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The Law : Charming and Outrageous Lawyer Makes a Case for Equality in Japan : Makoto Endo works from an eclectic blend of Marxism, Buddhism and democratic principles.


TOKYO — When Japan's most famous criminal suspect asked Japan's most famous defense lawyer to take his case, Aum Supreme Truth guru Shoko Asahara revealed that Buddha had appeared in a vision and instructed him to do so.

But Makoto Endo, a lawyer so devout that he wears a necktie inscribed with Buddhist sutras 365 days a year, was unmoved.

"I have my weak spots for Buddha," he said, "but I said no."

Endo, 64, baldly called Aum a "heretical religion." He said he does not believe Asahara's protestations of innocence that he and his cult had nothing to do with the poison gas attack on Tokyo subway riders.

At the same time, he blasted police for "fascist" tactics against Aum, called Japan the "worst country in the world" for human rights and laid the blame for nearly all of his nation's woes--including the suffering of World War II--on what he terms megalomaniacal government authorities.

There is nothing subtle about Endo, whose blunt speech, passionate ideals and iconoclastic lifestyle are startling in the staid legal world of Japan.

Endo turned down Asahara, but agreed to defend cult attorney Yoshinobu Aoyama against charges of slander until being dismissed last week.

He also defends Communists, right-wingers and three groups of yakuzas , the criminals of Japan's underworld.

In recent years, he has appeared at press conferences with them to protest that a new anti- yakuza law would dangerously expand government power in a way that could be used to oppress any dissidents.

It is all in a day's work in Endo's lifelong battle against state authority to build what he regards as a utopian Japan: "an equal society of no discrimination between the dominators and the dominated."

Such idealism flows from an eclectic blend of Marxist, Buddhist and democratic principles that he says reside within himself. He is also animated by the spirit of his father killed in China during World War II--which he blames on Japan's imperial war machine--and centuries of ancestors he says were oppressed by the central government.

"It may be that the spirit of my father killed at the hand of state authority is inside me, moving me to action along with the Buddha," he said in an interview at the Tokyo District Court building.

Endo is at once outrageous and charming, erudite and down-home. His speech can be as uncontrolled as his characteristic mane of unkempt hair.

He will tell anyone who cares to listen that he has a weakness for women, tried to commit suicide, believes in polygamy and bathes once every six months but does not get dirty because of his daily Zen practice.

He has had two wives, countless mistresses and three children.

In between a thriving law practice, he presides over two Zen study groups, guides 500 disciples, has written 42 books, shoots nature photographs, records his own songs and plays the chess-like game of go every day after lunch with his wife and business partner, Keiko.

"His most attractive quality is that he absolutely does not discriminate among people," said Keiko, who lives apart from him in a tradition practiced during the Heian Period more than 1,000 years ago.

But Endo also has his critics, including those with similar liberal values.

"He just divulges what he says to his clients to newspapers and the TV," said Takashi Takano, a lawyer. "This is an unethical violation of the attorney-client privilege, but he doesn't seem to recognize this."

Indeed, Endo says Aoyama, the cult attorney, probably dumped him "because I talk too much."

And Endo, while claiming a 100% success rate in civil cases, does not appear to have made a significant impact in paving new legal ground. His greatest role may be in noisily forcing to the fore issues that authorities might prefer to ignore, such as the limits of state power or the oppression of outcasts.

He was born Oct. 29, 1930, in a village in the northern area of Tohoku and lost his father when he was in junior high school. To survive, his mother opened a sewing school, and he helped out with odd jobs.

Poor but bright, Endo entered the nation's most prestigious academic institution, the law department of Tokyo University, in 1950 and began drafting laws in the national Parliament after graduating.

Between his work, he studied for the bar exam and was one of 36 people among 7,109 applicants to pass in 1958.

His academic pedigree gave him a wide range of possibilities, but he chose to become a judge, citing a desire to work within the system to bring about social revolution.

Coming of age in the tumultuous postwar period of the Cold War, the rearming of Japan and the heavy U.S. military presence, Endo became a left-wing student activist caught up in the equality espoused in Marxist thought.

He soon found out, however, that Japan's bureaucracy was not to be a spawning ground for romantic ideas about freedom and equality.

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