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.