Kato leaves a legacy of wisdom
2008/12/16Shuichi Kato, a social critic who died on Dec. 5 at age 89, was a medical student at the University of Tokyo when Japan declared war on the United States 67 years ago. Recalling that day, Dec. 8, 1941, in "Hitsuji no Uta" (A Sheep's Song), his autobiography from Iwanami Shoten Publishers, Kato said, "I felt that the world around me had suddenly taken on a landscape I had never seen before."
It was as if the line that anchored him to his familiar world had suddenly snapped, he wrote. The nation exalted over Japan's successful attack on Pearl Harbor, but not Kato. He could already foresee the doom that lay ahead. When he came home from university, his mother asked him how he thought the war would go. He exclaimed, "There's no way we can win."
On the day of Japan's Aug. 15, 1945, defeat, Kato thought: "If there is such a thing as the joy of living, I should begin to know it from now." He had witnessed, with the eyes of a medical doctor, the carnage and human misery brought on by the large-scale firebombing of Tokyo in March of that year.
The experience would make him question the absurdity of war for the rest of his life, stoking a sense of deep outrage that came to define his brand of liberalism.
From that root of anger eventually blossomed a flower that was the 9-jo no Kai (Article 9 Association), a group Kato co-founded in 2004 with novelist Kenzaburo Oe and others. The flower scattered its seeds around the nation, giving rise to a grass-roots peace movement to protect war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.
Kato had a long-running column in the vernacular Asahi Shimbun under the somewhat self-deprecating title of "Sekiyo Mogo" (Absurd mumbling of the setting sun). In the last installment printed in July, he introduced an old man nicknamed sakasa jisan (Upside-down grandpa). The chatty neighbor has the habit of seeing everything upside-down--obviously Kato's alter ego.
The elderly man argues that Japan, where we the people are made to defer to self-important bureaucrats and politicians who are actually in our employ, is an upside-down democracy that needs to be put right-side-up again.
The setting sun denotes old age. But in exiting this world, what this intellectual giant left behind was anything but empty remarks of a doddering old man, but loads of "homework" for our country to wise up with.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7(IHT/Asahi: December 16,2008)