31st January 1945

Sometime in the middle of last year it was decided to establish a central bank in the Philippines which would issue “Republic notes”, redeem the Japanese military notes, and withdraw them from circulation, and otherwise control and manage Philippine currency. The Republic negotiated Japanese support and ordered the printing of a five-billion-peso issue, a good, and indeed the only, index to the amount of military notes with which the Japanese forces had flooded the Philippines. This week, with the Laurel government in flight, there seemed to be little point in a central bank. Vargas decided to ask whether the printing of the notes could be suspended; it would cost 10 million yen which the Laurel government did not have. Today the foreign minister gave the Japanese answer: yes, the Japanese government would be happy to stop the printing; as a matter of fact, it had already suspended the printing of the notes for the Burmese central bank. One of the reasons given was at least realistic: there was a shortage of paper and ink.

There is apparently also a shortage of blankets. In the course of his visit to Osaka this month Vargas was promised some woolen blankets by members of the Philippine society in that city. One of our interpreters, who had been sent to fetch them, returned empty-handed. There were no woolen blankets to be had, only inferior substitutes at 10 yen apiece.

He also brought back stories of a violent outraged anger against Tozyo among the businessmen there. They all believed the former premier had made millions out of the munitions ministry which he had held concurrently. Their indignation seemed to me to be vibrant with the righteous envy of unsuccessful competitors. “And once,” cried our interpreter who is an honest soul, “we thought this Tozyo was a god.”

He was toying in his mind with the possibility of peace-talks. Japan, he thought, needed an intriguer as premier, someone who would shout to the empire and to the world that Japan would never surrender while discreetly negotiating for terms through the Soviets. Such a man as Koiso, but Koiso had come in too soon, he said, and would have to go if end when the Philippines fell. He was quite bitter about the hotheads who had dragged Japan into this fatal war. But better surrender than annihilation.

I looked at him in amazement. Did he remember I asked him, that morning last summer, in the Japanese inn by the sea at Atami, when he had sworn to me that Japan had been forced into the war by the machinations of her enemies? Did he remember, I asked, that he had boasted of Japan’s unconquerable spirit, crying that every man, woman, and child of the Yamato race would slash his belly, cut her throat, throw itself into the sea, rather than surrender? He smiled shame facedly.

But I wanted to tell him not to be ashamed. He was not the first man to compromise with life, nor would he be the last. He had compromised a little earlier because he had served an apprenticeship behind the bars of a New York bank, because he had a wife and three children, because he still nursed a. homesick appetite for baseball, beer, well-cut suits, rice wine under the cherry-trees in spring, the elusive pleasures and absorbing puzzles of life. But I knew now that, sooner or later, one after the other, they would all compromise, down to the last youngster of the tokotai with the red sun painted on his breast, his shoulder, and his back.


30th January 1945

The 1944 rice crop is below average….. The distribution of fish rations will be made every six days from now on, instead of every four…. The war is expected to last “for another year or two”, according to the vice-minister of war.

29th of January 1945

I went through the combed area downtown today, riding a streetcar, the only way to get past the police cordon. Several buildings were still smoking and broken glass glittered on the sidewalks. It was hard to see anything else. The car was crowded, especially at the windows, but all the faces that peered out, with eyes half-lidded to conceal the slightest trace of curiosity, were empty of emotion, we might have been passing a blank wall.

But the diet was more outspoken yesterday. It kept asking questions about planes. Finally the director of the aircraft board of the munitions ministry came out with an “explanation.”

Was Japan producing enough aircraft? No, everyone was agreed that there was not enough.

What was the quality of the aircraft produced? Well, it was improving. The number of “unpassed” planes had “markedly diminished”, ever since a unified “production guidance section” had superseded the former separate army and navy supervision.

But what about the complaints against planes that did not fly, the “man-killing” planes? Every plane, argued the director, was tested and passed by the army or the navy before being sent out to the front and “there is virtually no plane which is entirely unfit for use”.

But were the planes getting to the front? Well, there was some trouble but it was not the fault of the planes: pilots were inexperienced and ground crews were insufficiently trained or unfamiliar with the new models,

All in all, the diet could not have found it a very reassuring picture.

x x x

A popular generalization, and one which Japanese themselves are fond of making, is that they are not good linguists. Certainly the outstanding exception I have met is a charming soft-spoken professor in the local Zenrin (literally, Good Neighbor) language school. Some months ago he called, at the embassy to ask in perfect Spanish whether anyone of us would care to teach Tagalog to a class of future emigrants to the Philippines. We were sorry but we were too busy, we told him. Whereupon he announced that he would teach it himself. We were politely sceptical but we let him have a National Language Institute grammar and vocabulary. Today he showed up again to submit some papers for correction. It was amazing. This diffident persistent man could already actually write correct Tagalog, simple sentences perhaps but accurate enough as far as the grammar went. Orally he had only one trouble. He spoke it — with a Spanish accent.

28th of January 1945

When we came up out of our basement yesterday afternoon everything looked the same as usual except that there were fewer people on the streets. But the raid was heavier than we thought. Considerable damage and many casualties (a thousand, they say, mostly office people) were caused in the very heart of the business district. It was lunch-time and there must have been long queues at the worker’s canteens. Today part of the Ginza has been roped off. Possibly because the electric power in that section of the city was cut off, the Times has not come out. But the Asahi, urging the people to take shelter, points out that six girl teachers were killed because they failed to get into one of the sidewalk ditches. At any rate a lot of the easy nonchalance most people in Tokyo had acquired, has now been shocked out of their systems.

27th of January 1945

At noon the sirens blew the air-raid alarm, the short blasts sounding like quick choking gasps while we hurried breathlessly down to the basement. It was dark there as we listened to the radio bulletins. Silence and the soft purring and crackle of the loudspeaker. Then a long buzz, a short buzz, and the high-pitched intimate voice of the announcer. We grasped at one or two familiar words in the stream of technical Nippongo. “Hentai” — formation. “Keihin” — the Tokyo-Yokohama area. Proceeding — what was that? From what direction to what direction? Silence, purr, crackle. Nobody seemed to feel like talking. A baby whined uneasily. We started to whisper. Buzzzzzzz, buzz, voice. Entering, entering the Keihin district. Please be ready to put out fires. Silence, crackle, purr. What was that? A slight concussion. Anti-aircraft, somebody said reassuringly. How did everyone feel? It was hard to tell? Faces burrowed, into quilted hoods or bid behind hunched-up shoulders and turned-up coat collars. Buzzzzzz, buzzz, voice. Dropping bombs now. Incendiaries and explosives. Silence, crackle, purr. We waited tensely; in the soft yellow cold of the basement, we looked at the square box of the loudspeaker, dented, chipped, the gray paint peeling. Buzzzzzz, buzzz, voice. What was the man saying? Do you know? Did you hear? Can you understand? Pardon, could you tell me? Crackle, buzzzz, purr, silence, buzzz, voice. It is difficult to be scared in a foreign language,

While the B-29’s were flying over Tokyo, the diet kept asking about aircraft. Why had the construction of aircraft factories been restricted? Was there something wrong in metallurgical techniques causing inferior products? The president of the aircraft arsenal headquarters admitted that factory construction had been restricted but claimed that it was only to save certain materials; at any rate it had not hampered the production of aircraft. Yes, the forging and casting technique was for a time “at a low level” but a “great improvement had been achieved recently,”

Meantime the president of the board of technology became more communicative, “I firmly believe,” he told the diet, “that the divine wind of new weapons has already begun to blow,” He spoke of “new weapons of simple and low-degree kinds which are achieving considerable results” and of future “sure-hitting weapons which would not entail the death of their operators”. A reaction against the suicide attacks? At any rate, he warned, “it is difficult to expect a single type of new weapon so powerful as to be capable of clearing the Pacific of all enemy troops.”

26th January 1945

Today I heard an amusing and pointed story about two of the Filipino cadets in the local military academy, boys chosen after rigid and meticulous tests that probed not only their technical qualifications but also their friendliness toward Japan. It seems that these two got into a quarrel. They argued heatedly, exchanging insults that gradually grew more and more bitter, but not yet coming to blows. They investigated each other’s maternity, anatomy, and personal habits without undue violence. Finally one of them lost his head.

“You Jap!” he shouted.

“You can’t call me that,” the other sprang up, fists in the air. They didn’t speak to each other for a week.

The discussions in the budget committee centered on the rice problem yesterday, in reply to a question put by Mr. Nobufusa Miyoshi, the minister of agriculture and commerce said: “We are coping with the situation with the determination of absolutely not changing the basic quota of 2.3 go (per person per day). We wish absolutely not to lower this figure even for the future. The ration is roughly equivalent to 350 grams.

The question was raised, notes the Mainichi, because of the rumor that the quota would be altered. “Because of the aggravation of the war situation and the shortage of bottoms,” the paper goes on to explain, “the shipment of rice produced in Taiwan and other colonies cannot be hoped for. To cope with this situation the ministry sometime ago decided to raise enough food within the country for the consumption of the people in. 1945.” For this purpose the government has imposed quotas aimed at the cultivation of almost two million chobu of land and the production of 30 million koku of barley and wheat to supplement the rice crop.

To be really happy however the Japanese need more than food; they want a hot bath. Before the war every Japanese house had its wooden tub, built in over a furnace. Now the little chimneys are clogged and rusty; there is just enough charcoal, perhaps not even enough, for the daily cooking and the hand’s-size brazier in the main room. So the Japanese have being going to the public baths, so many of them that our neighbor says he once stuck his leg into the crowded pool and could neither take it out again nor get in after it. Today the Tokyo metropolitan police board announced that it has taken up a suggestion made in the letter-columns of the press. To relieve congestion the partitions separating the men from the women in the public bath-houses will be taken down. Instead men and women will take baths on different days, alterna­ting in the use of the whole house. The water will still be stale, dirty, greasy with the soaking bodies of all the neighbors and their families, but it will be tolerably hot and there may be room to stretch one arm.

25th January 1945

The army and the navy took their turn in a general meeting of the lower house yesterday. The navy minister regretted that he could give no figures. The war minister unbent enough to say that “so far as the imperial forces are concerned, even if 30 or 40 per cent of the men are lost, it will never mean the collapse of the fighting units. There will be no wavering and no disturbance.” The president of the board of technology also “refrained from making any explanation” and only expressed his “shame” that before Japan’s new “sure-hitting” weapons could be brought into play the war situation had demanded the use of the special attack corps.

x x x

One of the Japanese diplomats I know is a tall thin man who speaks precise English. He dresses carefully and his head of well-brushed white hair gives him a distinguished air. In his office he has the reputation of being morose, irritable, a martinet and a pedant. His subordinates also whisper behind his back that he spends more time on his vegetable patch and his small herd of goats than on official business. His stenographer giggles that he keeps several boiled sweet potatoes in his desk and gobbles them up greedily during office hours.

He is a thoughtful conversationalist but at meals he cannot take his eyes away from the food. He is greedy. He eats rapidly, voraciously, spilling gravy on his shirt front, leaving little crumbs on the fringe of his mouth. He invariably takes a second helping; a third, if it is possible. When the meal is over, he sighs, a sad restless look disturbs his eyes behind their neat professor’s spectacles, but he is ready to talk again, shrewdly, wisely, tolerantly.

Today I heard a medical explanation for this minor phenomenon. This man was a Japanese consular official in one of the countries of southeast Asia when the war broke out. He was interned under extremely cruel conditions. The food was atrocious, what there was of it. Ever since he was exchanged he has been trying to make up for it. Somewhere along the intricate convolutions of his brain, a scar remains encysted. Perhaps he never thought more about food before than any other man. But now he knows that food cannot be taken for granted; suddenly, unaccountably, it is rationed, locked up, denied; what was served obsequiously must now be begged, hoarded, gobbled up, One cannot tell anymore about tomorrow.

24th January 1945

The mysterious Mr. Yokoyama has been arrested. The story is that his daughter and his secretary were picked up too. It only complicates the already tangled and twisted puzzle of this inscrutable personage. Who is Mr. Yokoyama? What is he after? Where does he get his money? For months the diplomatic corps in Japan has been asking itself these questions. Now it must answer another, why has he been arrested?

When we arrived in Tokyo Mr. Yokoyama’s activities were already in full swing. He was more familiar with foreign diplomats than the foreign minister himself. He invited us to elaborate theater parties, the best entertainment in the capital. He gave large and small dinners with all the luxuries of a prosperous peace, Virginia ham, thick juicy steaks, imported Scotch, His funds seemed inexhaustible, as inexhaustible as his generosity. And he asked nothing, no favors, no questions.

The social columns of the Times almost daily linked his name with one or the other ambassadors but he was no mere snob; he protected the needy foreigners in Tokyo, got them jobs, slipped them pocket money, introduced them to his own special teacher in Nippongo, perked them up with a drink of his imported Scotch. And all the time, this baldish, stoutish, round-faced man with the firm handshake seemed to ask and get nothing for his pains; he laughed, whispered intimately, showed his protruding teeth, bowed, clasped hands and embraced shoulders, and left it at that.

Where did he get his money, money for the black market, money for his luxurious suite in the Imperial Hotel, money for his thoughtful gifts? Some said that he was being subsidized by the foreign office, by the kempei-taiby the metropolitan police, by a “foreign power”. Was he a spy, an agent provocateur, a propagandist, or Just a jolly good fellow who had made his pile in the theater business and wanted a good time? Was he a leader in the “Black Dragon” Society? Or was he, as others whispered, a scoundrel who had waxed rich on opium smuggling in China, on arms-running to various countries, on blackmail? One or two said definitely that he had “taken the rap” for an important personage accused of high crimes before the war. What personage, what crimes? That is still a little vague.

Meantime the members of the diet have also been asking questions and getting answers that are only a shade more precise. Speaking for them, Mr. Chu Funada probed into the aircraft production problem at yesterday’s session of the budget committee.

Funada: “What is the future outlook on munitions production?’

Premier: “At present the supply is short but we are confident that a full supply can be secured if we concentrate our efforts.”

Funada: “We hear it said that we are short of aircraft. How about it?”

Munitions Minister: “Compared with 1943, 1944 has already shown a considerable increase in production. But due to the demand of the fighting fronts for as many planes as possible, we are making added daily efforts for further increase…. I should like to refrain from giving concrete figures but it is a fact that our rate of increase in production has been better than that of our enemy America.”

Funada: “We hear it said also that many of the aircraft produced are defective. Is this true?”

President of the Board of Technique: “Even in America only 30 per cent of the planes manufactured are good for fighting.”

23rd January 1945

Today’s vernaculars published the annual New Year poems of the emperor, the imperial family, and other Japanese leaders. It would be futile to give a direct translation but the emperor speaks of standing in the white mists of morning underneath the plum trees before the shrine while there ris-es a chill and melancholy wind. The Japanese in the chancery were quite depressed over it. “It makes me shiver,” one of them said in a sad hushed voice.