kan told him it would be 10-20 years before people who lived within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima nuclear power plant could return to their homes. He added that the prime minister said those people could be housed in a new Eco-Town, based on the German version of the Garden City concept.
That night, Mr. Kan told reporters he never said any such thing, and he called Mr. Matsumoto and made him walk his previous statement back. The Cabinet advisor called a second news conference to do just that. He also told the press that he explained to the prime minister that people wouldn’t be able to live near the plant for a while. Further, he said he suggested the idea of the Eco-Town, and Mr. Kan liked it.
In August, Mr. Kan traveled to Fukushima to meet with some of the evacuated people. He told them they wouldn’t be able to live in their old homes for 20 years.
Australian television ran an interview with Matsumoto Ken’ichi last week that was dubbed into English. Here’s how they translated one of his statements:
“The cabinet knew right after the disaster that some people would not be able to live in their communities for 10 or 20 years. The Government should have conveyed the truth to the evacuees, but it felt scared. It feared telling the truth to the people.”
When it was revealed that former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan was responsible in part for the Gwangju massacre of 1980, he apologized to the nation in a public address, withdrew from politics, and went to live in Baekdamsa, a Buddhist temple in Gangwon-do, for two years.
The least Kan Naoto can do to atone for his sins is to finally finish his pilgrimage to the 88 temples in Shikoku.
But he won’t.