The war is over. At noon today the emperor personally broadcast his rescript proclaiming peace. The Times, which ran the complete text under a modest three-column head (His Majesty Issues Rescript to Restore Peace), was held until the broadcast was over and we did not get the English translation until late in the afternoon. Dated “the 14th day of the 8th month of the 20th year of Radiant Peace”, it read:
“To our good and loyal subjects:
“After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
“We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union, that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.
“To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which We lay close to heart. Indeed We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far
from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone — the gallant fighting of military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation but would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
“We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire toward the emancipation of East Asia. The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen on the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death, and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day. The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers and those who have lost their home and livelihood are the objects of Our profound solicitude. The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all ye, Our subjects. However it is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for
all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering the insufferable.
“Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with ye, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity. Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention or strife which may create confusion, lead ye astray, and cause ye to lose the confidence of the world. Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities and the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution so that ye may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.”
It was difficult to tell today from any other day. There were more people than usual in the tea lounge but they talked of every-day things. The maids and the waitresses shuffled along the corridors with unhurried pace. Their faces were drained of emotion and they averted their eyes. Somehow one did not feel like intruding into their thoughts.
The hotel radio was kept in the bird-room, behind the cashier’s little enclosure. Originally it had been a powerful American set encased in an ornate wooden cabinet. But sometime during the war the machine had been torn out, possibly to prevent anyone from listening to the forbidden shortwave, and now it rested, a tangle of tubes and wires, on a coffee table next to the disembowelled cabinet. It was now a very bad radio, connected by a complicated and clumsy network to a cheap round amplifier, but it was the only one in the hotel.
Around it now, in the neat little room with its three birdcages overlooking the ornamental fish-pond, the Japanese began to gather. The Germans, the Italians, the Thai, the Chinese, and the Burmans, kept to themselves in whispering groups along the corridor outside or, just beyond hearing distance, in the tea lounge and the lobby. But the Japanese crowded around the radio. The local chief of the military police was one of the first to arrive, a crop-haired, gold-toothed man with a Hitler moustache. He was not smiling now. The representative of the foreign office came next, tall, thin, and rabbit-faced. He did not speak to the kempei, although they were standing side by side at the foot of the stairs leading to the hotel theater.
Then, as noon drew near, the maids and the boy-sans and the waitresses, the cashier and her assistant, the reception clerks and the cooks, the embassy stenographers and interpreters, took their places around the wretched little mess of dull glass and steel which would soon enshrine the voice of the God-Emperor. In their stiff shy way they crowded upon each other; almost it seemed that they were huddling together for comfort, for some measure of assurance in the face of destiny.
There was complete silence as the clocks ticked toward noon. It was stifling. The windows had been closed to keep out the noise of the children playing by the pond outside. The waiting was oppressive and we watched the plump gleaming fish sliding smoothly against one another as they crowded obediently around the large black rock where the children stood, feeding them crumbs.
A Japanese woman married to an Italian tiptoed in. She was leading her two-year-old son by the hand. He was inclined to be difficult and to amuse him she showed him how to play with the song-birds caged beside the window. There was a smell elevator attached to the side of the cage and one placed a tender leaf or a pinch of golden seed in the straw basket at the end of the string.
Then the birds would hop to a tiny platform, thrust their delicate beaks through the bamboo bars, and pull the basket up.
A nine-year-old Italian boy sidled in, a tough bright youngster. A few days ago his mother had quarreled with the wife of another Italian, a New Yorker. The New Yorker’s husband had promptly smashed the other husband in the face, sending him to bed for a week. I wondered vaguely how the boy felt about his father now.
The radio was crackling and in sympathy there was a shuffling of slippers, a rustle of silk. A high-frequency note pierced through the furry undertones of static, held itself tinnily, faded, and then rose to the precise point of the exact time. Set your watches, ladies and gentlemen; mark the time, all ye good and loyal subjects, ye wrinkled horny-handed farmers with your foreheads on the straw mats, ye pale and bloated maidens in the baggy trousers, all ye stalwarts with the merry blossom on your backs, ye flea-bitten sore-scratching children playing with the empty shell case, ye tear-less widows by the wooden boxes from the far frontiers of war, ye scowling, weeping, breast beating warlords and sealords, mark the time; mark the time and wake, all ye miserable and wretched, ye bristly red-eyed welders, sleeping on each other’s shoulders; ye wan distracted mothers, bent with the equalling babies on your backs, dozing in the ration lines; mark the time, all ye good, loyal, bullied, cheated, gagged and handcuffed, starved, ragged, grateful subjects, mark the time. It is midnight at noon.
The Kimigayo stole in after the whispered awe of the announcer; it had never sounded so significant and fitting. It was a band playing and the words were not sung:
Thousands of years of happy reign be thine;
Rule on, my lord, till what are pebbles now
By age united to mighty rocks shall grow
Whose venerable sides the moss doth line.
But the music might have been written for this hour of defeat; some dark foreboding in the heart of the ancient and forgotten troubadour who, a thousand years ago, had sung it for a German band-master to adapt, had haunted the simple melody with plaintive lamentation, with a grave and solemn anguish over the vanquished dead.
It was a perfect prelude to the voice of the emperor which came through now without an introduction. It was a calm and deliberate voice, a little distant, with a trace of weariness. As the intricate cadences of the courtly phrases drifted through the room into the sunlit garden outside, I looked around me covertly. It
was the first time that the Japanese had heard their “Manifest god”. All were expressionless as they stood, stiffly upright, their hands at their sides with the palms turned backward, head and shoulders bent low with reverence. Not a sound came from them. Perhaps it was blasphemy to weep.
When the rescript had been read, a younger more vigorous voice came through. It was the old Premier Admiral Baron, explaining the circumstances that had led to the surrender, the long wreck-strewn burning road that had led to the ruin of the empire. Then it was, and only then, that the Japanese wept. But they wept quietly, the sobs of the women were muffled in their sleeves, and
the tears of the men ran undried along their pale cheeks. Somehow it was painful even for a stranger, painful even to hear the Italians and the Germans outside in the corridors, debating heatedly whether the rescript had proclaimed peace or resistance to the death.
The broadcast was finished at a quarter to one. The Japanese went away silently, moving with bowed heads and reddened eyes through the clumps of foreigners already planning how they would rush home. It was incredible how swiftly normality, or at least the air of normality, was restored; indeed it had scarcely been disturbed. Lunch was a little late but it was served without a hitch.
In the afternoon I decided to go to Tokyo. I felt I had to see whether the Japanese had taken the end of their world with similar serenity. Before taking my train I went outdoors for a swim. The pool was deserted except for four Japanese boys frolicking noisily in the water. They kept to themselves but they did not seem depressed. Perhaps they had not yet heard. But outside in the
village it was the same. A group of school-girls in pigtails were skipping rope outside the hotel. A military policeman was feeding his carrier-pigeons. The crowd waiting for the electric tram had its usual air of preoccupation with bundles and tickets and seats.
The train to Tokyo was an hour late. As I waited on the platform at Odawara two Japanese came up and spoke to me. It was the first tangible proof I had the the war was really over. One of them was a slatternly woman, dirty, unkempt, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed. She asked me where she could get some medicine for her sick baby. when I said I did not know, she lingered a while and then, laughing, jumped down from the platform, and drank rapidly from a public fountain.
The other was a quiet—spoken man in a frayed national uniform. He squatted beside me and, while he unrolled his gaiters with a calm decisive hand, asked what nationality I was. Then he offered me some pipe-tobacco which he extracted from a smudged and much-folded envelope.
I refused politely.
“It’s excellent tobacco,” he offered it a second time.
When I refused again, he nodded briefly. He put the package away and then added in an impressive reproving tone: “It was American tobacco, you know.”
The train was packed to the windows with tired silent people and their huge bundles of black-market sweet potatoes, fruit, rice, two or three fish. If anything the atmosphere seemed less tense than usual. There were no longer any raids or strafing attacks to be feared. The lights were going on in the stations and in the countryside as we went by. In almost every official building there were also small bonfires, papers that were being burned before the Americans entered.
But nobody talked about war or peace. could it have happened in any other country in the world? Till yesterday, till even noon this day, they had believed, with a faith beyond all doubt, that in this holy war of theirs there could be no surrender, and that without surrender, there could be no defeat. Now the imperial rescript might speak obliquely of “a settlement of the present situation by an extraordinary measure”, of a war situation developing “not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”, of a benevolent solicitude for “innocent lives” and “human civilization”. But not the most polished and elegant circumlocutions could hide the fact of defeat, the “unendurable”, the “insufferable”.
What were now the “inmost feelings” of these good and loyal subjects? The unconquerable was conquered; the divine laid low. In the innermost recesses of the racial memory, no equal could be found for this “dictate of time and fate”. Not even when Hideyoshi’s armies staggered back to the shores of Korea to find their fleets swept from the sea by the “turtle-shell craft“ of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, had the imperial land suffered such a crushing defeat. For this was no momentary reverse, the abandonment of a conquered province, but total and complete defeat, submission of the imperial land itself to the conquering invader. No wind had risen from.the shrines at Ise and Togo lay mouldering in his grave.
For this the young men had frozen on the Manchurian tundra and vanished without a trace in the tall kaoliang; for this the young men had dragged themselves across the yellow plains of China, eaten the Weeds and the snakes of the jungle, burned on the lonely seas, dived to their death through flaming skies; for this they had sechemed, robbed, lied, intrigued and tortured; what a horrible price of shame, degradation, and self-pollution for this, this bowlful of brown rice mixed with the husks of beans, mulberry leaves and cattle fodder, this torn and grimy mompei and the paper shoes that fall apart in the rain, this acre of ashes, this hole in the earth, this night.
“Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion,” O ye good and loyal subjects. “Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit,” ye wretched of the earth. The men and women about me spoke softly of the price of pickled radish, an aunt in Hokkaido, an open window where the soot was coming in. A child equalled and when it did not stop the mother opened the top of her mompei and gave him her breast; it was a big child but her milk was cheaper than rice. A tired old man, with many apologies, sank on the strip of seat beside me and loosened the straps of the sack on his back. We were coming into Tokyo station now and a gnarled peasant woman cried: “How bright it is!”
But no one looked up. The passengers went hurriedly and silently along the platform to the exits, afraid, ashamed, of the light.