There is a general expectation that the change in the imperial Household ministry is only the forerunner of more extensive changes, possibly the fall of the cabinet after the fall of Okinawa. One indication of the crisis: Vargas has an appointment today with the war minister. It was put off from hour to hour and finally called off entirely because the general was kept unexpectedly long at some conference or other, either a war council or a cabinet meeting.
The minister of the imperial household, Marquis Tsuneo Matsudaira, resigned after more than nine years in office yesterday “assuming responsibility for the burning of the imperial palace and the Omiya palace.” His successor was a surprise, Sotaro Ishiwata, former finance minister, who has had “little or nothing to do with the affairs of the Imperial Household,” according to the Asahi.
It is said that Ishiwata was chosen because, not being a peer himself, he can be expected to fulfill with more impartiality and less embarrassment one of the minister’s chief duties, which is to discipline the nobility. The minister is in and yet above the cabinet; he does not fall with the different governments and exercises a great deal of unofficial and unconstitutional influence in their formation as one of the emperor’s closest advisers.
Roaming in the second-hand bookshops still in Kanda I found in nearly everyone a shelf of dictionaries: Nippongo-Burmese, Nippongo-Thai, Nippongo-Tagalog, Nippongo-Malay. Nobody was buying these fading souvenirs of the Co-Prosperity Sphere.
About 400 B-29’s carried out another concentrated daylight raid yesterday, this time on Osaka, and the Times feels compelled this morning to write: “The enemy’s terror raids upon the major cities of Japan have recently reached a new height of intensity and it cannot be denied that the damage which they have caused is shockingly great…. There is no longer any need to give heed to the enemy’s claim that he is trying to hit at Japan’s military or industrial power…. The deliberate strewing of fire bombs over wide areas of the distinctly residential and commercial districts of major cities cannot be regarded as anything but an attempt to break civilian morale through sheer terrorization…. But in this objective the enemy failed decisively.”
Recalling that the Japanese had shown their true mettle after the 1923 earthquake, the Times proceeds: “Today the destruction is even greater than at the time of the Great Earthquake, to be sure. Today the destruction is not confined to one blow but continuous to mount in extent. Today, with the battle at the front absorbing the major energy the nation, there is only limited possibility of succor and aid from non-evacuated regions. But the [illegible] served to call [illegible] compensating magnitude of determined effort.”
But when the Times goes on to give “widespread evidence” of this effort it slips into wishful thinking. One may grant the Japanese “a poise and stability of heroic stature” but no one who is in Japan today can believe that “transportation and communications facilities are being restored after each raid with unbelievable rapidity” or that “rations are distributed under unusual conditions with ingenuity and dispatch”.
The truth is that the untold hoard of loyalty and patience accumulated by the Japanese in centuries of seclusion is being wasted by their rulers with cruel and criminal prodigality. Harried and hunted from their burning homes, starved, robbed, deceived, despised, driven like cattle from barracks to factory, from stinking sidewalk cave to a beggar’s hovel in thorny hills, their “unconquerable fortitude” is a tribute not so much to a “defiant, triumphant, and even buoyant patriotism” as to the naked human will to survive.
The authorities are going [illegible] about the effect of the propaganda pamphlets dropped on Tokyo and Yokahama. “The contents of the leaflets,” cries the Asahi today, “are of such a fantastic nature that anyone who reads them is provoked to laughter. But someone off his guard may play into the hands of the enemy. We should therefore believe in the sure victory of the imperial land and block the plot of the enemy.”
The commonest pamphlets, reports the vernacular, is a “letter from the American president, Harry S. Truman.” It gives a timetable of broadcasts from the south as well as the wave-lengths used. The pamphlet, with “reasons of a twisted nature, attempts to make the Japanese people tired of the war and to estrange them from the military.”
Other pamphlets, according to popular rumor, are reproductions of 10-yen bills with the legend: “You can buy only such-and-such a quantity of rice with this amount.” Or else they contrast the ordinary civilian ration of rice with the army ration.
The rice angle is one of the most effective that the Americans could have used. The life of the ordinary Japanese after a heavy raid is not one calculated to attract gourmands. In one neighborhood association the ration issued was five rice balls (the size of golf-balls) for three persons for two days. In another, two small onions were issued per family for two weeks. In the same association an allotment of two cigarettes was made for 40 persons; they had to be raffled off. Others have been luckier; they received special consolation rations of rice. The general rule however is bad organization worsened by the “squeeze” system. It is now almost impossible to draw the emergency rations of shoyu without slipping the distributor a bribe.
The trains were running to Tokyo again and I had an opportunity to see for myself what remained of Yokohama. Once more I was reminded of the fact that all ruins look alike. But there was one thing that struck me. I had never thought Yokohama was so small a city. It looked bigger when it was crowded with houses. Now it looked strangely, pitifully small, a pitted excavation between the bluffs and the sea.
Yokohama was hit by 500 B-29’s accompanied by some 100 P-51’s, according to the official communique. They worked on the city for barely an hour and a half from 9:30 a.m. “This is the first time that the enemy has sent so many planes,” notes the Asahi.
It was a bad time for the navy to announce a reorganization. Admiral Toyoda has been appointed chief of the naval general staff and Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa has taken his place as commander-in-chief of the combined fleet and naval general headquarters. Ozawa, says the Asahi, is “virtually unknown to the public” but “it has long been expected that he would someday become commander-in-chief.”
A German fleeing from Yokohama by car arrived in Miyanoshita gibbering with hysteria. From what we could make out Yokohama had been wiped out in a concentrated daylight raid. It was the first big raid on Yokohama; it will probably be the last because there is nothing left to bomb.
“They came from everywhere,” stammered the German. “It was like midnight. We could see nothing. Everything was covered by fire and smoke. There were people all around me burning alive.”
We did not know him so we did not speak to him but only listened from a distance. He was a stumpy red-faced man with soot in his hair and naked fear in his eyes.
Almost unnoticed amid the mourning for Tokyo was the first faint death-rattle of Okinawa. On the night of the 24th the Giretsu air-borne unit of the special attack corps (Giretsu means heroism) clambered into the black bellies of a squadron of transport planes to spearhead a a Japanese general counter-offensive on Okinawa. Almost two months had passed in blood and fire since the first American landings. Now the Japanese garrison was making its last stand on the jagged line between Shuri and Maha. The special attack corps, in spite of suicide pilots riding rocket bombs, had failed to smash the American line of communications. Carrier-borne fighters were again scouring southern Kyushu and the press was wandering uneasily whether the Americans were planning another landing.
Perhaps the men of the Giretsu knew they were playing Japan’s last card. It had been played before the end of the game in Leyte. Could it win the trick this time? They had fought together from Peliliu to Okinawa, under their “boy-commander”, 26-year old Captain Michiro Okuyama, sleeping in their uniforms, running instead of walking in their daily life to accustom themselves to unrelenting speed.
Tonight a high wind from China has pushed away into the sea the black clouds that hung low over Okinawa. The sky was radiant with moonlight. In silence they heard the last “address of instructions”; the divine Tenno had “granted gracious words, placing great hope in the operations” and they were notified of the “gracious imperial concern”. In “uniforms camouflaged with green dots and streaks” they took their places. Each of them carried hand-mines and 10 off “crack new weapons” as well as special iron rations. They were the last hope of the empire.
At 9 a.m. the next morning, the 25th May, they sent the reassuring message. “Have succeeded in landing.” Bad weather had returned. An observation plane, skimming the leaping waves, its windshield blurred with rain, reported that the Giretsu were holding off repeated American attacks while wrecking and blasting planes and dumps on the north and central airfields on Okinawa, “throwing the enemy into confusion”.
Meantime, “less than an hour after the divine soldiers had landed on the north and central airfields, special attack units and other air units sank (some instantaneously) two aircraft carriers, four battleships, one cruiser, one destroyer, four large transports and four aircraft of unidentified category.” No official announcement has been made but it presumed that the land forces on Okinawa have also launched a general counter-attack.
[illegible] the 27th the vernaculars noted briefly that it that it was [illegible], the 40th anniversary of the battle of the Japan Sea. But there was no Togo on Okinawa and there was no imperial fleet “in this same sea zone”. It was now Japan’s turn to fight against hopeless odds and to make the tragic discovery that the time had long since passed for the daring and gallant raid that could turn defeat into victory.
A consciousness of this seems to have seeped into the Japanese mind. For the past four days the English edition of the Mainichi has been running a biography of a modern naval hero, Vice-Admiral Masabumi Arima, who personally led his squadron in a suicide attack in the Philippine waters on the 15th October 1944. Significantly Japan’s new hero is a suicide, not a conqueror; his message is duty to the death, not victory.