13th April 1945

Friday the 13th: San Francisco radio flashed the news of President Roosevelt’s sudden death and for once Tokyo picked it up immediately: the bulletin was on the air by noon. The Japanese and I talked to did not seem unduly elated; they know by now that nothing would affect the prosecution of the war by the U.S.A. Strangely enough no one spoke of “divine punishment” but some newspaper is sure to say it sooner or later. More common was the reaction that Roosevelt did not die of natural causes. Our maid put it all very neatly. “You will see,” she insisted. “Afterward it will come out that he was really poisoned or shot in his office.”

“But that is impossible,” I protested. “The announcement…”

“You can believe the announcement if you like,” she shook her head scornfully. “But I tell yon that great men seldom die in bed. They are killed. Afterward it is said that they died in bed because their successors are afraid people may get ideas.”

To dispel any stray hopes that Roosevelt’s death might mean even a temporary let-up, the Marianas bomber-command made a gigantic funeral pyre for the president the very same night out of the great wards of Shinjuku, Iidabashi, Jimbocho, Yotsuya, and, it seems, the imperial compound and the Meiji shrine. It was the first big night raid on Tokyo since the 10th March. The alarm was late again; the radio was still vague about the movements of the raiders when near midnight the first explosions shook us out of bed. We dressed hastily, shivering in the dark as the maid, nagging us hysterically to hurry, hurry, hurry, slammed back the wooden night-shutters of our Japanese house. I was not particularly worried; this time we were all men in the house except for the maid; I was only staying for a few days and had nothing to lose except a small knapsack. In the chill ghostly dimness I could hear the old woman puffing as she dragged all her trunks and bedding out into the garden; I hurried to help her. She had already placed all the china in the wooden bathtub.

The street outside was quite except for the steady reassuring chug-chug-chug of the small red water-pump. From the darkened houses came muffled noises, careful steps down a squeaking staircase, the rumble and bang of an opened window shutter, a child awakened in the dark. The sky was beginning to light up around us. But it was a distant pervasive uniform glow like that of dawn. Bells changed as bombers roared overhead for a breathless moment but they always passed on and the explosions were far away. We had about decided to go back to bed when there was a series of detonations nearby. Over the neighboring rooftops the bright banners of fire were lifted briefly. The little groups chatting uneasily along the street broke up. It was getting closer.

Over at the end of the street the fire launched a quick sortie. We watched the invader fight forward from house to house, dodging, rushing. The first refugees came stumbling down the road. They did not pause. Only one woman with a child, dragging a little wooden cart piled with household goods, stooped to look at the skies before her, just as crimson as those behind her. Where was she to go? Her face contracted in a grimace of irritation, the exasperation of a bedeviled housewife rather than the more profound despair of the harried, hunted homeless.

The treacherous wind outflanked and broke through every defense. It carried its flaring parachutes into the enemy’s country. No man dared to leave his house to help his neighbor; he might be next. The fire had now consolidated itself a few blocks away. We could recognize the refugees now; they were no longer nameless strangers. A tense readiness gripped everyone and at the same time a dissolving discouragement. There was no water to be had; in fact the whole neighborhood had been without water for a week except for two or three hours every morning. Firemen in gleaming helmets and grotesque black cloaks came clumping by; their own station was threatened. They shouted hoarsely as they dragged behind them flat and muscleless hose. There was only one source of water available, the swimming pool of the schoolhouse across the street from us. Stumbling and cursing in the fitful darkness they pumped desperately. The hose spit thin streams of water from the holes along its length but still it lay torpid upon the ground. Then a couple of fire engines turned the corner, slow and formless like tanks. The hose quivered, stiffened, lashed out.

But the fire had already broken into the massive Catholic girls’ school in the next block. We decided to see for ourselves how dangerous it had become. The narrow alleys branching out from our street were crazy with confusion. There were piles of bedding, kitchen utensils, furniture, clothes, scattered before the disembowelled houses. At a corner a policeman stood, his legs apart, one of them flexed with stiff bravado. I was tall, curly-haired, obviously a foreigner.

“Hey, you, come here!”

He was very young, he could not have been more than 17.

The sneer of cold command was on his lips. He was not afraid; he was not losing his head while all these crazy fools went rushing past him.

“Where are you going? Where have you come from? What do you want? Where do you live?”

I did not want to argue with him and I motioned that I could not understand Nippongo.

“Come on, answer me. Answer me, do you hear? Where do you live? What are you doing here?”

Did he suspect me of starting the fire? Of signalling the bombers? I would not have put it past him. He was white and shaking with rage. Around us the fire crashed forward and the stream of refugees hurried past, every one intent on his secret purpose.

I looket at the young policeman blankly. With a curse of exasperation he stretched out his hand to grip me. I wondered vaguely if he would slap me and if among my diplomatic privileges was included that of slapping a policeman back. Just then an older officer appeared. He waved me onward. He had recognized me. “Of course I recognized him too,” the young policeman muttered as I moved away. “I just wanted to know where he was going.”

I had almost forgotten the fire. The bombers were gone. Someone said it would be alright this time. I scarcely listened. I was still tense with anger and humiliation. How silly it was and yet these white-lipped shambling whispering refugees, this fierce and formidable conflagration fighting its last desperate battles in isolated pockets under the waving white flag of smoke, Roosevelt dead, Tokyo burning, peril of death, reprieve for life, all these were nothing to me at that moment because a sulky insolent young boy in a tight black uniform had shouted at me.


12th April 1945

Our neighbor takes the Times although nobody in the house can read English because he wants the big four-page sheet of paper for wrapping or fuel…. The tobacco rations may be restored to the old quota of seven cigarettes per person per day next month…. A special distribution of one tin of sardines per person was made today.


11th April 1945

The diplomatic gasoline ration has been cut 60 per cent. The stocks are getting low with communications to the southern regions practically severed. But the transport situation may be only half the reason for the change. It is expected that soon the foreign office will issue a circular requesting diplomats to travel by automobile in the country only with special permission and accompanied by an official representative of the foreign office. At bottom one finds the same rising suspicion of all foreigners. A Thai diplomat got into a violent quarrel the other night in one of the largest Tokyo stations because he was overheard talking in English. A German journalist happened to mention to another German that there was a battery of anti-aircraft guns near his house; the next day he was picked up by the kempei-tai. Even our old maid Kubota has now reached the stage of depression where she talks of girding on a sword when the Americans come and fighting them in the streets. She adds, only half in jest, that she will cut off our heads first because “all you Filipinos are pro-Americans.”


10th April 1945

Shigenori Togo was appointed minister for foreign and Greater East Asia affairs yesterday. Shigemitsu could not stay after the Soviet disaster. Togo, who has a German wife, was foreign minister under Tozyo when the war broke out. He left the Gaimusho in a huff when the Greater East Asia countries were taken out of his jurisdiction and placed under the new Daitoasho. As ambassador to the U.S.S.R. at the time the explosive border incidents were barely blanketed out, he is now being built up as a Soviet expert. Indeed relations with the U.S.S.R. now take precedence over all other foreign affairs in Japan. Shigemitsu, the China expert and Daitoa exponent, has been shoved out by events. There is now little talk of a second Daitoa conference like the one in November 1943. Premier Aphaiwongse of Thailand was scheduled to come to Tokyo this month but the Okinawa operations seem to have postponed his visit indefinitely. If it had gone through, a conference of Daitoa heads of state would have brought together three new members, the Tai premier, the Chinese president, and Koiso himself. Now it is more probable that, as a feeble gesture against San Francisco, a conference of Daitoa ambassadors may be called this month. But the feeling is general that neither China nor Daitoa will decide Japan’s fate so much as the U.S.S.R. Shigemitsu is now being criticized as having been too “steady”; Togo is expected to be more “positive”. What that may imply is obscure. At any rate, to complete press comments on the soviet notice of abrogation, the Asahi, possibly because it had more time, possibly because official inspiration has become more acute since the change in the foreign ministry, came out today with the best editorial on the subject.

“Of course,” says the Asahi after sketching the facts, “there is not the slightest doubt that the current notice served by the Soviet Union is a perfectly legal measure based on the stipulations of the treaty itself. But what we regret is the fact that recently the Soviet Union, perhaps from a military viewpoint in connection with the shifting war situation, perhaps from a political viewpoint in connection with her relations vis-a-vis America and Britain, has corrected her previous friendly attitude toward Japan and that eventually she has resorted to such measures as may seem to betray the trust and friendship of the Japanese people. Since the speech of Premier Stalin on Revolution Day last year up to the Crimea conference, a conspicuous change in the Soviet Union’s attitude toward Japan could be recognized. “But this”, emphasized the Asahi, “was not because of a fundamental change in the relations between the two countries but merely on account of a change in the subjective attitude of the Soviet Union herself.” After pointing out the advantages derived by the U.S.S.R. from the pact in its darkest days, and dangling the usual invitation to renew it, the Asahi concludes: “How the Soviet Union will act hereafter is entirely up to the free will of the Soviet Union. However we should truly like to know whether the Soviet Union intends to become a collaborator in the construction of East Asia or an enemy of it.” The Asahi’s editorial has one merit: it recognizes the initiative of the U.S.S.R. and the trend it has taken against Japan.


9th April 1945

With the cabinet almost complete and the ceremony of imperial investiture held Saturday night, Suzuki yesterday, Sunday, made his first radiocast as premier and gave his first interview to the press. Outwardly it is still a war cabinet; Suzuki is already being compared to Clemenceau, the indomitable old man who led France to victory in the first world war. Perhaps after all the signs were wrong; the old man will not seek peace but death. Still the feeling persists that this is all window-dressing.

Suzuki’s radio address was tuned to a note of sacrifice and immolation rather than victory. “I believe that there are not a few people who were rather surprised that I should have received the imperial order to assume my new post. I who am nearly 80 years old have tried to serve faithfully. However I have had no part in active politics before so that I am naturally not fit to serve. In view of the pressing war situation I have accepted the imperial order with the idea that though I die in this my last post, standing as the very head of the 100 million people, you the people shall ride over my body and overcome the situation our country is now in.”

But the premier’s first interview, as reported by the press this morning, was not so forthright. The interview follows in question and answer form:

Q.– How do you propose to solve the present situation?

A. – I am very old and I doubt if I can do much. Why, at this serious crisis, have I, a mere soldier, had to come to the front? I leave it to your imagination. In regard of the prospects of the war, I think we shall win…. It is a mistake to conclude that we have been defeated, looking only at the superficial aspect of the war. I don’t think we lost in Yiojima. In that battle we gave the enemy & great spiritual blow. If we all get into this frame of mind, if the people are really united and push the war through, we shall not be defeated. That is my belief….

Q. – What will you give priority in your administration? What is the basis of the policy of the new cabinet?

A. – I am a mere soldier and don’t understand politics…. My individual view is that we are at war and war needs no slogans.

Q. – Have you any new ideas for adjusting relations between the high command and the administration?

A. – I don’t know the present state of affairs so I have no ideas as yet on the matter.

Q. – Have you any plans for a smaller three-minister or four-minister super-cabinet?

A. – I am a mere soldier and I have had a great dislike for politics so I have no ideas on the subject. Clemenceau was a statesman from the first and was well versed in political affairs from early youth. I am his diametrical opposite. I have always devoted my attention to military affairs. I shall push everything onward to win the war by all means.

Q. – How about concrete measures for the formation of the national volunteer corps?

A. – As regards this matter, all I know is what I have read in the papers.

Q. – What counter-measures are contemplated concerning the notice of abrogation of the Soviet pact?

A. – I wish to see to this after appointing a full-time foreign minister.

Q. – What measures shall be taken for the production of munitions, especially scientific weapons?

A. – From the strategic viewpoint, the time of fighting with bamboo spears does not come until the final stage so that there is need of securing plentiful supplies of arms. As this is absolutely necessary, even the manufacture of hand grenades from empty tin cans should be undertaken and thus we should endeavor to have as many weapons as possible.”

And so on and so on.

The interview is scarcely credible. Is this the premier of the great Japanese Empire, this naive octogenarian who does mot understand and does not like politics, who believes that Yiojima was a Japanese victory, whose strategical plans are apparently reduced to making hand-grenades out of tin cans, a “mere soldier” who has “no ideas on the subject”? Is this merely a shrewd pose in a country that dislikes and distrusts politicians? Or is Suzuki really the man he appears to be from his interview, a bumbling dreamy old hero, wetting his thumb as turns the pages of his newspapers, bewildered and frightened by his tremendous responsibilities, yearning with all his heart to be off again in a quiet garden, dozing in the sun with fugitive memories of his torpedo attack on the Imperial Chinese fleet half a century ago?

Nor is the quality of the rest of the cabinet reassuring to the Japanese. The Times earnestly tries to make a virtue out of the cabinet’s mediocrity; it “presents no surprises”. The Times prophesies with unconscious lugubriousness: “No radical innovations of questionable soundness, no strong-arm methods of coercion, no frantic search for panaceas, will be indulged in by these men if their background is any criterion. Rather, a vigorous persistent execution of time-tested orthodox means….” The Mainichi is more sensitive to realities. “The Suzuki cabinet is not exactly young blood. Nor can it be called a group of men of the first magnitude. If anything it embraces quite a few bureaucrats.” But the Mainichi notes sharply: “The new prime minister has striven hard to enlist the services of mellow and scrupulous statesmen… (But) mellowness and conscientiousness are not the sole qualifications for those at the helm of the state. The state must be administered by real go-getters who have absolute control of the situation.


8th April 1945

After she first flurry over the cabinet change the press has had time to take up an even more significant development, the Soviet notice of abrogation of the non-aggression pact.

The Times, in its role of unofficial spokesman for the foreign office, is grimly optimistic in an editorial entitled “Neutrality: Pact and Fact”. “A formal document like a neutrality pact,” it argues, “does not of itself constitute an activating determinative of neutrality; rather it is the existence of the fact of neutrality which may give rise to such a legal instrument as a neutrality pact as its formal manifestation. With or without such a pact, Japan’s consistent policy of striving for neutrality and amity with all neighboring countries… is too thoroughly grounded in the nation’s inherent fundamental character to admit of any fluctuation. Hence neutrality will be preserved.” But the Times conclude with feeble menace: “Fully alive to the rapidly developing situation in Europe, however, Japan, in keeping with its consistently maintained policy, is fully prepared to cope with any eventuality in the international situation.”

The thesis of the Times is undoubtedly sound and even classic. Treaties do not make situations; it is situations that make treaties. But its hopeful conclusion that Japan can control the situation and preserve neutrality because she wants neutrality is only the worse half of the story. Soviet Russia now wields the initiative and it is Soviet policy that will enforce or destroy neutrality.

The Yomiuri is even more naive. In its editorial yesterday it invited Soviet Russia to step into Nazi Germany’s shoes. “The core of Nippon-Soviet relations” it insinuated blandly, was the fact that the “Soviet Union, which fights in Europe, wants to rebuild Europe and desires to establish there an unshakable national foundation” while “our country, which wants to eliminate the evil hands of exploitation from the lands of East Asia, aims to contribute toward the establishment of eternal world peace on the basis of the stabilization of greater East Asia.”

Once more the thesis is plausible, as plausible as it was in support of the axis with Hitler’s Germany. Japan, like Stalin’s Russia, seeks security in regional hegemony and there is consequently “no great difference in the ultimate aims and world outlook” of both. But once again the thesis stops short of the decisive reality. Japan and the U.S.S.R., unlike Japan and the Third Reich, are neighbors and by themselves threaten each other’s security.

The Mainichi is less tortuous. It is frankly resentful. The anomalous situation which the U.S.S.R. gave as the reason for abrogation “is nothing new”, it complains. “It has been in existence since more than three years ago. Yet throughout the subsequent extremely complicated international situation, our nation has most scrupulously observed the spirit and provisions of the treaty to the letter…. In spite of that… and based on its own will alone, the Soviet government has told us that the neutrality pact will no longer be effective upon its expiration…. Be that as it may,” concludes the Mainichi petulantly. “We do not ask what soviet Russia has up tor sleeve, what sort of tangled affairs there are between Nippon and Soviet Russia, how Soviet Russia is going to solve them, and what kind of measures she has broached to Nippon for their solution. We only wish to clarify our attitude at this opportunity. That is “concludes the Mainichi weakly, “there is no change at all in our desire that friendly Nippon-Soviet relations and the peace of East Asia be maintained during the next one year during which the Nippon-Soviet neutrality treaty remains valid.”

The Japanese are frightened, sorry that they did not scrap the pact when the U.S.S.R. needed it more than Japan, desperately anxious to postpone the inevitable. And the Soviets know it.

An Italian diplomat pointed out to me a curious thing. In Russia’s bad days in 1942 the Soviet diplomats in Japan went slinking in the streets, shabby and with heads hanging. Now all the men are flashily dresses; they walk arrogantly, twirling canes; and all their women wear hats (which nobody else does in Japan). I suppose they deserve it.

A Chinese diplomat told me that one must now pay 6,000 yen to hire a truck one way from Tokyo to Karuizawa; 3,000 yen from Tokyo to Miyanoshita (two hours and a half by train).

In the Fujiya lobby I found another Italian diplomat absorbed in a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“What are you looking up?” I asked.

“Matches. I can’t get any and I want to see if I can make them myself.”


7th April 1945

With 120 bombers over Tokyo and 150 more over Nagoya, Suzuki requested “the visits of ministerial candidates to his cabinet-organizing headquarters” from 8 o’clock this morning and “entered into direct negotiations with them.” The press expected that some of the Koiso ministers would be retained, among them Admiral Yonai for the navy, “to organize the most powerful cabinet available, one that will be the last of the war, ” a phrase of double meaning.

In the Fujiya I was surprised to meet the Manchu ambassador. We had received the official notification of his return home on leave. He explained that he had left Shimonoseki on the ferry to Chosen but one of the magnetic mines sown by B-29’s had exploded 15 meters behind the ship, lifting it out of the water and damaging its propellers. It had to be towed back to Shimonoseki. Now the ambassador is waiting for a plane.


6th April 1945

Admiral Baron Kantaro Suzuki is the new premier. The Mainichi, in reporting how he “received the imperial command” to form a new cabinet, gave an interesting peek into Japanese government. “When Premier Koiso submitted the resignation of the cabinet to the throne yesterday, His Majesty the Emperor summoned to the imperial palace Marquis Koichi Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, and commanded him to recommend the successor. In view of the seriousness of the situation both at home and abroad, Marquis Kido desired the opinions of the senior statesmen and asked them to assemble at the imperial palace. Accordingly, Baron Reijiro Wakatsuki, Admiral Keisuke Okada, Koki Hirota, Prince Fuminaro Konoye, Baron Kiichiro Hiranuma, and General Hideki Tozyo, all former prime ministers, and Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, president of the privy council, presented themselves at the imperial palace. They sat in conference at 6 p.m. and deliberated in earnest on the selection of the head of the succeeding cabinet until 8:40 p.m. Marquis Kido reported to the throne on the results of the deliberation. Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, who remained at the palace after the conference, was received in audience by His Majesty the Emperor (at 10 p.m.) and was commanded to organize the succeeding cabinet.” According to the Asahi, Admiral Suzuki, overawed by the imperial favor, asked for time and retired. The premier designate will now establish his “cabinet-formation headquarters”. Pressmen and politicians will watch who calls and is called and will make up their dope-lists of probable cabinet members. When the cabinet is completed, Suzuki will present the list to the throne and an imperial investiture will quickly follow.

There are several points about Suzuki that have immediately been brought up. He is known as an “emperor’s man” because he was grand chamberlain for many years. He is of course a navy men and his chief aide in lining up a cabinet seems to be another navy man and elder statesman, Admiral Okada. He is considered a “liberal” as liberals go in Japan; both he and Okada were on the “wanted” list of the young officers’ revolt in 1936; he was wounded while Okada was saved when the conspirators killed his brother-in-law by mistake. Most significant of all, Suzuki is old, only one year short of 80, old enough to be a hero of the first Chinese and Russian wars, old enough to commit political or actual harakiri by making peace. Long before this everyone agreed that an old premier meant defeat and peace. Certainly if the goal were still the active and unrelenting prosecution of the war, a younger man would have been chosen, possibly a prince of the blood royal as was expected after Tozyo. The Filipinos in Tokyo have a word for it; the new premier is not Suzuki but Susuku (which is Tagalog for “will surrender”).

There is of course no open talk of peace. In resigning, the Koiso cabinet expressed the hope for a stronger government, presumably stronger for and in the war. For their part the vernaculars all call for one grim united effort to avert invasion and conquest. They assign many causes for the downfall of Koiso. Koiso’s policies were not “coordinated”. He failed to rally the people. He lost their confidence. He was purely a transition premier from one “strong man” to another. Most of the vernaculars hint at the insoluble problem of “coordinating” the administration and the high command”. But no one has mentioned Yiojima or Okinawa or the great Tokyo raids or the fact that Soviet Russia has given notice of its desire to abrogate the neutrality or non-aggression pact. These causes, and peace, were just as decisive. The people were tired of the army and they have turned to the navy; they were tired of the younger officers and they have turned to the elder statesmen; they were tired of defeat, ruin, hunger, homeless insecurity, and they have turned to — what? They do not say because they do not know. They shuffle in their long weary queues, bundle up their frayed and scorched belongings, and hide their faces. Koiso has been jerked out of the stage as suddenly, noiselessly, and simply as Tozyo. It is not hard to see that it makes little difference to the puppet show. But the profound weariness and melancholy of the people cannot be healed by a change in the cast. It is convenient to give them someone to blame and hiss and boo and throw out. It may assure them for a time. But their mood is too deep to be lifted by anything short of glorious victory or at least the surcease of peace. Now if they cannot take it out on the cabinet, they take it out on what they can lay their hands on.

Going to the chancery we sniffed something of this reckless desperate spirit. A volunteer wrecking squad was tearing down the houses in our neighborhood to clear a fire-break. They seemed possessed by a lust for destruction. A laughing student hurled down a window to the street and it crashed amid a shower of broken glass. Another student was furiously at work with a heavy hammer, smashing down, the plaster partitions. A heavy rope was coiled along the street. Later the squad would noisily pull down the light framework, splitting and rending irreplaceable timber in a roar of dust, splintered tile, shattered glass, and that strange satisfying exaltation of blind destruction. And then they would sit on their haunches, their mirthless laughter slowly dying; they would stare at the ruins, breathing heavily, and their faces would grow sad and empty. We had seen many of these squads at work and passing them today we felt once more a twinge of uneasy apprehension.


5th April 1945

The ruins of the 10th March fire in Tokyo are haunted by a stench of leaking gas. Hundreds of twisted faucets are still dripping in the ruins. Possibly as a result of this there was no water running in the house of my colleagues in Yotsuya, where I put up now when I am in Tokyo. Just as we were going to bed the maid rushed in with the news that the radio had announced the resignation of the Koiso cabinet. It had lasted from Saipan to Yiojima. “The resignation,” said the official announcement of the board of information, “has been decided upon by the cabinet so as to make way for a more powerful cabinet in consideration of the grave situation.” After nine months in office the cabinet was called into special session at 9 o’clock this morning. After collecting the written resignations of his colleagues, General Koiso presented himself at the imperial palace at 10:30 and submitted the resignations en bloc.