5th February 1945

Kobe was raided yesterday by 100 B-29’s. She eight-day theory seems to be working.

Manila’s fail was announced last night by San Francisco but the Japanese press still has the Americans at San Fernando, 70 kilometers away.

At the diet a curious little exchange took place. The story goes that someone was indulging in the usual platitudes about “divine assistance” when a representative arouse to remind his colleagues that there was also such a thing as “divine punishment”.

I wonder if the story is authentic. It sounds almost too pat to be true.

The cabinet had to run another gauntlet of questions in the upper house yesterday. The Koiso government seems to be on its last legs. Who will be next? It is said that a powerful clique is gathering around the old men who did not want the war and now seem to have known beat. If and when one of the old men takes over, possibly Admiral Nomura or General Ugaki, it will be the beginning of the end.


4th February 1945

A warning went out today for a possible big raid, Someone has figured it out that the Americans come every eight days and they came in force last Saturday week, All the girl workers in Tokyo were sent home early. But nobody came.


3rd February 1945

With the Americans at the gates of Manila the official Imperial Rule Assistance Association called a “Victory in the Philippines” rally at the Hibiya public hall today. It was piercingly cold even in mid-afternoon and the steep backstairs were slippery with crusted ice. Backstage distinguished visitors were shown into a shabby clingy waiting-room and served the usual tea. Japanese officers and dignitaries arrived in succession, glum and blue with cold, and with a strange and awkward air, half-defiant and half-apologetic. Nobody talked about the war but it was obvious that for the Japanese the news was bad.

Presently the distinguished guests filed out to the stage. Overcoats were taken off and hurriedly put on again. Only the officers with ostentatious asceticism remained coatless, sitting with an easy arrogance, their hands clasped over their sword-hilts. When the curtain went up, it was seen that the pit was full but there was only a handful of people in the galleries; not until an hour or so later were they to be comfortably packed with officials and members of the association as well as “invited” representatives of firms and other organizations with interests in the Philippines.

The stage itself was decorated with huge Japanese and Filipino flags, as well as patriotic slogans. All the speakers bowed deeply before each of the two flags before addressing the audience. The whole thing started of course with a general obeisance in the direction of the imperial palace and a silent prayer for the imperial forces.

The first speaker was General Matsui, grandfather of all Pan-Asian, precursor of the empire-dreamers and the empire-builders, apostle of Greater East Asia. He was a pathetic figure as he read from a classic scroll that tumbled and twisted, as it fell from the rostrum to his polished boots. His voice was quavering and his head shook and jerked in nervous spasms, the spasms of senility, cold, or profound embarrassment. He was not going over; there was only perfunctory applause at the end of those high-pitched periods for which the old man must have dreamt the deep roar of exultant victorious armies imposing dominion over Japan’s Asia. In the end, amid a silence that was almost poignant, the old general slowly and with deliberate dignity, touched with dreamy pride, rolled up his scroll again, turn after turn, until it was all neatly wrapped around its wooden core. Then he tied it up carefully with a broad red ribbon and walked unsteadily back to his seat. They were bungling his grand design, he seemed to be thinking, these younger men were bungling it all. Well, that was the way it went: a man had a great idea, an idea to shake the world, and others would laugh at it at first, and then they would get into trouble and snatch at it and steal it away from its owner, and then they would bungle it. Look at the way they were bungling Daitoa. And they would not let him do anything but take trips where he was bundled off very courteously from one airport to another or else make speeches before clerks and crooks and stenographers and shopkeepers who stared stupidly and slouched in their seats and smoked their stinking cigarettes. The general sat down.

Now a short stocky young man bounded up from his seat. As he bowed to the flags, one could feel the nervous eagerness in him, impatient and barely restrained for these formalities. Then he strode to the rostrum and grasped its sides tightly with his sinewy hands. This man could speak. Even to those who could not understand a word he was saying, he conveyed all his meaning with his fine vigorous voice, his impassioned gestures, even his shrill grimaces which in English would have been utterly ridiculous. He leaned over to every man in the audience, hungrily, commandingly, until it seemed he would knock the rostrum over and fall over the footlights. He shook his fists in the air, he stamped his feet, ranged and prowled from one end of the stage to the other. He was an angry man. A member of the diet, he had incurred the displeasure of the warlords, been called to the colors as a buck private, and packed off to Yiojima. Now he was back in Tokyo; a friendly commander had commissioned him to bring back the ashes of his fallen comrades and the mounting American bombings had cut off all communications with his post. He was back, and he was angry. His anger flamed and flared and shrivelled up the husk of language; he was angry at the stupidity, the complacency, the selfishness, the blind pride and paralyzing prejudice, the consecrated incompetence and gold-braided stripetrousered folly that were ruining his country and his people. He did not say a word about the Philippines but he said every word that could be said about Japan and Japan’s tragedy. He had been scheduled to speak for five minutes; he spoke for almost an hour. The befuddled chairman frowned, rapped on his little table, sent him indignant scrawled notes, and finally, unable to stand it any longer and trembling in his frayed gaitered trousers, rose and whispered to him insistently. But the audience, this picked and packed and guaranteed and certified audience of lingers-on and joiners, petition-signers, parade-marchers, pay-roll ciphers, even these had caught something of his anger and they shouted him on and shouted the chairman down, they called him back, when he made as if to go to his seat, they cheered, they chorused, they stamped and whistled and cheered again. The generals and secretaries on the stage frowned and gaped and, catching themselves leaning forward, pulled themselves up and frowned again. But they did not count any longer, only they did not know it as the old general knew it, grasping his scroll with a distant and melancholy smile.


2nd February 1945

The government still cannot make up its mind whether or not to bother issuing clothing-ration coupons this year, reports the Asahi. For months now it has been impossible to buy anything with the coupons except neckties, hats, an occasional scarf, and ersatz curtains and table-runners. And not even the Japanese have been able to bring themselves to cut up this paper-stiff paper-thin composition into drawers and diapers.

The Italian charge d’affairs has a good story on the point. When he was in Germany, he says, everything was “verboten” (forbidden). Here in Japan everything is “arimasen(there isn’t any).


29th of January 1945

I went through the combed area downtown today, riding a streetcar, the only way to get past the police cordon. Several buildings were still smoking and broken glass glittered on the sidewalks. It was hard to see anything else. The car was crowded, especially at the windows, but all the faces that peered out, with eyes half-lidded to conceal the slightest trace of curiosity, were empty of emotion, we might have been passing a blank wall.

But the diet was more outspoken yesterday. It kept asking questions about planes. Finally the director of the aircraft board of the munitions ministry came out with an “explanation.”

Was Japan producing enough aircraft? No, everyone was agreed that there was not enough.

What was the quality of the aircraft produced? Well, it was improving. The number of “unpassed” planes had “markedly diminished”, ever since a unified “production guidance section” had superseded the former separate army and navy supervision.

But what about the complaints against planes that did not fly, the “man-killing” planes? Every plane, argued the director, was tested and passed by the army or the navy before being sent out to the front and “there is virtually no plane which is entirely unfit for use”.

But were the planes getting to the front? Well, there was some trouble but it was not the fault of the planes: pilots were inexperienced and ground crews were insufficiently trained or unfamiliar with the new models,

All in all, the diet could not have found it a very reassuring picture.

x x x

A popular generalization, and one which Japanese themselves are fond of making, is that they are not good linguists. Certainly the outstanding exception I have met is a charming soft-spoken professor in the local Zenrin (literally, Good Neighbor) language school. Some months ago he called, at the embassy to ask in perfect Spanish whether anyone of us would care to teach Tagalog to a class of future emigrants to the Philippines. We were sorry but we were too busy, we told him. Whereupon he announced that he would teach it himself. We were politely sceptical but we let him have a National Language Institute grammar and vocabulary. Today he showed up again to submit some papers for correction. It was amazing. This diffident persistent man could already actually write correct Tagalog, simple sentences perhaps but accurate enough as far as the grammar went. Orally he had only one trouble. He spoke it — with a Spanish accent.


28th of January 1945

When we came up out of our basement yesterday afternoon everything looked the same as usual except that there were fewer people on the streets. But the raid was heavier than we thought. Considerable damage and many casualties (a thousand, they say, mostly office people) were caused in the very heart of the business district. It was lunch-time and there must have been long queues at the worker’s canteens. Today part of the Ginza has been roped off. Possibly because the electric power in that section of the city was cut off, the Times has not come out. But the Asahi, urging the people to take shelter, points out that six girl teachers were killed because they failed to get into one of the sidewalk ditches. At any rate a lot of the easy nonchalance most people in Tokyo had acquired, has now been shocked out of their systems.


27th of January 1945

At noon the sirens blew the air-raid alarm, the short blasts sounding like quick choking gasps while we hurried breathlessly down to the basement. It was dark there as we listened to the radio bulletins. Silence and the soft purring and crackle of the loudspeaker. Then a long buzz, a short buzz, and the high-pitched intimate voice of the announcer. We grasped at one or two familiar words in the stream of technical Nippongo. “Hentai” — formation. “Keihin” — the Tokyo-Yokohama area. Proceeding — what was that? From what direction to what direction? Silence, purr, crackle. Nobody seemed to feel like talking. A baby whined uneasily. We started to whisper. Buzzzzzzz, buzz, voice. Entering, entering the Keihin district. Please be ready to put out fires. Silence, crackle, purr. What was that? A slight concussion. Anti-aircraft, somebody said reassuringly. How did everyone feel? It was hard to tell? Faces burrowed, into quilted hoods or bid behind hunched-up shoulders and turned-up coat collars. Buzzzzzz, buzzz, voice. Dropping bombs now. Incendiaries and explosives. Silence, crackle, purr. We waited tensely; in the soft yellow cold of the basement, we looked at the square box of the loudspeaker, dented, chipped, the gray paint peeling. Buzzzzzz, buzzz, voice. What was the man saying? Do you know? Did you hear? Can you understand? Pardon, could you tell me? Crackle, buzzzz, purr, silence, buzzz, voice. It is difficult to be scared in a foreign language,

While the B-29’s were flying over Tokyo, the diet kept asking about aircraft. Why had the construction of aircraft factories been restricted? Was there something wrong in metallurgical techniques causing inferior products? The president of the aircraft arsenal headquarters admitted that factory construction had been restricted but claimed that it was only to save certain materials; at any rate it had not hampered the production of aircraft. Yes, the forging and casting technique was for a time “at a low level” but a “great improvement had been achieved recently,”

Meantime the president of the board of technology became more communicative, “I firmly believe,” he told the diet, “that the divine wind of new weapons has already begun to blow,” He spoke of “new weapons of simple and low-degree kinds which are achieving considerable results” and of future “sure-hitting weapons which would not entail the death of their operators”. A reaction against the suicide attacks? At any rate, he warned, “it is difficult to expect a single type of new weapon so powerful as to be capable of clearing the Pacific of all enemy troops.”


25th January 1945

The army and the navy took their turn in a general meeting of the lower house yesterday. The navy minister regretted that he could give no figures. The war minister unbent enough to say that “so far as the imperial forces are concerned, even if 30 or 40 per cent of the men are lost, it will never mean the collapse of the fighting units. There will be no wavering and no disturbance.” The president of the board of technology also “refrained from making any explanation” and only expressed his “shame” that before Japan’s new “sure-hitting” weapons could be brought into play the war situation had demanded the use of the special attack corps.

x x x

One of the Japanese diplomats I know is a tall thin man who speaks precise English. He dresses carefully and his head of well-brushed white hair gives him a distinguished air. In his office he has the reputation of being morose, irritable, a martinet and a pedant. His subordinates also whisper behind his back that he spends more time on his vegetable patch and his small herd of goats than on official business. His stenographer giggles that he keeps several boiled sweet potatoes in his desk and gobbles them up greedily during office hours.

He is a thoughtful conversationalist but at meals he cannot take his eyes away from the food. He is greedy. He eats rapidly, voraciously, spilling gravy on his shirt front, leaving little crumbs on the fringe of his mouth. He invariably takes a second helping; a third, if it is possible. When the meal is over, he sighs, a sad restless look disturbs his eyes behind their neat professor’s spectacles, but he is ready to talk again, shrewdly, wisely, tolerantly.

Today I heard a medical explanation for this minor phenomenon. This man was a Japanese consular official in one of the countries of southeast Asia when the war broke out. He was interned under extremely cruel conditions. The food was atrocious, what there was of it. Ever since he was exchanged he has been trying to make up for it. Somewhere along the intricate convolutions of his brain, a scar remains encysted. Perhaps he never thought more about food before than any other man. But now he knows that food cannot be taken for granted; suddenly, unaccountably, it is rationed, locked up, denied; what was served obsequiously must now be begged, hoarded, gobbled up, One cannot tell anymore about tomorrow.