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.


31st March 1945

A French countess, sitting beside me in the elegant foyer of the Fujiya, apologized for the paper package beside her. “It doesn’t smell so nice,” she said with a moue. “But it’s meat.”

In Tokyo the new government party was formally inaugurated yesterday. Its name: the Great Japan Political Association, replacing the Imperial Rule Assistance Political Association. Its president: General Minami, as reported. Its purpose: to bring the people back into the war after the old party had screened them off. The I.R.A.R.A. was invented to free the government from the diet. The result was that the government lost all contact with the people. In his inaugural address General Minami said frankly: “The new organization should serve as the instrument of national unity, securing the closest possible cooperation between the government, the fighting services, and the people. The national unity of the customary type is no longer adequate to meet the situation. There must be confidence in and respect for the government and the fighting services.” But so far the reaction has been weak. No one seems to be very enthusiastic about a “people’s party” headed by an old fire-eater like Minami. What is the difference between an admiral and a General?

The ordinary man in the street is probably more interested in the awards for the best motion picture and phonograph records of 1944, which have just been announced by the ministry of education:

Motion pictures — “Kato Hayabusa Fighter Unit”, first prize of 7,000 yen; “Gochin” (based on submarine operations in the Indian ocean), second prize of 6,000 yen; “Shoot Down That Flag” (based on the Bataan campaign), third prize of 5,000 yen. A scientific film on detonations and shell fragments was given the fourth prize of 3,000 yen.

Among the prize-winning disks were recordings of songs like “You join the air-force and I’ll join the navy”, “The young cryptomeria tree on the mountain”, and “Until the day of victory”.


9th March 1945

This morning I saw the girls who work in the army offices and hotels on Kudan hill lined up in front of the Yasukuni gates. Across the street from them a group of officers were delivering a lecture, apparently on fire-fighting because there were three or four paper screens set up along the sidewalk and, as I passed by, a soldier was opening a tin cylinder smelling strongly of gasoline. I was tempted to stop and watch but I received so many inquiring glances that I moved on.

The vernaculars carried a photograph of the wife and daughter of the Japanese commander on Yiojima. They were praying in the snow outside the inner shrine of the Yasukuni and the caption said that they had prayed that some of the snow on the streets of Tokyo might find its way to the arid caves of Japan’s newest volcanic battlefield.

But it will take more than prayers to reassure the people. The outspoken Yomiuri lashed out today with an editorial teetering dangerously oh the rim of discontent. “The situation at Yiojima is growing ever more pressing. It is no longer the time to talk of favorable or divine opportunities. Frankly speaking, we have been driven into a corner in spite of the valiant fighting of the men at the front and all our efforts at home. Where should we look for the reason of all this? Certainly it is not merely accidental. It is no longer permissible to use the material resources of the enemy as an excuse. The production capacity of America was known from the outset and it has not shown any surprising increase of late…. All our information and preparation concerning this point must be supposed to have been completed from the time of the imperial, rescript declaring war…” The paper then goes on; “It is being said that even though the enemy may land on these shores, we can surely win if we encounter him with the fierce determination of each one of us killing one enemy soldier… But can we rely safely on that determination alone? That is what the people are sincerely feeling…. We must reflect on the past and present and thoroughly probe the reasons why things have come to this pass. Without finding and eradicating the reasons, we cannot face the enemy landing and turn the divine opportunity into reality.”

Meantime even official circles are beginning to think that the Yomiuri’s unspoken “reason” is that the people are not united behind the war. Yesterday Premier Koiso invited Admiral Seizo Kobayashi, president of the Imperial Rule Assistance Political Association (the government party), and some 300 others engaged in organizing a new political party, to his official residence. Admiral Kobayashi struck his breast penitently and confessed: “The political association heretofore in existence aimed chiefly at the management of the diet and was lacking in its efforts to connect the people directly to war politics. Now is the time for us to give up the old ways and set up a sure-victory no-defeat structure at once. Herein lies the reason for our proposal for the creation of a great political association…. What is badly needed today is that the whole people should become subjects of the imperial land in a thorough-going sense, irrespective of vocations, and offer their lives for the sake of the state. Our forefathers at every national crisis forgot their small differences and worked for their great objectives, overcoming difficulties in a firm blood league. We are confident that when the people understand our objective, they will gladly join this great political association.”

To a people accustomed to reading between the lines, like the Japanese, the implications are ominous, not only in the admiral’s confiteor but also in the Yomiuri’s quo-vadimus. The impression one gathers from it all is that the Japanese, fantastic as it sounds, are indifferent to the war, divided by petty quarrels, bewildered, by the disaster that is overwhelming them; they have lost touch with the government and lost faith; they are content to stand apart from a tragic adventure which they cannot understand and in which they have no hand, absorbed in the intimate problem of the next meal, the next incomprehensible air-raid, while the vast wave of ruin looms darkly over their bent unseeing heads.

Even the generals are no exception. General Kuroda, the former Japanese commander in the Philippines, had dinner with Vargas last night. Flushed with drink, this bibulous garrulous old man, who spent his term in the Philippines on the golf course and in bars, complained bitterly about being relieved by Yamashita. “I know the Filipinos better than Yamashita.” “Yamashita talks too much.” “We were classmates and he was not so bright.”

When Vargas brought out a bottle of pre-war American whiskey, Kuroda chuckled gratefully and then leaned over. “You know,” he giggled, “we two are in the best place after all. You could have been president but they did not want you. I should have been commander-in-chief but they did not want me. Who’s sorry now, eh? Eh?”

When Kuroda staggered home, he was still clutching the bottle.


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”.