National / History | JAPAN TIMES GONE BY

That vexatious 'so desu ka'; Dalai Lama installed; Ikeda picked to be prime minister; Shibuya police box top lender nationwide

by Edan Corkill

Staff Writer

100 YEARS AGO
Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1914

Journalist irritated by the words sō desu ka

Writing from the Savage Club, London, the Tokyo Asahi’s war correspondent, Mr. Sugimura, describes his luncheon there with Mr. Mackenzie of the Times as host.

Mr. Mackenzie, while in Japan in the same capacity, learned to hate the words sō desu ka (Is that so?). Applying to the military authorities for permission to go to the front, the staff officer in charge says, sō desu ka! Day after day passes on without any news, and he goes to the same office to hurry them up, but only the same word is repeated by the same party. I can’t wait any longer — sō desu ka.

Please try and let me go at once — sō desu ka. What are you going to do for me after all? — sō desu ka. I must say goodbye to you, then — sō desu ka!

Certainly that was the most tantalizing phrase in the whole world, he says. And Mr. Sugimura in great sympathy but without thinking of it says, “sō desu ka!” — much to the disgust of his host.


75 YEARS AGO
Monday, Nov. 27, 1939

Fourteenth Dalai Lama installed in Tibet

A living “baby” Buddha now accepting homage from the 2 million people he will rule till death, and believed by his followers to have the same soul possessed by the ruler who preceded him, is the subject of a strange story being unfolded in fragmentary news from Tibet.

“The small boy in knee-boots and yellow robes, recently installed in Lhasa’s hilltop palace, is Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama, just identified after more than five years of search for the thirteenth Lama’s successor,” says a bulletin from the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Geographic Society. “Until he reaches his majority, regents will rule in his name.”

“Tibet, secluded between the world’s highest mountain barriers and the gloomiest windswept desert of Asia, is one of the last theocracies surviving in the modern world. The Dalai Lama, head of both church and state, is acclaimed as a living embodiment of Buddha.

His succession is determined by no commonplace father-and-son hereditary arrangement, but by the principle of reincarnation. When a Dalai Lama dies, oracles fall into trances for guidance, and priests search the country for a boy born at the instant of the ruler’s death. The spirit of the former Dalai Lama is accepted as having entered the baby, who thereupon becomes ruler of a land one-sixth as large as the United States, and head of a priesthood numbering between one-fifth and one-seventh of the entire population.

The young Dalai Lama referred to is Tenzin Gyatso, who continues to hold the position today.


50 YEARS AGO
Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1964

Ikeda picks Sato to be next prime minister

Ailing Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda picked former State Minister Eisaku Sato as the man to succeed him Monday morning.

The verdict, in the form of a message addressed to a general meeting of Liberal-Democratic members of both Houses of the Diet, was entrusted to two Tory president-makers at the National Cancer Center at Tsukiji, Tokyo, where Ikeda is receiving treatment for cancer.

Ikeda handed the message to Tory Vice President Shojiro Kawashima and Secretary General Takeo Miki immediately after they briefed him on their latest round of negotiations to single out his successor.

Kawashima and Miki read the message at the Dietmen’s caucus held in the Diet building hours later. The caucus then voted on Ikeda’s recommendation.

In a brief address to the party caucus, Sato said he fully realized the gravity of his new duties as well as that of the situation both in and outside of Japan.

He pledged his efforts to further strengthen Tory unity and resolutely tackle his political tasks. He then solicited massive Tory support for this endeavor.

Ikeda had announced his resignation, due to ongoing cancer treatment, the day after the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. He died on Aug. 13, 1965.


25 YEARS AGO
Saturday, Nov. 4, 1989

Shibuya police box is top lender nationwide

The police box in front of Shibuya Station, besides being one of the busiest in Tokyo, is the top money lender among Japanese police boxes.

When people in Shibuya spend more than their budgets allow, or lose their purse or wallet, they come to this police box to borrow enough money to get home.

Last year, 2,925 loans totaling ¥753,858 were recorded by Shibuya police. The average loan was about ¥257.

“We have a budget for it. The budget is mainly based on how much we gave out the year before,” said Shiro Sakurai, the station chief.

“When people come to borrow money, we usually ask them to show us their IDs, but even if they don’t have IDs with them we lend them money sometimes,” another policeman said. “From our experience, we can usually tell if a person is reliable or not.

“But there are people who take advantage of our system. They borrow money from several police boxes and disappear,” he added.

Loans are also provided to those who are injured or do not have enough money to go home because they have lost their way, as well as those who left home without money.

“The appearance of the borrowers is not a factor in our decision to lend them money or not,” the officer said.

“We don’t discriminate against them. Also, we have never had foreigners asking to borrow money,” the officer said. “But if they come, we’ll lend them money, too.

“We can lend as much as ¥1,000 at a time,” he added. “More than that, we have to get permission from our superior.”

The police box money-lending policy is still in effect today.

In this feature, which appears on the first Sunday of each month, we delve into The Japan Times’ 117-year archive to present a selection of stories from the past. This edition was compiled with the assistance of Florian Meissner. The Japan Times’ entire archive is now available to purchase in digital format. For more details, see jtimes.jp/de.