18th May 1945

After 100 B-29’s had pounded Nagoya yesterday, some 40 P-51’s machine-gunned airfields southwest of the capital this noon. This raids however have become so frequent that most people in Tokyo today are more concerned with the revisions made in the ration system and the dissolution of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, for which the date has finally been set.

The new rationing system for Tokyo went into effect on the 15th. Persons from 15 to 50 years of age will continue to receive the standard ration of 350 grams of rice but those working “in jobs designated by the authorities” will get 400. Children will receive less in proportion to their age; those between the ages of three and five, for instance, will be supplied with 170 grams. The principal changes have been made with regard to the rations distributed to workers at their place of employment. Henceforth these rations will be made proportional to attendance and to the amount of work performed. A system of points has been worked out based on “the kind of service (50), the degree of importance (30), and the manner of work (20)” making a total of 100. Army and navy workers will get the full 30 points for “degree of importance” while government factory workers will get 20. Shipyard workers will get the full 20 points for “manner of work” while others, including aircraft factory workers, will get 10. On the basis of these points, workers will be classified into three categories. Workers in the first class will be given an additional 1.6 go of rice; in the second class, 1.2; in the third class, .9.

However shortages cannot be revised and most people in Japan spend more time scrounging for food than working for points. A sweet potato in hand is worth two in the booklet. You can see them on the streets of Tokyo from mid-morning, patiently reading a newspaper in the lengthening queue before the shops that will sell a bowl of gray Japanese noodles at noon. On every train into Tokyo, their muddy sagging knapsacks, knobby with potatoes or bloody and stinking with fish, dig into your back. I met one of these scavengers once in Tokyo station. We were both waiting for our train and he borrowed a light. He asked politely where I was going. “Odawara,” I answered and added: “Have you been there?” He made a moue of distaste. “Odawara? Why should I go there. Is there any more food there?”

If he read his newspaper this morning he must have folded under the long stories on the I.R.A.A. Was it going to get him any more food? But to foreigner the epitaphs on this curious Japanese experiment in totalitarian politics were as revealing as the revisions in the ration system. “It was on August 29, 1940,” recalled the Asahi, “That the I.R.A.A. was brought into being.” The China Affair had become “most acute”, the war of Greater East Asia was impending, and under Premier Prince Fumimaro Konoye the Japanese eagerly rallied to a “new structure” of government. Perhaps there was a touch of Prussian barracks in the architecture and a gay flash of Italian baroque but the “structure” was fundamentally as Japanese as a torii. The various political parties were not outlawed and hunted down; they dissolved themselves gracefully. There was hard driving corps of elite; “all the people are members”. For was there a Japanese who did not wish to serve the Imperial Rule or who pretended to assist it with greater right than his humblest fellow-subject? But the “structure” was so new that nobody knew exactly what it was. It was not a political party or a coalition of the old political parties; soon enough the government pronounced it a “public body”, an official organization. It received a subsidy from the government; its president was also the premier and he was president because he was premier, not premier because he was president. The I.R.A.A. was everything and nothing. “There was little indication of where the core of the body lay. It was natural that under such a system few activities could be undertaken.” So, this “new structure” that the Japanese with their passion for perfection and unanimity had made all-embracing, began to break up. An I.R.A. Political Association was developed. Then in Januuary 1942 the I.R.A. “Manhood Corps” gathered “the cream of comrades faithful to the work of imperial rule assistance.” They worked in the fields and aircraft factories and “their achievement will shine gloriously on the pages of the political history of the Showa era”. “But quite often the body exceeds the limits of its powers and its activities were restricted by the bureaucracy. Soon it became an obstacle to parliamentary control and it was made a target for attack in the diet.” The corps was flexing its muscles too publicly, it was taking on too much of the aspect of a real power-party. Nevertheless the process of reproduction by division continued. The original cell divided itself further into a Great Japan Women’s Assocation, a Great Japan Young Men’s Assocation, Associations for Service to the State through Commerce, through Agriculture, through Industries.

But in the inert accumulation of its featureless offsprings the I.R.A.A. was already dead. It only remained to throw the mess out of the window before it began to stink. With that fatal stubbornness, that suicidal pride, which will not admit error or defeat, the Japanese talked of a “new” association, one that would try to to be different by being the same, the only difference being that this one would succeed. The I.R.A.A. changed its name and became the Great Japan Political Association; it put a general at the head, instead of an admiral; still no politicians, no issue, no arguments; only an impressive and reassuring unanimity. Now the I.R.A.A. will change its name too; it will become the national volunteer corps; after the 10th June a new embalming fluid will be tried. Nobody expects it to succeed; nobody expects to understand it except for one significant ominous change. For the present it will continue to embrace “all the people”; it will continue to be vaguely everything and nothing; but when the time comes, the corps will become “a battle unit”. That is something that everyone can understand, and, terrible as it will be, it will come perhaps as a relief, the cold hard blow of a typhoon after the stifling silence of the night, a gush of blood from the inert corpse, an exciting immediate personal challenge, as personal as a bayonet at one’s throat.


3rd February 1945

With the Americans at the gates of Manila the official Imperial Rule Assistance Association called a “Victory in the Philippines” rally at the Hibiya public hall today. It was piercingly cold even in mid-afternoon and the steep backstairs were slippery with crusted ice. Backstage distinguished visitors were shown into a shabby clingy waiting-room and served the usual tea. Japanese officers and dignitaries arrived in succession, glum and blue with cold, and with a strange and awkward air, half-defiant and half-apologetic. Nobody talked about the war but it was obvious that for the Japanese the news was bad.

Presently the distinguished guests filed out to the stage. Overcoats were taken off and hurriedly put on again. Only the officers with ostentatious asceticism remained coatless, sitting with an easy arrogance, their hands clasped over their sword-hilts. When the curtain went up, it was seen that the pit was full but there was only a handful of people in the galleries; not until an hour or so later were they to be comfortably packed with officials and members of the association as well as “invited” representatives of firms and other organizations with interests in the Philippines.

The stage itself was decorated with huge Japanese and Filipino flags, as well as patriotic slogans. All the speakers bowed deeply before each of the two flags before addressing the audience. The whole thing started of course with a general obeisance in the direction of the imperial palace and a silent prayer for the imperial forces.

The first speaker was General Matsui, grandfather of all Pan-Asian, precursor of the empire-dreamers and the empire-builders, apostle of Greater East Asia. He was a pathetic figure as he read from a classic scroll that tumbled and twisted, as it fell from the rostrum to his polished boots. His voice was quavering and his head shook and jerked in nervous spasms, the spasms of senility, cold, or profound embarrassment. He was not going over; there was only perfunctory applause at the end of those high-pitched periods for which the old man must have dreamt the deep roar of exultant victorious armies imposing dominion over Japan’s Asia. In the end, amid a silence that was almost poignant, the old general slowly and with deliberate dignity, touched with dreamy pride, rolled up his scroll again, turn after turn, until it was all neatly wrapped around its wooden core. Then he tied it up carefully with a broad red ribbon and walked unsteadily back to his seat. They were bungling his grand design, he seemed to be thinking, these younger men were bungling it all. Well, that was the way it went: a man had a great idea, an idea to shake the world, and others would laugh at it at first, and then they would get into trouble and snatch at it and steal it away from its owner, and then they would bungle it. Look at the way they were bungling Daitoa. And they would not let him do anything but take trips where he was bundled off very courteously from one airport to another or else make speeches before clerks and crooks and stenographers and shopkeepers who stared stupidly and slouched in their seats and smoked their stinking cigarettes. The general sat down.

Now a short stocky young man bounded up from his seat. As he bowed to the flags, one could feel the nervous eagerness in him, impatient and barely restrained for these formalities. Then he strode to the rostrum and grasped its sides tightly with his sinewy hands. This man could speak. Even to those who could not understand a word he was saying, he conveyed all his meaning with his fine vigorous voice, his impassioned gestures, even his shrill grimaces which in English would have been utterly ridiculous. He leaned over to every man in the audience, hungrily, commandingly, until it seemed he would knock the rostrum over and fall over the footlights. He shook his fists in the air, he stamped his feet, ranged and prowled from one end of the stage to the other. He was an angry man. A member of the diet, he had incurred the displeasure of the warlords, been called to the colors as a buck private, and packed off to Yiojima. Now he was back in Tokyo; a friendly commander had commissioned him to bring back the ashes of his fallen comrades and the mounting American bombings had cut off all communications with his post. He was back, and he was angry. His anger flamed and flared and shrivelled up the husk of language; he was angry at the stupidity, the complacency, the selfishness, the blind pride and paralyzing prejudice, the consecrated incompetence and gold-braided stripetrousered folly that were ruining his country and his people. He did not say a word about the Philippines but he said every word that could be said about Japan and Japan’s tragedy. He had been scheduled to speak for five minutes; he spoke for almost an hour. The befuddled chairman frowned, rapped on his little table, sent him indignant scrawled notes, and finally, unable to stand it any longer and trembling in his frayed gaitered trousers, rose and whispered to him insistently. But the audience, this picked and packed and guaranteed and certified audience of lingers-on and joiners, petition-signers, parade-marchers, pay-roll ciphers, even these had caught something of his anger and they shouted him on and shouted the chairman down, they called him back, when he made as if to go to his seat, they cheered, they chorused, they stamped and whistled and cheered again. The generals and secretaries on the stage frowned and gaped and, catching themselves leaning forward, pulled themselves up and frowned again. But they did not count any longer, only they did not know it as the old general knew it, grasping his scroll with a distant and melancholy smile.


21st January 1945

In preparation for the opening of the imperial diet today the government has announced the distribution of one bale of charcoal per family, the release of fresh stocks of fish and vegetables for winter consumption, and a gift of sugar from Nanking to Tokyo which will come down to some 20 momme per head.

For the past few days the government has also started raising its voice on its plans and programs for the future. The first heavy raid on the key Osaka-Kobe district, carried out yesterday afternoon by 80 B-29s, underlined the “new” air-defense measures taken up by the cabinet the day before. As a matter of fact there seems to be nothing really new in the proposed program outside of the fact that while “hitherto the various air-defense measures have been left to private initiative… henceforth the government will take positive measures.” An appropriation of two billion yen has already been laid out for the purpose. Otherwise the government is still talking about evacuating oldsters, children and nursing mothers, while retaining war-essential personnel; tearing down inflammable houses to make room for safety belts and water tanks; increasing fire-fighting equipment (one-pump for every neighborhood association instead of one for every two); more preparations for monetary and medical relief to raid sufferers.

The cabinet has also formed a wartime price council to fight inflation. The Asahi has damning praise for it in saying: “What is noteworthy is the fact that some 10 persons of knowledge and experience will be taken from among civilians to join the committee.” The paper also recalls that “at present the price administration in connection with munitions materials is in n the hands of the war, navy, and munitions ministries; that of civilian consumption materials, in the forestry and commerce ministry; that of transportation charges, in the transportation and communications ministry; and that of wages, in the munitions and welfare ministries In addition the finance ministry plays the principal part in measures affecting currency.” The Mainichi for its part comments; “The low price policy… has become a thing merely in name, not in reality.

Meantime the “31st investigation meeting for national mobilization” was held at the premiers residence yesterday. It adopted the draft of a labor mobilization law which will supersede and combine the five existing ordinances on the subject. From the provisions it is apparent that so far Japanese munitions industries have lacked the power to draft labor, hold it, lend and borrow it, replace it, register it, or even ask the government to aid it in getting it without going through a complicated routine of requests, certifications, and other formalities. This tight and rigid empire, which seemingly awes the world with its reputation for disciplined totalitarianism, is just learning about total war. It is, to anyone who can see it at close range, still fighting with the rudimentary techniques of the first world war. It has learned nothing from German post-war inflation. American wartime organization, or even Nazi totalitarian efficiency.

But a vague discontent and uneasy apprehension are growing; people do not know exactly what is wrong but they do know that things are out of control, breaking down, rotting; they do not know exactly what should be done — for they have been trained to feel that that is not their business, it is the business of their masters — but they are bewildered, frightened, slowly angering, while “waiting for orders from above”.

The members of the diet are only by courtesy and polite fiction the representatives of the people but they too have grown restive. Most of them are members of the single government party, the “Imperial Rule Assistance Political Association”, and now they are calling for its dissolution as well as that of its allied organizations, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association and the I.R.A. Manhood Corps. The Manhood Corps is the core of the opposition to dissolution but most people are indifferent to it. The reformers only want a “new” national party but it will still be national and, as one editorialist puts it, they are “still within the same old shell”.