Photo/IllutrationA large shredder similar to the one used in the basement of the Cabinet Office (Provided by Nakabayashi Co.)

An early scene in the 1992 U.S. film "Batman Returns" revolves around a mysterious monster confronting an evil entrepreneur whose factory continues to discharge toxic effluent.

The monster says he is in possession of a document to prove the entrepreneur's violation of the city's fire prevention ordinance.

The entrepreneur retorts to the effect, "If such a document existed--which obviously didn't--I would have shredded it anyway."

The monster pulls out the document in question--every shredded piece taped together--and declares that with scotch tape and patience, any shredded document can be restored.

I watched this old movie again, following a Diet session that focused on the missing documents pertaining to "sakura viewing events" hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A Cabinet Office bureaucrat told the Diet that every single document was shredded. And most surprisingly, he said it was done on the day a Japanese Communist Party legislator requested the disclosure of guest lists and budgetary documents.

The shredder used was a large, high-efficiency model sitting in the basement of the Cabinet Office that can shred 1,000 pages in 40 seconds.

There also are smaller shredders in each department of the Cabinet Office, according to the official.

One wonders just how many pages of official documents are being fed into those machines every day in Kasumigaseki, the seat of Japanese bureaucracy.

Whenever a scandal surfaces, the bureaucrats' go-to excuse is that all pertinent documents have been "discarded" or "cannot be located." Perhaps this is what they have to say to survive under the Abe administration.

After being denied their existence repeatedly in the Diet and news conferences, the Defense Ministry's "Iraq log" and the Finance Ministry's original--that is, unfalsified--records of negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen somehow "reappeared" later.

Could it be possible that lists of names, recommended by the prime minister and high-profile politicians as guests to the sakura viewing events, are hidden somewhere in the government offices?

Even if nobody has enough scotch tape and patience to restore shredded documents like in the Batman movie, surely they can be retrieved readily if they are in digital format.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23

* * *

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.