"Do you write with a fountain pen, a felt-tip pen or a ballpoint pen?" was a question once asked of children's book author Satoru Sato (1928-2017), who is well-known for his series of stories about "korobokkuru" (a race of small people based on Ainu folklore).

"An eraser," he reportedly answered, and got a laugh.

But Sato was a fiend for editing his own manuscripts over and over, and was half serious in his reply. And he wrote with a pencil. "I erase, erase, erase and then rewrite a bit and erase again. That's how I work," he once noted.

He obviously put tremendous effort into perfecting his crystal-clear literary style.

Editing and polishing a literary work is one thing. But when alterations are made to an official government document under suspicious circumstances, let's call a spade a spade: Let's never call it "editing and polishing."

Finance Ministry documents concerning the Moritomo Gakuen land transaction scandal are strongly suspected to have been tampered with.

But for what purpose? The answer would be obvious in the parts that were deleted.

At the time of the transactions of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, the Finance Ministry's documents noted the "exceptional case" and "special characteristic of this case." These expressions practically screamed, "This deal was like none other."

But when the same documents were shown to Diet members, those parts were nowhere to be found. Did someone use a "magic eraser?"

The Finance Ministry on March 6 submitted a progress report on investigations to the Upper House. But the report did not even confirm or deny the existence of the documents approving the land transactions.

If the bureaucrats involved were toiling away to cover up something rather than to achieve something positive, what a horrendous waste that was.

History tends to be rewritten by victors, as we all know. Even though this Moritomo Gakuen scandal happened only a few years ago, that does not change the fact that the Finance Ministry documents in question are historical records.

We must always remain alert to any questionable "eraser."

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 7

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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.