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What Were They Thinking?

August 2, 2010

I guess at some level everyone who commits a crime thinks they are going to get away with it.  But what I don’t know is whether they think of the rationalizations before, during or after the deed.

The question is pertinent because of recent news from Tokyo.

As you know, Japan has a large number of centenarians.  Not only that, they still respect their elders over there and have something called “Respect for the Elderly Day.”

Ironically, that was the undoing of the plot in question.

The local authorities realized that, according to their records, a certain Sogen Kato was 111 years old, making him the oldest man in the prefecture.  They decided to go visit him, but on arriving, were told by his family that he wasn’t receiving visitors. 

The reason?  Apparently 30 years ago, (he would have been about 80 then) Kato-san announced to his family that he had decided to become a Living Buddha.  Accordingly, he was, effective immediately, giving up food, drink and contact with humanity.  With that, he went to his room and demanded to never be disturbed.

The family, showing due respect for the wishes of the elderly, complied and left him alone.  His wife also shrugged her shoulders and acceded to his demands.

She passed away six years ago, aged 101.

Everything was going along nicely until the authorities became more strident in their demands to see Mr. Kato.  The family insisted that as a monk, his wishes for solitude must be respected.  Ultimately, the local authorities called the cops who broke into the inner sanctum.  There they found Kato-san in “underwear and pyjamas”  and in a “mummified condition,” apparently dead for, coincidentally, 30 years.

So as the old ethics question goes, has something wrong been done or has something been done wrong?


 The Look They Were Going For?

If you follow the money, you learn that as “surviving” spouse, Mr. Kato had been collecting his wife’s pension checks since she died six years ago.  And as a pensioner, he’s been receiving payments, even though he was technically employed as a Living Buddha.  And technically dead.

Over the years, the family collected about NZ$150,000 in payments, which is about $5,000 per year.  I don’t know about you, but that seems like chump change to me, considering that this is Tokyo we’re talking about, and especially when you have to put up with a decomposing corpse in the bedroom.

The whole family is in on it.  One of the grandchildren is quoted as saying “Grandpa was a very scary man.  So we couldn’t open the door.  He shut himself in the room without food or water.”

My first mental picture was a little Japanese kid in a sailor suit gazing in fear at the closed door.  But then I realized that the grandchild of an 111 year old guy is probably old enough to ask some follow up questions.

Which brings us back to the initial question of excuses.  I have a hard time thinking that the family hatched this plot 30 years ago.  But then that requires us to believe that they really thought that Kato-san was really meditating on a low cal diet for all these years. 

The more I think of it, this is probably the best excuse they could have come up with under the circumstances.  As shaky as this one is, it’s a lot better than “We forgot you’re supposed to bury dead people.”  Or, “We thought that incense he was burning was pretty strong but didn’t want to disturb him.”  Or, “he was pretty quiet after the first year or so, but he told us to never bother him.”

Like a lot of these stories, this one will probably drop out of the news and we’ll never know what really happened.  But I’m looking forward to hearing more excuses. 

Which one is your favorite?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 10:17 am

    Unbelievable! Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Len Skuta permalink
    August 2, 2010 10:23 am

    Good riddance of the old anti-social scamp.

  3. August 2, 2010 7:37 pm

    OMGosh!!! how bizarre. ewww Imagine living in the same house as a corpse for 30 years!!! I watched a programme last year about a British Minister who travelled round the world ’round the World in 80 Faiths’. fantastically interesting & in onw of the countries (I forget which) in South America, they dont bury their dead for years and years (cant remember why either) but visit them every day, leave food offerings, the local paper or whatever their interest was. They do eventually bury them, but as in the above story, some not for 30 years or so. bizarre. I love this world, it’s all crazy!! 🙂 Thanks for a very entertaining read. 🙂

  4. August 2, 2010 11:08 pm

    Well that ‘Starving Yogi’ claims that he has gone 70 years without food or water and 10 days of it can be proven so who knows. Maybe they thought he was a super bad ass like the Starving Yogi or Remo Williams or something.

  5. Gail permalink
    August 3, 2010 6:17 pm

    Tom, when you have lived in Japan and been taken under the wing of some of the locals, nothing should surprise us. Just think of some of the vending machines we saw. Gail.

  6. dafna permalink
    August 4, 2010 9:36 am

    sounds like a more extreme case of “kodokushi” ?

    loved your colonoscopy blog – my first one was displayed on a big screen t.v., i awoke out of the “twilight” state several times and politely asked the nurse to step aside because she was blocking my view! when i took to directing the doctor with such phrases as “please go back i think you missed something”, they finally managed to knock me out fully.

    Propofol from now on…

    • August 4, 2010 10:26 am

      I hadn’t heard of kodokushi–really sad.

      Watching the monitor during “the procedure” would be a new definition of out of body experience I think!

  7. August 4, 2010 11:08 am

    I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening in the States, although I’ve never heard anyone claim that they thought that their dead relative was just praying to Jesus for three decades.

  8. August 4, 2010 4:47 pm

    Can one be employed as a Living Buddha? Is there money in it?

    I for one would like to apply.

    Although the whole ” giving up food, drink and contact with humanity” thing may be a problem.

  9. Len Skuta permalink
    August 5, 2010 2:12 am

    Could I just do it until I lose 20 pounds?

  10. August 6, 2010 7:54 am

    Reminds me of an episode here in New York City a couple years ago. Two guys showed up at a check cashing place to cash their freshly deceased roommate’s Social Security check that had just arrived in the mail, but were told that the person whose name is on the check would have to be present.

    So they went home, put the corpse in an office chair on casters, wheeled him across Ninth Avenue in broad daylight, left him on the sidewalk right in front of the window of the check cashing place, entered, and informed the teller that their buddy was “right there outside” and pointed toward the window.

    Meanwhile, a crowd of curious passers-by had formed around the lifeless body on the sidewalk, the cops became interested, and the jig was up.

    Obviously, a hopeless venture from the jump, but you gotta hand it to those guys for trying.

  11. August 7, 2010 3:38 am

    This is too good to be true. Where does one sign up to be a Living Buddha? I too can sit around and collect money.

  12. August 7, 2010 7:42 am

    Are you kidding me? I don’t know much about Japanese culture but if that happened in the US, it would have been classified as a scheme. I have a really hard time believing the family was “respecting his wishes.”

  13. August 9, 2010 2:11 pm

    How about “He’s not deceased; he’s just pining for the fjords”?

  14. August 10, 2010 5:16 pm

    Now that you picked up the story, The Economist jumped on the bandwagon. You may have a mole among your readers with connections to that particular publication.

    • August 10, 2010 5:31 pm

      Could be. But it’s not every day I scoop the Economist so I’m not going to complain! 🙂

  15. August 17, 2010 1:22 pm

    Geez, Tom, this is good. Love the humour. Esp cacked at this bit …
    “I don’t know about you, but that seems like chump change to me, considering that this is Tokyo we’re talking about, and especially when you have to put up with a decomposing corpse in the bedroom.”

  16. bob zeller permalink
    September 9, 2010 6:51 am

    What’s the big deal? It happens all the time around here. Here being in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. Whenever the old man or old lady kicks off the family keeps ’em around so the checks don’t stop. And since the old goat’s friends are all dead, no one notices that he/she/it is dead too. The family wraps the body in cellophane, stands it up in the closet, and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da life goes on. I figure that is how I will go out myself, stuffed in a trunk above the garage. Sort of like the salama and cheese sandwich I had for lunch a while ago …..

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