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.

8th March 1945

On the 8th of every month, which is set aside all over Japan to commemorate the imperial rescript declaring war, Vargas pays his respects at the Yasukuni shrine, where the spirits of Japan’s war-dead are enshrined. Today, after the customary ceremony, he was taken to a new six-foot drum.

“Will His Excellency be so kind as to beat this drum?”

His Excellency did.

“No, No,” the chief priest exhorted. “Harder, beat it harder, hard enough so it can be heard in the Philippines.”

Apparently the drum has not been beaten hard enough. The Asahi complains today that “our crack forces on Luzon and Yiojima are fighting valiantly, causing the enemy much bloodshed, but to our regret the hegemony of the sea and the air is in enemy hands.” And the paper continues: “While our forces have little means of further supplies the enemy is in a position to obtain supplies in rapid succession. Accordingly, in spite of the valiant fighting of our forces, the war situation on both battlefields cannot but be judged unfavorable to us.” The paper then goes on to warn that a landing on the mainland is to be expected.

For its part the government has decided to reopen the diet for a single day on the 11th March “with the intention of explaining present conditions and of clarifying the conviction of the government to cope with the situation.” Another session of the diet will be called on the 15th or 16th “to present various bills.”

As the shadow of invasion and defeat falls deeper on Japan a cold wind of suspicion and hatred for all foreigners rises. The German embassy has found it advisable to warn all its nationals off bombed areas “to avoid disagreeable incidents”. Nor are the East Asians wholly sheltered from this popular reaction. The press speaks openly of the “Bei-Hi-Gun”, the American-Filipino forces now fighting on Luzon. The Philippine Society, in planning its new quarters, has notified the embassy that shelter will be provided for Filipinos “in case of rioting”. But most chilling symptom of all has been the current box-office-hit in Tokyo, a thriller called “Rose of the Sea”. The star portrays a Filipina of mixed Chinese parentage who operates as an American spy in Japan, transmitting military information through a radio set hidden in a Christian church. She reforms in the end, of course, arid realizes “her true Asian destiny” but the implications are ominous. The film could not have been produced without official approval; indeed it is said that it was produced under the auspices of the military police. If it was, then the plot provides a good clue as to the No. 1 police suspects in Japan: Filipinos, Chinese, and Christians. It is a far cry from the 1944 box-office sensation, “Shoot Down That Flag” which portrayed the Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor as oppressed by race-conscious Americans.

One of our students sneaked into a downtown theater to see “Rose of the Sea” the other day. When the lights went on, his neighbor, a Japanese, turned on him suspiciously and asked sharply: “Are you a Filipino?”

He looked so threatening that the poor boy stammered:

“No, Burmese.”

7th March 1945

The Manchu ambassador was a dinner guest at the embassy today. When dessert was served he waved it away.

“I have been forbidden to eat sweets by my doctor,” he explained. “How lucky you are”, exclaimed Vargas.

6th March 1945

A Filipino who runs a restaurant in Tokyo gave me some estimates of current black market prices. In general, black market prices are 10 times the official price.

5th March 1945

One of the Filipinos in Japan, in soliciting aid from the embassy as an air-raid victim, had a horror story to tell. Sometime ago he had persuaded a young Japanese country girl to run away from home and work in Tokyo. He went to live with her without registering the common-law union with the police, as required by law. The last raid surprised the girl alone at home. She took refuge in the usual trench shelter. But the house caught fire and collapsed on top of the trench before she could get out. He found her body in the ditch, most of it still unburnt because the rubble and the wreckage had covered it. Now he could not apply for the relief given to air-raid victims; he was afraid to tell the police he had been living with the girl without benefit of registration.

We did what we could, for him and as he was leaving, I asked: “But what about her parents? Will they ever know?”

“Oh, they’ll know. She was registered with the neighborhood association. Name, home address, relatives, to be notified.”

“Poor people! ”

“Oh,” he shrugged his shoulders cynically. “They won’t mind so much. Life is cheap in the country and she was just a girl.”

4th March 1945

It started snowing in the middle of the afterward the air alarm was sounded. The combination seemed ominous after the heavy raid last month but we decided to return to Tokyo anyway from the mountain resort where we had spent a few days. It turned, out to be Kanda again; some fire bombs, we were also informed on our arrival, had been dropped on the war office, causing small fires which one of the embassy servants described as “great white flowers blooming suddenly on the lawn.”

3rd March 1945

I heard today of a contract of lease that indicates how even one year ago there were those who could read the signs of the times. One of the diplomatic missions in Japan rented an hotel in a summer resort in the mountains last year. The Japanese proprietor insisted on a proviso that had to be accepted: the rents would be doubled the day the first American bomb fell in Tokyo.

2nd March 1945

The wife of a Japanese diplomat complained to us that she had received orders to have her beloved police-dog killed. It seems all dogs in Tokyo are being eliminated, the reason given being that the hot season is approaching and there is no antirabies serum left. When once one thinks of it, one realizes how very few dogs are now to be seen in Tokyo. Sometime ago the police started rounding them up but the story then was that the dogs were being slaughtered and canned for army rations.

1st March 1945

When I went for a haircut to my neighborhood barbershop I found it turned into an improvised office of the local neighborhood association. A bomb had fallen across the corner from its old quarters and the military had roped off the area. Meantime ration tickets had still to be issued and reports turned in and so old Sato had installed himself in one of the barber’s chairs to attend to the long queue of neighbors. He had a suppressed air of cheerful excitement as he crouched forward in the tall gleaming chair; the bomb had given his neighborhood an unexpected yet perfectly safe prominence that one could see he relished keenly. As chief of the association he felt a satisfying sense of personal responsibility for “our bomb”.

“Have you seen our bomb yet?” he asked me brightly and without waiting for an answer nodded to the next in line. There was so much business to be attended to and he, as one of the wealthiest landlords in the district, rich in years and the prestige of having lived abroad, English-speaking, poker-playing, yet withal a true sake-drinking kimono-wearing Japanese patriot, was so obviously the man to attend to it.

The gold-toothed office girl smiled at him as she came up. He had carried her on his shoulders when she was a baby and now she had more than once helped him home from a drinking bout. “Can I borrow some rice from our next month’s ration?” she asked boldly.

“No,” old Sato shouted, “You people are always borrowing, borrowing, borrowing. I tell you, it can’t be done. It is impossible, simply impossible. The government is not your neighbor. There are rules that must be kept. That is my responsibility.”

As he talked and roared the girl listened to him with a quiet mischievous smile. Finally he smiled too. “All right,” he said, “you can borrow some rice. From me. From your old grandfather.”

The neighborhood association never seemed to me so logical, so natural. As I listened to old Sato explaining, complaining, admonishing, comforting, upbraiding, wheedling, assuring, promising, I thought how well this system meshed into the fundamentals of the Japanese nature. What could be simpler indeed than a system under which the Japanese family, traditional unit of Japanese society, was enlarged into the larger family of the neighborhood, the still larger family of the district, then the ward, the city, the whole nation? The neighborhood association is the core of wartime Japan. It distributes the rations, sells bonds, reports strangers, spies on itself. It bends and softens regulations with neighborly consideration. It also stiffens them with neighborly jealousies and curiosities. No one can hide in Japan, and no one starves alone.

When I left Sato was explaining patiently to a sulking slatternly maid that the bean-paste ration had been delayed. He caught sight of me as I was putting on my shoes and he called out: “Don’t forget to see our bomb.” Then he shook his head ruefully. “You see,” he opened his hands, “what a lot of trouble for a little rice and bean-paste.”