On January 11, 1941, the government issued, as a supplement to the National Mobilization Law, a set of regulations concerning newspapers and other media. Sensitive matters of military, diplomatic, and fiscal policies could no longer be officially written or spoken about, and there were detailed instructions regarding the coverage of resource shortages, weather forecasts (because of their potential strategic sensitivity), family problems (such as adultery committed by wives of soldiers fighting in China), and many other social topics that might obstruct successful mobilization on the home front. Though these rules certainly restricted newspaper reporting, freedom of the press in Japan was, and had been, nonexistent for some time.
As noted earlier, from the Manchurian Incident onward, major newspapers had been especially blatant in their support of state policies, appealing to patriotic fervor to compete in a fierce circulation war. When the Japanese invaded Manchuria, military men and journalists actively cultivated one another, drawing closer as more and more journalists were dispatched to the battlefront. Objective reporting was abandoned. The policy of selective reporting, concentrating on Japanese victories, continued after the outbreak of the China War, and by 1941, it had become impossible for the Japanese media to disentangle themselves from their dangerous liaison with the military.
The national radio monopoly NHK had always surpassed the newspapers in its self-conscious role as the mouthpiece of official policy. One day in May 1938, it aired what it touted as the first-ever live broadcast of a battle, from an unnamed site in Xuzhou in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu in China. The announcer’s excited voice echoed all over Japan, describing what was developing in front of him as “the hell of victory.” In reality, the enemy forces had quickly retreated, and there had been little combat. But that was not what the listeners were told. “The fall of Xuzhou! The fall of Xuzhou! Dear listeners on the home front, it is, however, premature to hear your joyous cheers. The joy of victory still awaits us. Our greatest search-and-destroy mission goes on as I speak. So please, everyone back home, stay up all night tonight and pray for Japan’s greatest victory!” Under the spell of this adrenaline-filled call, many gathered at the Yasukuni Shrine, forming a long line to say midnight prayers. This was a dress rehearsal for the greater radio announcement of the morning of December 8, 1941.
Not all media had been as overtly uncritical as NHK or the major newspapers. The so-called general magazines, appealing to middlebrow and highbrow audiences and usually published monthly, featured political commentaries as well as literary pieces. They now were especially vulnerable. Their publishers were given the names of banned liberal contributors and were made to submit a list of subscribers, in addition to the detailed outlines of upcoming issues, to be approved by the Information Division of the government. Magazines for children were no exception. Japan’s young audience was dispirited in the fall of 1941 when a hugely successful ten-year-old cartoon serialized in a boys’ magazine came to an abrupt end; the tales of the adventures and exploits of the stray-dog soldier Norakuro were deemed disrespectful to the military not so much because they were critical of Japanese militarism but because the soldiers were all animals.
The practical problem of obtaining paper also made publishing too difficult a business, forcing many magazines to close down. (Saionji Kinkazu, who edited a glossy photographic journal, ceased its publication earlier that year.) But some people seemed to manage. Kafu was surprised to see several new magazines advertised one day. “How utterly bizarre. Haven’t they been telling us to save paper? Why new magazines now?” They all had fascist-sounding titles.
The all-female theater troupe Takarazuka, whose extremely popular repertoire included American-style revues, was now finding itself under tremendous pressure to produce more shows with patriotic themes. Its main attraction that fall was Mothers of the Big Sky (Taiku no Haha), a musical about women protecting their homes in the absence of their pilot husbands and sons.
But even in this climate of censorship, the Japanese love of certain things American continued unabated—and unchecked. In early October, an annual American football tournament was held in Tokyo. American films were still being shown in theaters, though less often. That wouldn’t last for long.
RICHARD SORGE WAS a frequent customer at a fancy delicatessen in the Ginza with a basement dining room. On October 4, Sorge chose to celebrate his forty-sixth birthday there. The owner, August Lohmeyer, was a former German prisoner of war captured by the Japanese in the Battle of Qingdao, when Japan fought Germany alongside Britain in World War I. A sausage maker by training, Lohmeyer built a successful business selling an array of processed meats then still rare in Japan. Had it not been for the Great War, Lohmeyer, a peasant boy from Westphalia, would not have wound up in Japan. Had it not been for his disillusioning wartime experiences, Sorge, a bourgeois Berliner with a doctorate, would not have turned to communism and become a spy for the Soviet Union. Now war was very much on Sorge’s mind again.
Sorge and Hanako were drinking cocktails at the bar when he spotted private detectives. It was not unusual for the Japanese police to have foreign journalists followed. But this night, Sorge was clearly alarmed by their presence. He took Hanako to a table in the back, where he whispered to her that Japan would soon attack the United States in a blitzkrieg.
“But Ambassador Nomura is an able man,” Hanako protested, as if to say diplomacy would win out. Possessed of a literary penchant and romantic disposition that might have made her particularly oblivious to the tense political situation, she had no idea how bad things were between Japan and the United States. But her opinion of Nomura was reflective of the wishful thinking of the majority of Japanese.
“The United States has many things in abundance,” Sorge had once told her. “Japan can never win. If Japan goes to war, defeat is a sure thing.” Sorge was happy that Japan’s acrimonious relationship with the United States at least made it certain that Japan would not attack the Soviet Union. He had accomplished his mission in the best way possible. “If the United States does not make any compromise by mid-October, Japan will attack the United States, and then Malaya, Singapore, and Sumatra as well,” he said in an authoritative message he had dispatched to Moscow earlier that day. The Soviet Union was no longer an enemy in Japanese strategic thinking. After eight years, Sorge felt his mission was officially over. He decided he would ask Moscow if he could return to the Soviet Union or even to Germany.
After dinner, Sorge went to the German embassy to meet his “friends,” including Ambassador Ott, to continue celebrating his birthday. Hanako watched him walk into the darkness. She would never see her lover again.
THINGS COULD NOT have looked worse for Konoe. He had led Japan to the brink of another war. His leadership challenged by Tojo, he focused on finding a way out for himself. The Roosevelt administration could hardly be blamed for its reluctance to trust Konoe. He had repeatedly failed to establish himself as a credible leader. There was a slim chance that a summit would prevent war, but it was understandable why the United States wanted to avoid the meeting.
Two days after the Tekigaiso Conference and only a day before the deadline for diplomacy, Tojo saw Konoe prior to a cabinet meeting. One last time, Konoe tried to convince Tojo to accept a troop withdrawal. Now, for a change, Konoe spoke frankly and openly, showing he felt he had nothing to lose. He said:
I am greatly responsible for the China Incident. After four years, the incident has not ended. I simply cannot agree to starting yet another great war whose outlook is very vague. I suggest that we now concede to the U.S. withdrawal formula and avoid opening fire between Japan and the United States. We really need to end the China Incident.… Japan’s future growth is doubtless desirable, but in order to make a great leap, we must sometimes concede [to greater forces] so that we can preserve and nurture our national strength.
“I believe the prime minister’s argument is too pessimistic,” Tojo responded unabashedly. “That’s because we know our country’s weak points all too well. But don’t you see that the United States has its own weaknesses, too?” Tojo had already made up his mind that withdrawal, at least under the current government, was out of the question.
“It comes down to a difference in our opinions,” Konoe replied. “I would insist that you reconsider.”
“I would say it’s a difference in our personalities,” said Tojo with deep emotion.
In the cabinet meeting that followed, Tojo made a speech in an excessively affected fashion. It was archaic in tone and often employed the phrase “thus there exists.” The formality of the speech was strangely effective in communicating the inflexibility of the army minister’s position and the depth of his determination to end Konoe’s leadership. The speech went as follows:
With all due respect to the efforts of the foreign ministers to normalize relations during the six months since last April, I must say that we have reached a limit. If we were to continue with diplomacy, we must be sure of its success.… The army’s actions have been based on the decision of the September 4 [sic] imperial conference. The decision followed sufficient deliberation by each cabinet minister. That decision dictated: “If diplomatic negotiations do not bear fruit by early October and there is still no likelihood of our demands getting through, we would make up our minds to go to war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands.” Today is October 14. We mentioned early October. But it is already the fourteenth! … The army, with late October in mind, is mobilizing several hundred thousand troops, and we are in the process of moving soldiers from both China and Manchuria.… As we speak, they are moving! If there were to be a breakthrough in diplomacy … we would have to stop the movement [of troops]. I would like you to please consider how to proceed from here.
After the meeting, Tojo went to see Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Kido in his office in the palace. He wanted to legitimize the case he was now openly making against Konoe and to push for his resignation. Tojo complained about the navy leaders’ insistence that they had not changed their minds concerning September 6, despite Oikawa’s perceptible diffidence. Tojo and Kido agreed that to avoid war they had to ensure that the next prime minister would move away from the problematic imperial resolution. Kido insisted that the army and the navy needed to stop quarrelling and act as one. Tojo, going right against the theatrical, hard-hitting prowar tone of the speech he had just delivered, said as much: “What has been decided has been decided, and we should simply stop wasting time trying to figure out who is to blame [for having endorsed the September 6 decision].” He felt that, at this late stage, they had to consider its actual feasibility.
Later that afternoon, when Tojo met Sugiyama in his office at the Army General Staff headquarters to report on his interview with Kido, he was still complaining about the conflicting messages he was getting from Oikawa as to the navy’s readiness for war. “The navy minister doesn’t say clearly that he is not confident,” Tojo said, “but he certainly talks as if he hasn’t got any confidence. If the navy doesn’t want to [go to war], we must think of some other way.”
So it had come to this: The navy would not say it did not want war, suggesting there was no need to articulate its unwillingness when the army seemed to fully comprehend the navy’s hesitations. The army, which would bear the bulk of public humiliation of troop withdrawal in the case of diplomatic settlement, was accusing the navy of not clearly stating its opposition to the new war so that the army, too, would have to admit to weakness by saying it could not fight.
Tojo thought the easiest way to start anew was to put an end to Konoe’s premiership. That evening, he sent the director of the Cabinet Planning Board, Suzuki Teiichi, to Konoe with a message asking him to make up his mind about quitting. Suzuki explained that because of the navy’s diffidence regarding the prospects of war, the September 6 resolution had to be reversed. The correct procedure to bring that about, in Tojo’s mind, was for the cabinet, which had presided over the decision, to own up to its complicity and resign. Tojo recommended that the next prime minister be the antiwar Higashikuni, who, ironically, had recently admonished Tojo for his dogged reluctance to extend support for diplomatic efforts and suggested, on Konoe’s behalf, that he resign his army minister’s post. The choice of Higashikuni divulged Tojo’s new and surprising acceptance that the war option had to be discarded. Tojo felt only an imperial personage with military experience, like Prince Higashikuni, could possibly manage the reversal of the imperial decision of early September.
Tojo’s suggestion appalled Privy Seal Kido, a man ever so dedicated to the imperial institution. With the death of Prince Saionji in late 1940, Kido now wielded a great deal of influence over the selection of the next prime minister. To Kido, the imperial institution unfailingly came before the national interest, a belief predicated on the circular argument that the imperial institution was Japan’s national interest. Kido had no inclination to involve the empress’s uncle in politics, especially at this very sensitive time.
A small man with a mustache and glasses, Kido looked the part of the perfect courtier, always clad formally and impeccably in dark suits. He lurked in the shadow of the emperor like a master puppeteer. Kido prided himself on being the guardian of the palace, which had been transformed in the second half of the nineteenth century to cater to the new needs of modern Japan. His grandfather Kido Takayoshi, a Satsuma samurai and later a Meiji oligarch of high renown, had been instrumental in Japan’s centralization under the emperor. It is often said that it takes three generations to make a gentleman. Marquis Kido, as a rightful third-generation gentleman, claimed to know what was best for the political system that his grandfather had so deftly helped to create.
Although considered a liberal influence on the emperor, Kido had, as the late prince Saionji had once noted, a right-leaning streak (after all, he supported Konoe’s New Order Movement to centralize Japan in 1940). Perhaps he was simply overcompensating for not being a “real” aristocrat, like Konoe or Saionji, who could claim imperial ancestries going back over a thousand years. Whatever his pedigree, he had become the gatekeeper of the palace. He would not allow Higashikuni to assume Japan’s premiership.
Throughout the turmoil, the Breakfast Club of Konoe’s advisers continued to meet. On October 15, its members gathered in a restaurant to enjoy a lunch of grilled eel—a luxury at any time, but especially now. Ozaki Hotsumi was conspicuously late. As the others started to eat without him, Konoe’s secretary, Kishi Dozo, burst into the private dining room. “I’ve got some awful news!” he shouted. “Ozaki’s been arrested. They say he’s been charged with spying.”
THE JAPANESE POLICE HAD no idea about the existence of Sorge’s international spy ring before they arrested the painter Miyagi Yotoku. Originally from Okinawa, Miyagi spent his adolescent years in California and became attracted to Marxist-Leninist doctrine while attending art school. He joined the Communist Party of the United States of America, which then dispatched him to Japan. There he operated on the periphery of Sorge’s group. He was arrested on October 10 because of his connection to another Japanese member of the party who had been implicated in underground activities unrelated to Sorge’s work. Miyagi unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by jumping from the window of his second-floor interrogation room. Then he confessed everything, including his work for Sorge’s group, which led to Ozaki’s arrest.
The accusation that one of the better known and more popular intellectuals in Konoe’s intimate circle was a communist and a spy shocked the prime minister and those around him. It would have taken someone much stronger than Konoe to stand up to the inevitable criticism. (Given the press censorship, Ozaki’s activities would not be made public until June 1942.) Konoe resigned the post of prime minister the next day, October 16.
Actually, Konoe’s mind had already been made up. He was weary of being charged with the responsibility to reverse the September 6 decision and was unable to face the possibility of war with the United States under his leadership. No matter how he or his cohorts tried to justify his exit and win sympathy for his frustrations, he had clearly failed, and failed miserably. His blue blood and intellectual background had proved no guarantee of effective leadership. Konoe retained his premiership by keeping his thoughts to himself, often agreeing to proposals that he did not embrace, in the hope that things would get fixed in a less confrontational, more furtive manner, without his having to dirty his hands.
Konoe had switched his political creeds with alarming facility between right and left, ostensibly to create a stronger and more united Japan. He had been prime minister for nearly three of the preceding four years of Japan’s looming international crisis, during which an unwinnable war with China escalated and an improbable war with the West became a “legitimate” policy alternative carrying the seal of imperial approval.
As cabinet changes were being planned in high secrecy, young subjects of the empire were made to feel the urgency of Japan’s situation in a very practical sense. The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a “patriotic marriages” campaign to help the China War effort. On October 9, fifty or so bureaucrats, academics, physicians, and educators gathered in the ministry’s conference room and for the entire afternoon discussed the goals to be achieved. In the end, they agreed on the need to lower the average age of first marriages by three years for men and four years for women, and encourage couples to have more than five children; to eliminate feudal notions of marriage based on family pedigrees and fortunes; and to simplify marriage-related celebrations and lower their cost.
Of all the problems highlighted that day, the increasing tendency to marry late, especially in women, was deemed most grievous. On October 10, the Asahi published an article on this conference entitled “Let Us Marry to March!” in which the well-known female doctor and activist Takeuchi Shigeyo echoed the patriotic sentiment:
Parents tend to be overprotective of their daughters.… They tend to keep their girls at home for a few years after they finish school, in order to train them in domestic skills like flower arranging, sewing, and just generally keeping the house. But that kind of training should be done while they are still in school so that they can get married right after graduation. School education, especially in domestic science, should not be focused so much on teaching them how to cook Western-style meals. First and foremost, educators must realize that it is imperative to teach them how to cook nutritious vegetable-rich meals economically.
It didn’t take expert commentary like this to know that Japan’s traditional social arrangements—especially in courtship and marriage—were rapidly breaking down in a time of crisis. One day in early October, Kafu chatted with an elderly man about some of those changes. The man said that during the Russo-Japanese War, people were not expected to send care packages to soldiers they didn’t know. Nowadays, as a result of the formation of neighborhood associations, the practice had become compulsory, and people were required to enclose a letter of moral support in each package bound for China. (It was not for nothing that the care packages were selling so well in department stores. They had become the most immediate link between the home and war fronts and an obvious symbol of one’s patriotism. A melodramatic story of a soldier dying in combat as he held the pebbles from the Imperial Palace’s plaza that had come in his care package won first prize in a nationwide literary competition in September.)
Such letter writing was vigorously encouraged in schools, too, Kafu was told, and young female students sometimes ended up corresponding with soldiers unbeknownst to their parents. This led to all sorts of problems, including unrequited love, stalking, and incompatible unions of those who would otherwise never have met (that is, of course, if the soldier was lucky enough to come home alive). Soldiers were just as vulnerable as young girls, as some women took advantage of the new social opportunities. Bar hostesses and others in the service sector were known to send support letters in the hope of acquiring future clients. Kafu, who had cultivated a sort of obsessive admiration for women on the margin of society, was impressed by their survival instincts.
IN THE MIDAFTERNOON of October 17, Tojo received a telephone call from the palace, requesting his presence immediately. This was an intimidating summons. Tojo suspected that he was going to be admonished by Hirohito for his part in bringing down the Konoe cabinet. “Minister, you cornered Prince Konoe.… You said you would quit the post of army minister if a troop withdrawal from China was mentioned,” said Sato Kenryo, Tojo’s close aide and the hard-line section chief of the Army Ministry’s Military Affairs Bureau. “That’s why His Majesty is about to admonish you.”
“I dare not argue with His Imperial Majesty,” said Tojo. “Whatever he says is final.”
Tojo was aware that as an army minister he, too, had been a critical part of the failed Konoe government. For the September 6 imperial resolution to be reversed honorably, the government that had proposed it had to be dismantled completely. Tojo had already started to move out of the army minister’s official residence, sending his belongings back to his private home in a Tokyo suburb.
With a heavy heart but fully prepared, Tojo came face-to-face with Hirohito at 5:00 p.m. He was stunned when the emperor nominated him as the next prime minister of Japan. The nominee for the premiership was traditionally supposed to reply: “Let me please have a little time to accept the command.” But even those few words escaped Tojo. Hirohito covered for his subject’s embarrassing silence: “Let us give you a little while to think it over.” This was, of course, a rubber-stamping formality.
It was all happening so fast. The day before, Konoe and his entire cabinet had resigned. This very day, a conference of senior statesmen was hastily convened to discuss prime ministerial candidates. The conference was instituted less than ten years before to fill the vacuum left by the deaths of the Meiji oligarchs, who’d effectively run Japan’s modern state. It was attended mostly by former prime ministers, and they were meant to advise and assist the palace in its selection of the next premier. They were surprised when Kido announced: “Under the circumstances, we must try to unify the policies of the army and the navy and, moreover, to reexamine the September 6 imperial conference decision. From that perspective, I insist that Army Minister Tojo be appointed the next prime minister.”
No one openly objected, according to Kido. He was acting on his belief that one should “pick a thief to catch a thief.” Because Tojo was the person who had insisted on the sanctity of the September 6 imperial conference resolution, Kido thought it best to have him take charge of the difficult task of reversing it. But Tojo’s professional loyalties and institutional obligations rested with the military. The logic behind making the most publicly bellicose voice of the preceding cabinet Japan’s next prime minister in order to avoid war was certainly questionable. Besides, the problematic imperial decision was a collaborative one made by the cabinet and the high command. If the government had to own up to its share of the responsibility for September 6, so did the two chiefs of staff. Kido made no effort to have either Sugiyama or Nagano dismissed to create a clean break.
Contrary to Kido’s record of the unanimous acceptance of Tojo, some of those senior statesmen present at the October 17 conference seconded Higashikuni or another army candidate, General Ugaki Kazushige, as Japan’s next premier. None, however, delivered as forceful an argument as Kido did for Tojo. Kido had prevailed, and the emperor, who placed utmost trust in Kido, effected Tojo’s nomination. “No pain, no gain, wouldn’t you say?” the emperor said to Kido. The comment was a reference to the Chinese proverb “One must enter the tiger’s den in order to catch his cubs.” The tiger’s den was presumably Japan’s high command, filled with restless, bloodthirsty warmongers. The cubs were a metaphor for Japan’s peaceful settlement of the crisis with the United States.
Kido made sure that the army and navy were in no doubt about the true reason for Tojo’s surprise appointment, made to “wipe the slate clean.” He summoned Oikawa to the palace and spoke to him and Tojo in the waiting room of the salon where Tojo had just accepted the imperial nomination.
I gather that you [Tojo] have now received the imperial words concerning the need for the army and navy to cooperate. I must stress that it is the emperor’s wish that in formulating the nation’s policy, you would not be a slave to the September 6 imperial resolution. You must consider both domestic and external situations, deeply and broadly. The emperor wishes you to take a cautious approach.
Upon leaving the palace, Tojo directed his car first to the Meiji Shrine, then to the Togo Shrine (built in honor of the Russo-Japanese War hero Admiral Togo Heihachiro, who defeated the czar’s Baltic Fleet), and finally to the Yasukuni Shrine (where the souls of soldiers who died in the empire’s past wars were enshrined). After an hour or so of hopping between shrines in central Tokyo, Tojo returned to the army minister’s official residence. The news of his appointment had already reached the members of his staff, who congratulated him. But Japan’s new prime minister was in no mood to celebrate. He realized the enormity of the task he now faced. That evening, in his absurdly principled way, he ordered that no one from the army should enter his office, which he now declared to be purely civilian territory. He made telephone calls in an effort to fill ministerial positions. He appointed himself army minister and home minister. Then he tapped Togo Shigenori, the veteran diplomat who had served as the ambassador to the Soviet Union, to be his foreign minister.
Togo, a sixty-year-old dandy with copious graying hair, was married to a German woman and had once wished to become a German literature scholar. He was averse to Nazism; his brief tenure as an ambassador to Germany from 1937 to 1938 was terminated partly because of his frosty relationship with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Neither pro-Anglo-American nor pro-Axis, Togo was a genuine Japanese patriot. He wore his patriotism on his sleeve perhaps because he felt that no matter how successful he was in his professional career, he was vulnerable to being labeled an outsider. Born as Park Shigenori in Kagoshima, a southwestern city on the southern island of Kyushu, he came from a long line of Korean potters who were forcibly brought to Japan at the end of the sixteenth century and had remarkably preserved their language and culture over many generations. His father, a successful businessman, bought the Japanese family name Togo when Shigenori was five. (Contrary to popular belief, Togo was no relation to Admiral Togo, the Nelson of the East.)
On the whole, Togo was a much more reasonable and sensible choice than Toyoda, the departing foreign minister, had been. He was an experienced diplomat whose skills could be put to good use. Togo had his reservations. Before midnight, he went to see Tojo and asked whether the would-be premier was ready to make difficult concessions to avoid war. The stiff army man responded to the suave diplomat that things were very different now. “I do not have any problem reexamining the issue once again,” Tojo said. The reexamination implied extracting concessions from the army, including the withdrawal of already mobilized troops, in order to give the new foreign minister more room for diplomatic maneuver with the United States. Upon this pledge of honor, the unlikely Tojo-Togo team was born.
Tojo’s top candidates for finance minister and navy minister also wanted to be assured that the new prime minister was committed to averting war with the United States. Kaya Okinori was satisfied and undertook to manage the economy. Shimada Shigetaro, known for his antiwar stance, required much persuasion but finally became navy minister.
THAT SAME DAY, October 17, Richard Sorge was fast asleep when he was suddenly awakened at 6:00 a.m. by a vaguely familiar voice calling his name from outside. While riding his motorcycle, Sorge had gotten into a traffic accident and through its settlement had become acquainted with a policeman named Saito. Now Saito was yelling: “Mr. Sorge! It’s Saito from the police department here. I came because of the other day.”
When Sorge opened the door, he was greeted by a different voice exclaiming in German: “I am a public prosecutor. With this warrant, I am arresting you!” The German was surrounded by a squad of ten or so Japanese police officers. Sorge’s hands were securely cuffed. His spy ring associates Vukelic and Clausen were arrested that day as well. Sorge and some others had been preparing to leave Japan for good.
Even with the news of more arrests of foreign spies, Saionji Kinkazu remained adamantly in denial. He refused to believe any of the charges against Ozaki or that his friend was connected with Sorge. Ozaki’s misfortune had to be somehow linked to the fall of the Konoe cabinet, Saionji told himself, and concluded that Ozaki was a victim of some kind of political conspiracy.
Saionji, who considered Tojo the man least fit to keep his country out of war, went to see him on the first morning of his premiership. “I have three things to say to you,” Saionji said. “One, you must not make Japan into a police state. Two, you must hurry to make peace with China. Three, you must see to the success of the U.S.-Japan negotiations.” Tojo was smugly calm. The emperor had bestowed upon him the leadership of his divine nation. This descendant of rebels who had fought against the court in the Boshin War had come a very long way indeed. “Mr. Saionji, thank you for your advice,” Tojo said with frosty politeness. “I shall have my secretary contact you from now on.”
Less than a year earlier, Saionji’s grandfather was still alive, the most venerated man in the country after the emperor. Now his onetime protégé, Konoe, the man who’d inadequately filled his shoes, had fallen, and Saionji’s grandson with him. Not so long before, Tojo had complained to Konoe that people like Saionji Kinkazu, the journalist Matsumoto Shigeharu, and the now incarcerated Ozaki—the Breakfast Clubbers—should not be meddling in Japan’s political decisions. Konoe had defended his friends, and Tojo had to let the matter drop. Now the tables had turned.
Tojo infelicitously began a routine of checking the contents of ordinary citizens’ household rubbish on his morning strolls. This was meant as a publicity stunt to make sure that the ration system was working properly and equitably, that there was enough to eat and, moreover, that people were eating well. (Tojo looked for signs of “good” food waste, such as fish bones.) Some Japanese thought it admirable that a prime minister should take in such minor details. But most were put off, and they would give their new prime minister a thankless nickname: the Dumpster Minister.