A classic "rakugo" (comic storytelling) number, titled "Shogi no Tonosama" (Feudal lord and shogi), is about a noble who is a royal pain in the neck for his vassals as they are obliged to play games of Japanese chess with him.

The lord ignores all the rules. When one of his pieces is about to be taken, he commands harshly, "Do not take it." The hapless vassal is bamboozled, but has no choice but to obey his master.

The lord issues every unreasonable order under the sky. "I don't like the positions of your gold and silver. Remove them." "Give me that piece of yours."

Naturally, he wins every game. And his "rule" is that the loser must be struck with an iron-ribbed fan for punishment. All his vassals end up nursing bumps on their heads.

In the real world today, I wonder if some bureaucrats have had to accept unreasonable commands from their bosses and therefore ended up--figuratively--with bumps and scars all over their bodies.

A set of documents, recently obtained by The Asahi Shimbun, reveal the process by which the government approved a request from the Kake Educational Institution to open its new faculty of veterinary medicine.

The director of the institution is a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They dine and play golf together. The documents, prepared by the education ministry, quote a Cabinet Office official as saying, "(The request came from) the highest levels of the prime minister's office" and "We understand that it is the intent of the prime minister."

Reading between the lines, one can surmise that the ministry was aware of the unreasonableness of the plan, but nevertheless forged ahead.

The rule of law prevails in a political system that is run according to a set of definitive regulations, and this is usual in most modern nations. But back when the will of the powers that be was supreme, the rule of individuals was the basis of governance.

I have to wonder if the Kake Educational Institution case really belongs in this present age of the rule of law.

In the final scene of the rakugo, the lord plays shogi with one of his longest-serving vassals. The wise old-timer takes the game seriously, urging his master to understand the importance of following the rules.

Is such a politician or bureaucrat no longer to be found in present-day Japan? Obviously, the Moritomo Gakuen scandal was not the last we saw of the "darkness" that shrouds the nation's political community and bureaucracy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 18

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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.