The diplomatic corps in Japan has fallen on evil days. It was dull enough after all the allied representatives were exchanged. Then Italy surrendered and the royalists were thrown into internment camp where, according to the story, the wife of the ambassador had to wash her own clothes. One by one the Axis satellites followed and the Rumanians, the Bulgars, the Finns, went off on their anxious trek home across Soviet Siberia, loaded with dry meat, hard biscuits, and smoked fish. Tokyo started to burn and the neutrals –the Swiss, the Swedes, the Spaniards– fled to the northern mountains of Karuizawa. The Soviets holed up in Gora. Only in Miyanoshita a little of the sparkle survived unheated rooms, language barriers, and mushy noodles every other day.
Now even the Fujiya has fallen into a melancholy stupor.The bridge tables in the lounge are empty. People talk in whispers, looking over their shoulders, along the quaint winding corridors or by the rocky pool, flashing with red and golden carp. It started with the Vichy French after France was liberated; now the blight has fallen on the Nazis and the fascists. They have been instructed by the police to talk only to their own countrymen, French with French, Germans with Germans, Italians with Italians. The tall blond Hungarian countess has already fled, in all her distraught elegance, to her French husband in Maruizawa; there was no one she could talk to in the hotel. It is scarcely a hardship for the Germans and the Italians; their groups are so numerous that they do not lack company. They have other troubles. The German ambassador has been summoned to the foreign office to learn what measures will now be taken “against the German embassy.” The Italians are wringing their hands because their assets have been frozen. How shall they pay their hotel bill if no money is forthcoming from Rome or Tokyo? But they cling to their racial pride; never, never, not even the humblest able-bodied seaman among them, will they ever work for the Japanese, under a Japanese boss, with Japanese at their side.
However it is we who have suffered most from the interdiction on international intercourse. We are only two Filipinos in the hotel; the Chinese and Manchu do not speak English well, if at all; the Thai keep to themselves; the Burmans have been our closest friends but it is impossible to be with them every night. The colonel and his exotic wife are very kind and amusing. We like them immensely; they are the only ones we trust. Still, the colonel has already shown us his collection of ancient decorated Japanese sword-guards, hundreds of them, intricate with entwined cherry-blossoms or chastely romantic with a hooting owl flying across the face of a tiny moon. He is investing his money in them; they are unbreakable, sought after by collectors, better than paper yen. We have also listened to Violet’s (her Burmese name is Lala) experiences with Japanese maids: the one who suddenly ran away in Maruizawa so that she had to push her baby’s pram three miles up a rocky mountain road; the one who stole her husband’s shirts; the flirt who, cribbling lipstick, wandered about in the garden under the window of the room where the Burmese cadets were playing poker, singing inviting love-songs until well past midnight; the police-agent who always took an hour off after lunch to report to kempei headquarters; the lame idiot whom they had engaged precisely because the police could not possibly get anything out of her; the reedy one who started by asking for bread, then wanted butter on it, then jam. A day came when there was neither butter nor jam to be had so Violet gave her bread with Japanese bean paste. “Whoever heard of eating that?” the maid cried and quit.
We have esten so much of the colonel’s private Chinese food and his special stock of chocolate that we are heartily ashamed of ourselves. Tonight we talked to our sole alternative, the Polish couple. He is a a short fleshy man with a great predatory nose. He came out to the east when a white man could make a fortune overnight and he did. Now it is said that he pays the highest income-tax in Manchoukuo. But he had to flee the country shortly before the war. He had received to many anonymous threats of kidnapping. One night a group of masked marauders broke into his mansion in Harbin. A Chinese servant slipped out quietly and locked the bandits in while he went for the police his master was forced to open his private safe and hand over his valuables. Afterward the bandits tried to force the Pole to go with them. They had an eye on a fat ransom. But he managed to hold them off until the police arrived. Were they bandits or political agents? At any rate the tycoon learned his lesson. He sold a half-interest in his holdings to the Japanese and surrendered to them the management and active control of his factories. Then he moved out. He and his wife took the last Japanese ship out of Japan; they were only a day from Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The ship turned around and ran for home. He has lived in Fujiya since then. He was here when the Americans and British diplomats waited for the exchange ship that was to take them home. He can even recall the days when that empty wall in the main lounge was covered by a huge map of Greater East Asia, bright with the victorious flags of the imperial forces. Now he mopes in the lobby the the whole day; he misses his great financial fief in Harbin; he cannot even concentrate enough to write another of his treatises in defense of capitalism or, rather, of the entrepreneur and the manager.
I suspect he is not very welcome as a conversationalist. His habits of command and unquestioned superiority, sharpened by an irritable boredom, make him argue when he should chat pleasantly. He is, in his own way, intensely unhappy. He is undoubtedly a brilliant and energetic man; he spent part of his youth in a Russian prison as a Polish nationalist; he made his mark in his early twenties when he was an obscure clerk in the Russian railways by submitting a masterly report on the reorganization of the transportation system; he is not the man to sit idly in an upholstered chair under a potted palm. Besides, hw has known so much wealth that he can no longer adapt himself to the rigors of war. Tonight he talked to me of a decoration he had received in recognition of his contributions to the development of Manchoukuo. The decoration, as wll as an invaluable portrait of the emperor, had originally been granted him in 1940. At the last moment however someone had remembered that he was a Pole, that Poland had ceased to exist, and that there might be complications with Germany and the U.S.S.R. if a Pole were honored as such. Consequently he was given quietly the kudos only recently after the resurrection of Poland and the disappearance of Nazi Germany. He had the in his room now; they were precious possessions. “But,” he laughed, and this time there was no bitterness in his eyes but only a genuinely amused twinkle of discovery, “you know, I cannot get a pound of butter for them.”