Traveller From Tokyo


 Traveller From Tokyo by John Morris, 1943, reprinted by Penguin 1946.

I bought the Penguin copy of this book. Major Charles John Morris, CBE (1895–1980), known as John, was a British mountaineer, anthropologist and journalist, and controller of BBC Radio’s Third Programme. 

It’s rather amusing in places to read the views of an British man in Japan, Morris’s adventures with Japanese cooking especially. But I thought his chapter on the events after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour were worth typing up as it’s a rare insight into what life would have been like for an British man with international contacts in Japan days after.


 The front page of the Gettysburg Times the Day after the Pearl Harbour attack.

After Pearl Harbour 7th DECEMBER 1941 to 29th JULY 1942


Sunday the 7th December 1941 was much the same as any other. I had got up rather late, played over a few records before lunch, and spent the afternoon writing an article on Virginia Woolf. It was never published and is now, I believe, in the archives of the Japanese police. My article was for Japan News Week, the American paper that had somehow managed to keep its independence right up to the outbreak of war. Its acknowledged policy was to promote amicable relations between the United States and Japan. This it attempted to do by means of extremely outspoken leading articles, which criticised impartially the attitude of both countries.

In the same spirit of impartiality it also published, in adjacent columns, two weekly summaries of the war situation in the exact form in which they were supplied by the British and German Embassies respectively. These, taken together. often formed amusing reading. As relations between Germany and Japan became closer, however, the German Embassy hinted at the desirability of editing the British summary in such a way that it should not contradict the official German news. This the editor flatly declined to do, upon which the German Embassy ceased to supply him with its own summary. 

For some months before the outbreak of war three or four of us who were working for the paper had been accustomed to meet every Sunday night at the house of Paul Rusch, one of the best friends Japan has ever had. Paul had originally come to Japan as a voluntary Y.M.C.A. worker to help the Japanese after the terrible earthquake of 1923. He had later become an educational missionary and, in the course of years, had brought into being, almost entirely through his own efforts, what was probably one of the finest social service camps ‘for boys in the world. This camp was well on the way towards completion when the war put an end to Paul’s activities. He is also known as the introducer of American football into Japan.


 A memorial bust of Paul Rusch

Paul’s dinners were much appreciated by all his guests. He had a high regard for the pleasures of the table, was an extremely skilled cook, and would often give us a dinner prepared and cooked entirely by himself. In these feasts, dishes peculiar to his own Kentucky would take a prominent place. Long after the rest of us had been forced by rationing difficulties to give up all forms of entertainment, Paul’s hospitality continued. How he did it we never found out, and it still remains his secret.

On the night of 7th December we had gathered as usual at Paul’s home; W.R.Wills, the Editor of Japan News Week, Phyllis Argall, the managing Editor of the paper, Air-Commodore Bryant, the British Air Attache, and myself. It was not often that we had a member of the diplomatic corps to give tone to our Sunday night parties. Besides, he brought other advantages. The petrol restriction, which had now made it almost impossible to get a taxi late at night, did not apply to members of the Embassy; when they went out to dinner they travelled in their own private cars, and it had become more or less understood that before returning to their own houses they should first see home any fellow guests who did not share their privileges. As this happened to be an unusually wet night, we were delighted to see Bryant’s saloon standing in front of Paul’s door. There would, at any rate, be no need to rush away early; no standing in a dripping bus queue, no strap-hanging on an overcrowded last suburban train.

But, of course, we were glad to see Bryant for his own sake, and to hear the latest news from home. It was only when we happened to meet someone from the Embassy that we had a chance of hearing what was really happening; for, although it was in theory possible for Englishmen in Tokyo to go to the Embassy and collect a copy of the daily bulletin, in actual practice this was seldom done, as regular visits to the British Embassy placed even British Subjects under grave police suspicion. In fact, after Japan entered the war a number of our nationals were arrested for the “offence” of having paid regular visits to their own embassy. The Japanese police were unwilling to believe that one might go there with no more dangerous object than to drink a cup of tea.

After dinner we all sat talking round the fire. Most of us had realised for some time that Japan’s entry into the war was now inevitable, but no one thought the moment was yet at hand. I think if anyone had told us that, as we sat there enjoying our quiet chat, the Japanese fleet was already in position in front of Pearl Harbour, we should have laughed at the idea. No one had received any hint that the crisis had been reached. 

We left Paul’s house at about eleven o’clock, and Bryant, after seeing Wills and Phyllis Argall home, took me on in the direction of my house which was not very far from his. As it was getting late and he had to be up early in the morning, I asked him to drop me at the crossroads near his own house. There, accordingly, he stopped the car and we sat in it, smoking a last cigarette, before I got out and walked home. The streets were deserted; I cannot remember seeing a single soul on my way. And yet it later transpired that not only did the police know exactly who was dining at Paul’s house last night, but that they had also kept an eye on Bryant and me talking in his car at the crossroads. No doubt I was shadowed all the way to my house, but such is the efficiency of the Japanese police that I was totally unaware of it. During the whole of my four years’ stay in Japan I cannot recall a single occasion when I so much as suspected that I was being watched, and yet reports which I subsequently received made it clear that the police had kept an eye on me the whole time.

On the following morning I came down to breakfast as usual at about half-past eight. At this hour there was a daily broadcast of gramophone records, and I generally listened to it as I ate my breakfast. I switched on the radio, but instead of hearing a symphony, I heard the announcer talking rapidly in Japanese. He seemed to be saying the same thing over and over again, so I thought I had better try and make out what it was all about. As far as I could understand, the announcer was saying that a state of war now existed between Japan and the United States. (The news of the actual attack on Pearl Harbour was not made public until about an hour later.) As I was not quite certain whether I had understood correctly, I called in my cook and asked her if the news was true. “ Yes,” she said, “ but go on with your breakfast,or you’ll be late for your work.” 

I was uncertain what to do, so I thought first of all I would go and talk things over with Reuters correspondent, Richard Tenelly, who was now my next-door neighbour. As soon as I had stepped out of my door, however, I noticed four or five policemen on guard outside Tenelly’s. They told me their chief was inside and that I had better see him. .He came down almost at once and I asked what I should do. “We have no orders to arrest you,” he said, “so you had better carry on with your work as usual.” I told him that I was due to give a lecture at ten, and he advised me to go away and deliver it. He refused to let me see Tenelly.

On arriving at the University I went straight to my classroom and set about delivering my lecture. There was nothing abnormal in the behaviour of the students and we carried on as though nothing had happened. At the end of the lecture, however, I was told that I had better do no further teaching pending the receipt of instructions from the Department of Education, in the meantime, it occurred to me that I would do well to visit the Foreign Office in order to find out exactly what my position now was. I have already explained that I originally went to Japan under the aegis of the Foreign Office, and although the matter was never committed to writing it was understood that in the event of war I should be afforded what practically amounted to diplomatic immunity. 

I found the office in a turmoil; indeed, the officials with whom I spoke seemed just as much surprised and stunned by the news as the ordinary man in the street. To-day it is widely believed that the sending of Mr. Kurusu to Washington with the ostensible purpose of making a last minute attempt to prevent war was one of the most underhand diplomatic actions ever committed, since the plans for attacking Pearl Harbour had already been made and the Japanese navy was actually moving into position while Mr. Kurusu’s negotiations were still in progress. It is doubtful if the whole truth will ever be known, but when I call to memory my conversations with members of the Japanese Foreign Office on the morning of 8th December I am inclined to believe that the Japanese Government acted in good faith. I think it is not unlikely that the attack on Pearl Harbour was launched by the Armed Forces without the previous sanction of the Government in Tokyo. I I am well aware that this opinion will not be generally acceptable, but it should be remembered that the Japanese army chiefs already had established a precedent for taking independent action by their seizure of Manchuria in 1931 without obtaining the prior sanction of their Home Government.

I was told by the Foreign Office that orders had already been issued to the effect that I was not to be arrested. But it was added that I should be well advised to remain at home for the next few days, or at any rate until it was possible to see how the situation was developing. If I myself did not feel uneasy, however, there was no objection to my going out in the neighbourhood of my own home. Nevertheless, before going back to my house, I decided to visit my friend Frank Hawley, who was director of the British Library of Information and Culture, an institute which had recently been opened under the auspices of the British Council. It is remarkable that, in spite of the close relations we have maintained with Japan for many years, no one had apparently ever thought it worth while to establish such a library in the days of peace. A British institute could have had very considerable influence in increasing the already great interest in, and respect for, things English. In the event, the British Library was not opened until relations between the two countries had already become strained, and it came under the suspicion of the police from the start. But even during Its short existence it did valuable work, many teachers. and students taking advantage of the excellent selection of books which had been sent out from England by the British Council, although this often made them liable to police questioning.

When I arrived at Hawley’s house I found that both he and his Japanese wife had been arrested early in the morning and taken to the local police station. His cook told me that she thought it would be unwise to make any attempt to get in touch with him; she herself, when taking food and bedding to her master and mistress, had been denied access to them.