1st June 1945

The authorities are going [illegible] about the effect of the propaganda pamphlets dropped on Tokyo and Yokahama. “The contents of the leaflets,” cries the Asahi today, “are of such a fantastic nature that anyone who reads them is provoked to laughter. But someone off his guard may play into the hands of the enemy. We should therefore believe in the sure victory of the imperial land and block the plot of the enemy.”

The commonest pamphlets, reports the vernacular, is a “letter from the American president, Harry S. Truman.” It gives a timetable of broadcasts from the south as well as the wave-lengths used. The pamphlet, with “reasons of a twisted nature, attempts to make the Japanese people tired of the war and to estrange them from the military.”

Other pamphlets, according to popular rumor, are reproductions of 10-yen bills with the legend: “You can buy only such-and-such a quantity of rice with this amount.” Or else they contrast the ordinary civilian ration of rice with the army ration.

The rice angle is one of the most effective that the Americans could have used. The life of the ordinary Japanese after a heavy raid is not one calculated to attract gourmands. In one neighborhood association the ration issued was five rice balls (the size of golf-balls) for three persons for two days. In another, two small onions were issued per family for two weeks. In the same association an allotment of two cigarettes was made for 40 persons; they had to be raffled off. Others have been luckier; they received special consolation rations of rice. The general rule however is bad organization worsened by the “squeeze” system. It is now almost impossible to draw the emergency rations of shoyu without slipping the distributor a bribe.

31st May 1945

The trains were running to Tokyo again and I had an opportunity to see for myself what remained of Yokohama. Once more I was reminded of the fact that all ruins look alike. But there was one thing that struck me. I had never thought Yokohama was so small a city. It looked bigger when it was crowded with houses. Now it looked strangely, pitifully small, a pitted excavation between the bluffs and the sea.

30th May 1945

Yokohama was hit by 500 B-29’s accompanied by some 100 P-51’s, according to the official communique. They worked on the city for barely an hour and a half from 9:30 a.m. “This is the first time that the enemy has sent so many planes,” notes the Asahi.

It was a bad time for the navy to announce a reorganization. Admiral Toyoda has been appointed chief of the naval general staff and Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa has taken his place as commander-in-chief of the combined fleet and naval general headquarters. Ozawa, says the Asahi, is “virtually unknown to the public” but “it has long been expected that he would someday become commander-in-chief.”

29th May 1945

A German fleeing from Yokohama by car arrived in Miyanoshita gibbering with hysteria. From what we could make out Yokohama had been wiped out in a concentrated daylight raid. It was the first big raid on Yokohama; it will probably be the last because there is nothing left to bomb.

“They came from everywhere,” stammered the German. “It was like midnight. We could see nothing. Everything was covered by fire and smoke. There were people all around me burning alive.”

We did not know him so we did not speak to him but only listened from a distance. He was a stumpy red-faced man with soot in his hair and naked fear in his eyes.

28th May 1945

Almost unnoticed amid the mourning for Tokyo was the first faint death-rattle of Okinawa. On the night of the 24th the Giretsu air-borne unit of the special attack corps (Giretsu means heroism) clambered into the black bellies of a squadron of transport planes to spearhead a a Japanese general counter-offensive on Okinawa. Almost two months had passed in blood and fire since the first American landings. Now the Japanese garrison was making its last stand on the jagged line between Shuri and Maha. The special attack corps, in spite of suicide pilots riding rocket bombs, had failed to smash the American line of communications. Carrier-borne fighters were again scouring southern Kyushu and the press was wandering uneasily whether the Americans were planning another landing.

Perhaps the men of the Giretsu knew they were playing Japan’s last card. It had been played before the end of the game in Leyte. Could it win the trick this time? They had fought together from Peliliu to Okinawa, under their “boy-commander”, 26-year old Captain Michiro Okuyama, sleeping in their uniforms, running instead of walking in their daily life to accustom themselves to unrelenting speed.

Tonight a high wind from China has pushed away into the sea the black clouds that hung low over Okinawa. The sky was radiant with moonlight. In silence they heard the last “address of instructions”; the divine Tenno had “granted gracious words, placing great hope in the operations” and they were notified of the “gracious imperial concern”. In “uniforms camouflaged with green dots and streaks” they took their places. Each of them carried hand-mines and 10 off “crack new weapons” as well as special iron rations. They were the last hope of the empire.

At 9 a.m. the next morning, the 25th May, they sent the reassuring message. “Have succeeded in landing.” Bad weather had returned. An observation plane, skimming the leaping waves, its windshield blurred with rain, reported that the Giretsu were holding off repeated American attacks while wrecking and blasting planes and dumps on the north and central airfields on Okinawa, “throwing the enemy into confusion”.

Meantime, “less than an hour after the divine soldiers had landed on the north and central airfields, special attack units and other air units sank (some instantaneously) two aircraft carriers, four battleships, one cruiser, one destroyer, four large transports and four aircraft of unidentified category.” No official announcement has been made but it presumed that the land forces on Okinawa have also launched a general counter-attack.

[illegible] the 27th the vernaculars noted briefly that it that it was [illegible], the 40th anniversary of the battle of the Japan Sea. But there was no Togo on Okinawa and there was no imperial fleet “in this same sea zone”. It was now Japan’s turn to fight against hopeless odds and to make the tragic discovery that the time had long since passed for the daring and gallant raid that could turn defeat into victory.

A consciousness of this seems to have seeped into the Japanese mind. For the past four days the English edition of the Mainichi has been running a biography of a modern naval hero, Vice-Admiral Masabumi Arima, who personally led his squadron in a suicide attack in the Philippine waters on the 15th October 1944. Significantly Japan’s new hero is a suicide, not a conqueror; his message is duty to the death, not victory.

27th May 1945

The imperial palace was burnt down in the last raid. A communique issued by imperial general headquarters yesterday revealed that about 250 B-29’s from southern bases raided Tokyo for some two and a half hours from about 10:30 p.m. on the 25th May. “As a result of the raids the front palace and other structures in the imperial palace grounds and the Omiya palace were destroyed by fire.” For its part the office of the imperial household announced earlier in the day that “damage was suffered by the imperial palace and the Omiya palace. Their Majesties the Emperor, the Empress, and the Empress Dowager are safe. The Kashigodokoro, one of the three sanctuaries of the imperial palace, was unscathed.” The implication is that little else in the imperial compound escaped.

There is not much official news to be had. The Tokyo papers were forced to issue a common edition today. Among the buildings burned they listed the mansions of the emperor’s brothers, seven other princes, all the diplomatic establishments except the British embassy and our own, two universities (Kaio and Burika), the foreign office, the Daitoa office, the ministry of transportation, numerous hospitals and temples, and two newspaper offices.

The areas affected in the last two raids were listed as Ebara, Shinagawa and Omori wards (23rd-24th raid), and Kojimachi, Shibuya, Keishikawa, Hakare, ?, Shinagawa, and Akasaka wards (25th-26th raid). Damage was also suffered in some sections of Azabu, Yotsuya, Itabashi, Kyobashi, Setagava, and Arakawa wards, in Tokyo, and in parts of Yokohama and Kawasaki.

The papers also reported that at an extraordinary cabinet meeting held yesterday Suzuki “expressed regrets for the damage done to the imperial palace” and released the following statement: “The present air-raid was conducted on a comparatively large scale and,  as it was favored by a strong wind, the damage done must have been considerable. However we should be strictly on our guard against any inclination to magnify the damage just because we see it all around us. The extent of damage is quite natural in war. As for the cabinet, the government intends to petition the throne for pardon by fighting out the war….”

Underneath the official communiques and statements however a premonitory rumble of discontent can be heard against bureaucratic and militaristic inefficiency. The Japanese are shocked by the destruction of the imperial palace and they are more inclined to blame its official custodians than the Americans. They claim that no bombs hit the palace directly; it caught fire from adjoining structures and, due entirely to the panic of the officials of the imperial household, the fire was allowed to spread unchecked.

Our students had a personal experience of their own. When the fire spread to the vicinity of their dormitory the police shouted instructions to run away. The neighborhood association officials, for their part, stubbornly adhered to instructions and ordered all windows opened although originally these structures had been planned against the blast of explosive bombs. Open windows only let in the sparks in case of an incendiary raid. If the dormitory was saved at all, the only structure in the neighborhood that did so, it was entirely due to the efforts of the students themselves.

After the fire both official muddle-headedness and general demoralization combined to sharpen popular sufferinf. In one neighborhood the people lined up for an unexpected distribution of tinned fish, salvaged from the wreck of a warehouse. Everything went well until a group of army officers drove up in a truck and appropriated the food.

In another neighborhood the people were not so disciplined. When the emergency rice-ball rations were distributed they refused to line up and fought for the food. Most of it was spilled on the ground. Yet, though many were hungry, none would sacrifice pride so much as to pick up the balls and or two even kicked them away.

But there have been no serious riots so far. A Japanese explains it this way: “How can the people rise against the government? The government is their last hope for food.”

The trains were running out of Toyko only from Shinagawa station and when I boarded mine, I scarcely found room to wedge myself into a platform. By some coincidence I was next to a second-class coach; the press in third class was so great that presently grumbling and shouting broke out. Dishevelled men and women, reeking of sweat and smoke, and staggering under huge bundles, finally burst into the more expensive compartments. Some voices of protest were raised. But they were quickly silenced when a burly worker, his eyes flashing, shouted: “This is no time for distinctions! This is no time for second-class and third-class cars! We are all the same, all Japanese!”


25th-26th May 1945

Tokyo will always remember the night of the 25th May. It started out so quietly. The moon was still out. People told one another that Mr. B-29 would not come tonight, he would be resting from his labors, so it was safe to go for a little walk. It seemed such a pity to waste that moonlight and the playful teasing little wind. I went out to dinner in the suburbs. But we had not yet finished coffee when the alert was sounded; the actual alarm was almost an echo; I had no longer time to make the train home. “Why don’t you stay up with me until morning?” asked my host. He was rather worried and wanted company.

The fires and explosions were rather closer than they had been the last time but we could still sit in the garden edge of his Japanese house, counting the bombers as they came in, one by one. The wind had blown up into a gale by now. The trees about us were in a tumult. The anti-aircraft fire was active and fragments of shell and bomb came whistling overhead. Six or seven buried themselves in the ground about us. There was nothing to be done about them but still quietly and take our chances. The neighborhood was tense. The members of the neighborhood association were patroling their houses and their yards. Only one man was slightly hysterical; he shouted to us to put out our cigarettes although the sky all around us was already bright with fire.

It did not look like a heavier raid than usual. Still it was tiring to sit up through the night and I was more annoyed than disturbed when, after breakfast in the morning, I found I would have to walk back to the embassy, a matter of four or five hours, because the suburban railway line had been cut. But there no help for it. My host was kind enough to accompany me to show me the way it but it turned out that he need not have done it; there was such a steady crowd going to Tokyo that I need only have followed them. Afterward I was glad enough to have his company. The scene of desolation in the dawn of an air-raid had grown so familiar and monotonous that I thought it had lost its power to horrify me. I did not count on the effect of accumulation, horror stretched out  after familiar horror, until the total became a new monstrosity. All the way from Nishi-Ogikuboto Kudan, block after block was razed flat in that utter way that only Japanese blocks can be razed flat, for the closely-packed wood-and-paper houses leave scarcely a stone upon a stone. There was no trace or memory of beauty in this only featureless waste, gray, sultry, pitiless.

Only the overheard talk of the people as we passed by gave it meaning and nearness; without them it might have been a vista of the craters of the moon. They were only snatches of conversation as we went by but they told a story of the human heart. A young girl asked who had started the war. A shabby man with a bristle mumbled over and over to himself: “But this is cruel, too cruel!” and in his accents there was neither hate nor the desire for revenge but only an anguished surprise. Most of them however were concerned with petty tragedies of everyday life. They spoke of some prized possession burnt, of a little hoard of food accumulated at unspeakable sacrifices now gone up in smoke, of where they would spend the night. Once again there would be no light, no water, no gas for all of us, and for those who had been caught in the trap of ruin, there would be no place to sleep, no clothes to wear, no food to eat. We passed a ration center giving out small balls of cold brown rice; another center’s warehouse was burning and the people were snatching out handfuls of burnt beans. There was an incredible, brutal, greedy sense of waste; the beans ran in quick rustling streams into the gutters as the gaunt people snatched at the smoking bags, tore them, fighting over handfulls that spilled and were crushed under their hard scuffling wooden slippers.

Yet by themselves, how admirable and infinitely pathetic was their patience. They were already scouring the ruins of their homes for some pot that could be salvaged and their faces, drawn, streaming with sweat, seared and scarred by smoke, were yet clear of despair. Was it serenity or stupidity? An ox can be a hero.

but perhaps there was something in the Japanese soul that steeled them against catastrophe, some atavistic acceptance of sudden ruin in a land of earthquakes and famine. By the side of the road there were two blackened and twisted corpses, a large one clasping a smaller body. A scrap of bright red and orange cloth had somehow escaped the flames and it fluttered greasily from a charred crease of crusted flesh. I felt that if I had lived there I would not have stayed a moment longer; I would have fled in horror and despair. But what was there to run to? An old woman was hobbling along beside us, leading a howling child by the hand. “Never mind, never mind, darling,” she said, “we are still alive and that is most important.” What had the child lost? I wanted to stop and ask. A doll, a pet, a mother? Whatever it had been, it seemed to that child so infinitely more important than life.

It was hard to find my way home. All the familiar landmarks from Shinjuku to Yotsaya Mitsuke were gone and only the dusty road, cluttered with the wrecks of streetcars, remained in a strange and trackless desert. How many were there that morning, lost like myself in an unexpected wilderness! I turned the corner I had turned to many times and it was almost no surprise to find the house gone with the rest of the neighborhood. There was little trace of it left except for a half-burnt shirt near the air-raid shelter. I was overwhelmed by melancholy. This was a personal, an intimate, square of debris. I understood now why people poked about in the ruin of their homes. I myself felt the irresistible compulsion of their emotion and I kicked desultorily at the fallen tile and the charred sheets of tin, my eyes searching restlessly. What was I looking for? What did I expect to find? Nothing; my old razor, perhaps, which I had bought in a tunnel on Corregidor; or the old shoehorn that always hung at the entrance because shoes must be taken off when going into a Japanese house; anything that might identify this heap of rubble as the place I had known so well and made my own, a sight of recognition from the chaos of universal and anonymous desolation, a scrap of memory.

I felt the eyes of someone upon me and I looked up. The landlord’s daughter, our neighbor, was cooking her breakfast over the ruins of her house and she was watching me. Her eyes were bloodshot but she seemed endowed wuth the same tenacious patience which I had seen everywhere. My colleagues had gone to the embassy for refuge, she said. No, there was no one left here. Her family had gone off somewhere to look for lodging or buy a railway ticket. Abruptly she burst into tears, rose, and caught my hands. “There is nothing left here, nothing left. When shall we see each other again?”

I answered her as reassuringly as I could. Then I said I must go. The sun was out and it was uncomfortable to stumble through the debris, choking with smoke, cinders in my eyes, tired and sleepless. Turning into the main road a solitary car overtook me slowly. I stopped to look and inside I caught a glimpse of sad old man. I recognized the tired sagging face. It was Suzuki the premier. The people on the road did not seem to recognize him or, if they did, they did not seem to care. There were, for once, no armed escorts or guards. Apparently it was not thought necessary to take any precautions against a mob of malcontents or a chance fanatic; how well the Japanese leaders knew their own people. No one cheered as they would have cheered Churchill in London, fingers raised in the V sign; but also no one hooted or raised a clenched fist. The Japanese were too busy with their own troubles; only one or two stared curiously at the shiny automobile as it rolled smoothly past.

There had been no fires near the embassy; there was nothing left to burn. Some incendiaries had fallen into our compound but they had been put out with comparative ease and no visible damage. One incendiary had burst outside the window of the ambassador’s office and the heat outside had dried up the glue on the maps on the walls so that the maps had snapped off their rollers and were on the floor, but that was all. White chemical stains were scattered in the lawn and gravel walks. A few tiles had been bashed in on the roof. But considering everything, the embassy had been very lucky. Vargas, who was out of town, would find little harm done.

I found my colleague Sy-Changco disconsolate. He had placed most of his clothes in the air-raid shelter and covered them up with earth but somehow the fire had crept in and he had lost many of his clothes. The house had gone up in flames only in the closing hours of the fire. Several incendiaries had dropped into the garden but no damage had been done until the house in the corner opposite caught fire and the terrific wind scattered it throughout the neighborhood. Throughout the day refugees trooped into the embassy. We put all of them up for the night but it was difficult to feed them. As usual there was neither light nor water; the gas-range was dead; and all we had to eat was an unsavory mess of Japanese noodles and rice, half-cooked over a wooden fire, and eaten by candle-light.

Vargas was due to return that night and we were to pick him up at the Tokyo station. But we were told that the heart of Tokyo had been destroyed and that Tokyo station had been hit at last; the Imperial Hotel was in flames; there were stories that even the imperial palace had caught fire. We were too tired to go out and see during the day and the small car in the embassy had broken down with the cheap alcohol we were using as fuel. However Vargas had to be fetched and Sy-Changco and I took out the big car. The chauffeur was on leave in Hakone and we had to do the driving ourselves. The alcohol was so bad that the big Buick kept dying under us. It was a weird ride –Maranouchi and the Ginza were a ghostly graveyard with the skeletons of skyscrapers still flickering with flames at the windows. Tokyo station was in ruins and we went on to the next stop at Shinbashi. It was tense and strained work, driving in pitch darkness with dimmed headlights. The streetcars were dangerous with wreckage and heavy streetcar cables dangling overhead. At Shinbashi there was a light burning in the station-master’s office and when we asked about the train from Nara we were told that it would not go beyond the next station, Shinagawa. Off we went again on the main road to Yokohama. There were parties of refugees strung all along the road, some trudging patiently along with huge bundles on their backs; others, more fortunate, jammed into rattling open trucks that the army and the navy had put into an emergency bus line.

The Buick kept stalling and we had to ask the help of passers-by to get it started again as it was too heavy for one man to push while the other worked the gears and clutch. The atmosphere of common disaster made everyone helpful. Two trucks also stopped when we flagged them and took their turns pushing the car but it all came to nothing in the end and we had finally to give up the idea of getting to Shinagawa. Then one of our interpreters came riding by on a bicycle. Vargas had arrived and the interpreter had borrowed the station-master’s bicycle at Shinagawa to fetch the car. We told him what had happened and decided to let him go back to the embassy to see if the small car had been fixed up in the meantime –which as it turned out, it had.

The alert sounded again as we were on our way back to the embassy and somehow, moving through the graveyard that had once been Tokyo, it had the sound of wailing and lamentation, a thin and distant sound and, because most of the sirens had been destroyed, lonely and forlorn. It had a note of remembered sadness, pursuing the ghostly fugitives along the road.

23rd-24th May 1945

From the night of the 23rd to the morning of the 24th Tokyo underwent one of the heaviest raids of the war. The targets were far enough to be impersonal and we could enjoy with a certain detachment the weird spectacle of Tokyo in flames around us. At first the bombers were only throaty pulsing noises in the night. Then one by one they were caught in the searchlights and we saw them as bits and flashes of a more solid silver then the beams of light on they rose. By this time the incendiaries were starting to burn the horizon and the scene lighted up. The night took shape and color from the reddish mass of clouds reflecting the conflagration below while every once in a while the graceful spray of the incendiaries decorated the sky with childish fireworks. We actually saw seven planes hit –we could not be sure whether they were bombers or defense fighters. One of them, caught by a searchlight, was moving overhead with what seemed unbelievable serenity, indifferent to the bursts of anti-aircraft fire that followed or anticipated it when, suddenly, it burst into flames. Another one came into our line of vision already a dazzling cylinder of fire. It seemed incredible but men still lived inside it but it moved steadily on an even plane toward a bank of burning cloud; it didn’t make it. Before we knew it, it was dawn, a dawn of breath-taking beauty. The sky to our left was a pure and lovely blue but it took a long time to wash off the heavy smudges of smoke, clouds burned black, and all the dirty of destruction over Toyko.

How curious and unexpected is the perception of beauty! One can look with unconcern on a famous scene and pass unaffected by some subtle and intricate work of art. And then the glimpse of a child’s face laughing as she beats her open plams on a dirty pane of glass, or a twisted tree dyed bright orange by an incendiary chemical, can charm the eye and haunt the heart. All day today I was haunted by that queer vision of loveliness at dawn, the innocent blue breaking through the burning clouds. And tonight, by a strange coincidence, the more was never more beautiful. It was pleasant to walk in the silent streets. The white light can cool and soft and clean. I realized that somehow it had become my personal picture of peace, such a commonplace, but suddenly very new, enchanting, desirable.

22nd May 1945

On the anniversary of Emperor Meiji’s rescript on education, a new wartime education law was promulgated today which virtually turns the schools of Japan into factories and barracks. The spirit of the new ordinance is given in its first article; “The student should shoulder the national destiny with a loyal spirit, devote himself to work vitally necessary in wartime, and display fully the results of the education he has hitherto obtained as well as train his intellectual capacity.” The law merely recognizes and legalizes the existing situation. Instead of going to school Japanese students will, as heretofore, work in the farms and factories or on defense works. But it is now legally provided that for these activities those who die or are wounded in line of duty, who are mobilized or conscripted, or who concentrate on wartime studies will be graduated or receive similar treatment without attending school or undergoing examinations; thus one might call them graudates “laboris causa”. Furthermore a student corps shall be organized in each school and a federation of student corps shall be established in each region. These corps will absorb the Dai Nippon Youth Association which once numbered 15 million members.