- Historic Sites
Landing At Tokyo Bay
Two letters from a Navy lieutenant to his wife tell the story of the last hours of World War II
August/September 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 5
We had it in mind to head for the Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and much admired by all of us students of architecture, built twentyeight years ago, as I remember things, well before the devastating earthquake of 1923. We easily found it, as well as another deluxe hotel five minutes away from it. These two hotels are serving as American headquarters; MacArthur himself is now at the Imperial. They were the only clean, nonstinking buildings we visited all day. The Imperial has a strange magnificence about it, with a feeling in its massing and in its details more Aztec or Peruvian or ancient Mexican than true Japanese. Not a bomb touched it in the recent excitement, though neighboring buildings all around were smashed. We poked about, trying to look studious, and learned the very important fact that meals were being served free of charge to American troops. It was another evidence of how far we are from home: grated raw carrots garnishing a slithery slab of what must have been a raw and elderly fish. Our next goal was the emperor’s palace, only a mile or so away.
Everywhere people were toting great burdens on their backs, like so many ants or pack mules. The items carried ranged from tiny babies, trussed up on a couple of strings, little arms and legs jouncing wildly with every step of the indifferent mothers, to monstrous canvas sacks that forced their bearers to proceed nearly horizontally.
A stink pervades the city, leaping at one from every doorway and window, like nothing I ever endured elsewhere, maybe like the last days of an abandoned slaughterhouse. It is a solid, rich, adhesive, and colossal aroma, one that you can almost see and that was still in my clothes when I undressed last night.
The palace embraces a kind of enormous campus—a vista of imposing buildings surrounded by pavements and parks. Its outer defenses consist of a great, strong stone wall, rising perhaps thirty feet above a water-filled moat, enclosing several square miles. A half mile within it is another moat, crossed by a great stone bridge, as monumental as anything in Paris over the Seine, terminating at a forbidding gatehouse, guarded by two policemen in sentry boxes. The wooden gates were closed. A U.S. Army sign was posted, warning all Yankees to stay away.
We returned to the Imperial Hotel shortly after one o’clock for a typically late lunch consisting of pea soup, raw fish again, hamburger steak, and bread and butter. The waiters were, of course, all Japanese. The one who served us had been employed at the Imperial for twenty-three years. He toothily chattered of the American tourists who used to patronize the premises. For all he seemed to be concerned about, we were merely a new generation of sightseers. The only diners were uniformed Americans, officers and enlisted, some of them bringing rifles with them into the dining room. Although there were numerous shiny American sedans parked outside, we saw no direct evidence of MacArthur’s presence among us. No one asked anyone for identification or what he was doing there. This will doubtless all be changed in a week or so, when regulations are remembered and will clamp down like bear traps.
“Japanese very friendly people. Do you see anybody looking bad at you? Or anything except all OK?”
Experience has persuaded me that the best of all strategies in invading a foreign city with a view to reducing its barriers is to acquire an affable middle-aged gentleman of some culture and moxie and then so charm him as to make him insist on adopting me as his protégé. This system worked well for me in invading Europe a year and more ago, and after lunch I explained its points to Brother Engle. We chose comfortable chairs in the luxurious lobby and awaited the arrival of a likely candidate. He was not long in showing up; his name turned out to be Mr. Kobayashi Hiroyuhi, a prosperous-looking businessman who had come in, he said, to see the hotel manager. We nailed him.
This was a genial, lonesome character who had lived for twenty-three years in America, where, as a silk merchant, he had traveled throughout the length and breadth of the forty-eight states. His customers had been (he quickly informed us) such enterprises as B. Altman’s, Marshall Field’s, Bullocks, and so forth. In recent years he had run his business from Tokyo. He had had his own building (he afterward showed us its ruins) with a staff of sixty clerks and twentyfour typewriters, all but four of which had been Underwoods, he explained with a mixture of pride and wistfulness. We talked with him for nearly two hours there in the hotel, I asking most of the questions:
What’s the explanation for this apparent lack of hostility or resentment among the Japanese toward the Americans?—Why should there be any resentment now? We are defeated. We accept the situation always.
But only a month ago you were fighting us?—Yes, to be sure. But now the emperor has ordered that all that be forgotten. Japanese are a very disciplined people. When the emperor tells us, we change our minds.