12th January 1945

There is a limit even to Japanese patience, it seems. The Yomiuri, this morning, takes the Koiso cabinet slogan in its teeth and shakes it. “What is meant anyway by powerful politics?” And the Yomiuri snarls, as much as a Japanese newspaper can snarl these days, “It is regrettable that the evil habit of lukewarmness, characteristic of the Koiso cabinet, has not been entirely wiped off in the present serious stage…. It is to be hoped that the government… will not end with a mere array of words but will take concrete measures with boldness and daring.” It was the Yomiuri that, when the Koiso cabinet was first formed, called it after one of Tokyo’s wartime busses: “a charcoal-fed cabinet”.

The Asahi too has taken a stronger line and has asked Lieutenant-General Teiichi Suzuki, chairman of the Association for Service to the State through Industries, why the Japanese forces have not been getting enough planes. The general blames insufficiency and uneven distribution of war materials as well as government red tape. “Here is an example,” he told the Asahi. “A certain aircraft factory used to spend 60 kilograms of metal for manufacturing a machine part weighing seven kilograms. But the factory later found that by adopting a new production formula 15 kilograms of material would do. To put this new formula into practice, the factory had to go through various formalities to obtain government permission. But anxious to begin work, the factory went ahead without permission and, as a result, scored excellent results.” The moral drawn from this parable on initiative bordering on insubordination is probably comprehensible only to a Japanese. “The people,” concluded the general, “are waiting for orders from above.”

Certainly no one would accuse my apartment neighbor, the factory owner, of waiting for orders from above. Chatting after dinner tonight, he was quite elated over the way he had got hold of some cobalt and vanadium that his factory needed badly. He had traced a black-market agent to his secret warehouse on the pretext that he would buy the metals at any price but would have to check the stock first. Then he called in the military police and had the whole lot confiscated. The agent, a German, took refuge of sanctuary in his embassy and did not emerge until he had an official clearance.

There is something pathetically infantile about Japanese wartime industry. My neighbor brings home machine oil to fry his rice-cakes; he has his hot baths in the office because the public baths are so crowded; he took 10 days off for the New Year; once he tried to smuggle some black-market purchase of his in a military truck assigned to his factory and failed only because the recruit driving it was naive enough to pile the goods on top of the factory equipment he was supposed to be transporting. Amid all this light-hearted grasping, fumbling, stumbling, cheating, hit-and-miss, does any work ever get done?


5th January 1945

Koisos statement at the initial cabinet meeting this year is full of those circumlocutions and euphemisms that the Japanese love. “I wish to make this year a year of war victory,” he began, “but the war situation is very acute. We have won unprecedented victories in the battles off Taiwan and the Philippines but our navy has suffered losses and consumption which were not necessarily small. Subsequently both the army and the navy have been blocking the advance of the enemy through the activities of the special attack corps but the war situation on Leyte Island is not necessarily favorable to us.” The balance of “buts” is delightful. The Japanese have been told with delicate and classic subtlety that they are winning all the battles but losing the war — or rather, not necessarily winning it.


2nd January 1945

Koiso ate his words yesterday or perhaps took a bigger mouthful. In a New Year’s Day radiocast he proclaimed that Leyte was no longer decisive; “the entire Philippines…is the crucial battlefield.”

The Burmese military cadets are out on furlough over the holidays and the Burmese military attache has been hunting all over the city for a pig to give them one decent meal before they go back to their rations of rice and pickles. Today he called us up again to ask if our cook could help him locate a pig in the black market. At first it seemed hopeless. The cook knew where to get the pig but he claimed that his friend the meat-dealer had a son going into the army today and that nothing, not even a thousand yen, would persuade him to go out to the black-market pig-farm. My friend the colonel however was his usual persistent and resourceful self. He asked for the man’s address and in one hour he had the pig. One bottle of Japanese whiskey had worked it. Cost of the pig: 600 yen; of the whiskey: 300 yen.

In the evening there was a farewell dance for Eddie. It was the first ever held in the chancery. The cold hall looked different with the desks out of the way, a fire actually blazing in the shuffling dimness; a phonograph provided dance-music muted to a whisper to defer to Japanese prejudices. We all took a turn or two but most of the dancing was done by Nisei girls and all those young Filipino students who were going to be made over into grim and earnest Japanese.