Quite a few flexibly minded people go into serious professions, but the ability to maintain that suppleness of thinking after a career in important posts is more unusual.
Shigemitsu Dando, a noted expert on criminal law who also served as a Supreme Court justice and an adviser to the Imperial Household Agency, was one of them. He died on June 25, aged 98.
During World War II, Dando, who was a scholar at the time, was invited by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo (1884-1948) to his official residence and served Chinese cuisine. That is just one of the small details of a long and storied professional career. Dando was also the creator of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Writer Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), who was his student at the University of Tokyo, wrote that he was mesmerized by the code’s “cold and orderly logical composition,” which he thought of as “a model for novels and plays.”
As a teenager, Dando gazed up at a star-filled sky and was dismayed at the smallness of the Earth and himself. Although it is hard to imagine from his dignified name and illustrious career, such sensitivity must have eventually led to his liberal inclination and well-tempered personality. That was a quality that also appealed to members of the imperial family.
After working as a professor, he became a judge. On one occasion, he handed down the death sentence in a murder case, and someone in the gallery shouted “Murderer!” at him as he was leaving the courtroom. The defendant had denied committing the crime. “Since I felt a tinge of uneasiness, it hurt,” he recalled.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure that he drafted, an original ruling cannot be reversed unless there are, for example, serious factual errors.
Judges are human and make mistakes. As a scholar, Dando said he could not see that. After he came to advocate the abolition of the death penalty, he was adamant, saying it is bad “just like war is bad” and continued to oppose it in his 90s.
His funeral will be held on June 29 at St. Ignatius Church in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, close to the Supreme Court and the Imperial Palace. Some executed criminals must have repented their crimes and entered heaven. There must also be innocent people who, since ancient times, were falsely accused and executed. When Dando arrives above the clouds of the rainy season, he will face various questions from those who went before him.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 28
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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