Main Body

Epilogue: The Day of Defeat: For Japan and for Tokyo Imperial University

In this epilogue the author describes the experiences in August 1945 of Tōdai students and professors. He reports the threat that the American Occupation of Japan might requisition the campus for its headquarters, a threat Tōdai parried adroitly. Ōuchi and Arisawa, two former members of the Faculty of Economics, had fascinating experiences, Ōuchi in the Bank of Japan in August and Arisawa in the immediate postwar years of economic recovery. The author concludes with further thoughts on the “double weave” of history and a pessimistic view of Japan’s leadership in 1945 and sixty years later.

The Emperor’s Broadcast, Heard in Yasuda Auditorium

In Chapter 14 I mentioned Tōdai on August 15. On August 15 the professors and students still at Tōdai gathered in Yasuda Auditorium and listened together to the emperor’s broadcast. I quoted from the memoirs of Ishizaka Kimishige, formerly professor at Johns Hopkins University. As I copied down those words, history suddenly felt real. Some of those who witnessed that historic scene are still alive and speak to us of history in the first person, and when they do so, history changes. Ishizaka surely wasn’t the only person there who is still alive today. Thinking it’d be fascinating to find others and hear their stories, I began to gather data.

Yet most of the students who were in Yasuda Auditorium that day have died, and even if still alive, they are already in their 80s; so there are issues of health and of memory, and gathering the data isn’t easy. As I proceeded to check the graduation lists of the various faculties, I learned that a good many were still alive, but not many of those had actually been at Yasuda Auditorium that day. To begin with, liberal arts students—mobilized into the services or into labor battalions—weren’t on campus. As for the students of the science faculties, some had left the city from the start, such as virtually all the students of Engineering II (they were in Chiba). In some cases a faculty’s students had been evacuated out of Tokyo. For example, mathematics students had been evacuated to various spots in Nagano Prefecture and at the request of the military were calculating bullet trajectories and the like. Even the faculties still on the main campus had seen labor mobilization take most of their students, so many who technically were still on the school’s rolls weren’t on campus on that day at that hour.

Experimenting on Medical Students

First, let’s single out people who indeed did listen to the emperor’s broadcast that day in Yasuda Auditorium. As we know from the fact that Ishizaka was there, quite a few students of the Faculty of Medicine were present. For example, there’s Hosoya Kensei (1949 graduate, Tōdai professor emeritus). Hosoya explains why many medical students were present:

We had matriculated into the Faculty of Medicine in 1945—about 160 of us. The largest war-year class. Ishizaka was one of us. No entrance exam. We got in based on the recommendation of the faculty of the old-style higher schools. When we matriculated on April 1, we had first of all three weeks’ labor service; then instruction commenced. We proceeded at a frantic pace and in June completed the basics: introduction to surgery, diagnosis of internal diseases, emergency treatment, ob-gyn. We did all the basics and were given accelerated training so that in September we could be mobilized into the medical corps. May, June, July, August, September—a scant five months.

The war, too, was in its final stages, so they wanted to send as many medics as possible to the front—with an accelerated five months’ training. The army was trumpeting “the fight to the finish on the home islands” and “one hundred million glorious deaths.” They needed every last medic.

We really studied. Starting mornings at 8, ending at 4:30 or maybe 5. Some took no time off for lunch but simply listened to lectures. Most worked through the night. There might be an air raid or whatever, but the professors worked through the night, too, so we had class. No one cancelled class. Students stayed up all night and studied at the foot of the stairs or wherever—didn’t matter. But there weren’t any textbooks. We went to nearby doctors and borrowed old textbooks that had survived the firebombings.

In class, we learned emergency treatment thoroughly: for example, as soon as the all-clear sounded and people emerged from the shelters, some fainted dead away, so at those times you gave them lightly salted water to drink; or you could take the rubber tube of a stethoscope and fashion it into a stomach pump.

He points to a burn the size of a nickel on the inside of his left wrist.

Do you know what this is? This was a test of mustard gas on live people. The army pushed through the development of protection against mustard gas—“purple light,” “red wave”—and did live experiments: they split the class up into three groups: a “purple light” cohort, a “red wave” cohort, and a third cohort that inhaled nothing. Mustard gas causes skin blisters, so how to prevent that? That was the issue. And that’s why we still have the scars. Everyone in our class has these scars on their wrists.

And on August 15, too, class started at 8. The administration sent a notice at 11:30, saying that the emperor was going to make a broadcast, so stop instruction ten or fifteen minutes early. We were told to go to Yasuda Auditorium and we went, but we couldn’t get in, so we got them to turn the large radio, used to listen for air raid warnings, out the window, and we formed a circle on the lawn outside the Pathology Lecture Hall and listened. Fifty or sixty of us.

Listening to the emperor’s voice, I thought, “I didn’t die a senseless death, thank goodness.” But what a wishy-washy voice the emperor had! When the broadcast ended, we went straight back to our studies. We’d been told beforehand that “After the emperor’s broadcast, we’ll go right back to work,” and that’s what happened. The 16th and the 17th we did the same. It was beginning in September that we returned to normal, not accelerated, instruction, so we redid all of anatomy and physiology.

In 1999, Hosoya and his classmates produced a 50th reunion book of essays. It contains memories of August 15:

On the morning of the day the war ended, I listened to the Imperial Proclamation at Yasuda Auditorium. Some classmates were crying, and the sense of prostration and emptiness was strong. Professor Ogawa’s histology lab on was scheduled for that afternoon. I wondered whether he would hold it on such a day and went to the lab; lo and behold, the professor appeared on time, and without a word about the Imperial Proclamation, directed us quietly, as usual. I remember being struck once again—this is how a true scholar acts.

—The late Nejime Shigeto, head of obstetrics and gynecology at Yokohama General Hospital.

From Yasuda Auditorium some students did not go back to class but headed for the Imperial Palace.

We who at Yasuda Auditorium on the 15th had heard the Imperial Proclamation ending the war headed for the Imperial Palace—I don’t know whose idea it was. It was a hot, cloudy afternoon, leaden. When we got to the plaza in front of the palace, we prostrated ourselves.

The war was over. In the evening, lanterns appeared here and there in parts of Tokyo we had thought were burned out, and we sensed the future wasn’t entirely dark.

—Hirosawa Isakichi, former chief medical officer, Shizuoka Prefecture.

In the internal medicine lecture hall, after a lecture on diagnosing internal diseases, they told us there was to be an important broadcast, so we gathered in Yasuda Auditorium. Who was to broadcast and what he would say had been pretty much rumored before the fact. It was no surprise that afterward we didn’t feel like going to class and hurried right off to Nijūbashi in front of the palace. A whole lot of people must have felt as I did, and they gathered in twos and threes, most of them squatting on the gravel. I too approached Nijūbashi, prostrated myself, and bowed my head. Sweat was flowing because of the great heat, and tears were running down my cheeks because of uncertainty about what would happen now and wretchedness at being utterly powerless; the gravel in front of me grew wet, turned dark.

—Fukuda Masatoshi, former professor of medicine, Ryukyu University.

Some didn’t go to the palace but tried to return home. Mishima Saiichi, who came from Awaji Island near Osaka, wrote this:

On August 15 the war ended. The stress we’d been under disappeared—poof!—and I felt a sense of relief. For people who had fought the war in deadly earnest, it was probably a heartbreaking ending. I think they cried heartfelt tears, but we had no such thoughts. Thinking there’d be problems if we simply stayed in Tokyo, three or four of us who came from the Kyoto area got together to see whether there wasn’t some way to get home. In the end, after two or three sleepless nights, we were able to get train tickets. The train was full, and all the people had large sacks on their shoulders, so we had to stand for the sixteen or seventeen hours.

Once October arrived, a letter came from a classmate in Tokyo: there hadn’t been a single day off from classes at the university, so come back quickly. It was a big shock that in those chaotic days the professors had kept on lecturing. Recently a friend showed me his notes from the August 1945 lectures of Professor Tsuzuki: even after the end of the war he met his classes without a break, and the fact that among his lectures was one on the atomic bomb gave me a very strange feeling—I couldn’t help feeling respect and awe for the professors back then.

—The late Mishima Saiichi, dean of the Tōdai Medical Faculty.)

Professor Kinoshita Mokutarō and the Air Raid Shelter

Another medical student in Yasuda Auditorium on August 15 was Mannen Hajime, who was a third-year student when the war ended and later Tōdai professor of dentistry. Two days before the end of the war, on August 13, 1945, a red card—that is, a call-up notice—arrived at the Mannen home. He was to report on August 17 to the Yamagata Regiment. When he checked with his father, his father said, “Don’t go right away. Let’s wait a bit and see how things develop,” and Mannen went to the university. Mannen’s father was an army doctor, so he’d probably heard reports that the end of the war was near. Mannen gives this account:

            Yasuda Auditorium had two floors—main floor and balcony; I remember the main floor was packed. When I entered the auditorium, there was a radio on the platform—a radio and nothing else.

Inside the auditorium, faculty, staff, and students were all mixed together. Several rows in front of me I saw Ogawa Teizō. Ogawa was the Japanese authority on the brain and on anatomy, and I was in awe of him. Later, after graduating, I joined the brain research center and became his pupil. I noted, “Aha, Professor Ogawa’s up ahead,” but I’ve forgotten who else was there. Inside the auditorium, it became very quiet, indeed hushed; no one spoke. And then the Imperial Proclamation of the end of the war was broadcast.

I didn’t catch a good bit of it, but thinking, “Ah, we’ve lost the war,” I raised my head and looked forward: Professor Ogawa’s shoulders were shaking. I thought, “It’s hit him very hard, too.”

[What follows is summarized from conversations with Mannen.] Ogawa had been a research fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation just before the war, studying at Northwestern University in Chicago, so he knew a lot about the United States, and from early on even in his lectures, he said, “This war is not an easy one,” meaning we can’t win. Yet when the defeat actually came, even Ogawa appeared deeply shocked.

Mannen speaks: “I too was full of ‘goddamns’ and resentment. Many of my buddies, close friends, had died in the air raids. That non-combatants had been made to suffer so—I couldn’t be indifferent about that. For example, at the time of the great Tokyo air raid of March 10, I was constructing a model of the brain of homing pigeons. I’d remove a pigeon brain, slice it up in fine sections, and stain it; I was taught the technique by assistants at the Tōdai Brain Institute. The assistants were young women, two of them; one was named Edogawa, and on the 9th she beamed when she saw I had finally mastered the technique. As she left that day, she said, “See you tomorrow.” Then came the great air raid. On the morning of the 10th, worried about the university, I went to see. At the Red Gate, I was shocked. The buildings that had lined the road to school all the way to Ochanomizu had burned down. The Nikolai Cathedral and the cedars of Yushima Shrine, which up to then had not been visible because buildings blocked the view—they were in plain sight. Three or four days later, when I went to the institute, a woman assistant said, “Edogawa-san hasn’t showed up since the raid.” I was aghast. Edogawa-san never did show up. Then, too, I muttered, ‘Goddamn!’”

After a while, when Mannen was making the rounds of the medical offices, the air raid alarm sounded. He took refuge immediately in a nearby air raid shelter: “Right beside me a man was squatting awkwardly. His head was large for his emaciated frame, and he was wearing a large air raid hood to boot; he had on white woven gaiters over his khaki civilian uniform. I knew immediately it was Professor Ōda. Ōda Masao—he was a poet with the pen-name Kinoshita Mokutarō. Mokutarō was taking deep, calm breaths, absolutely still, eyes closed. The bombers appeared to fly off eastward.”

The all-clear sounded. Mannen returned with a sigh of relief to the dermatology office, and Mokutarō too returned and plopped himself into a chair. Turning to Mannen and seven other students he asked them, “Done your homework?” For Mannen, wiped out as he was by air raids night after night, it was already a major achievement simply to get to school; doing homework was out of the question. They all hung their heads, and Mokutarō said, “A time of crisis like this is precisely when you must do your homework. Study hard, and you’ll have no regrets even if you die tomorrow.[1] Today that’s precisely our situation.” And he continued, “You need to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge increases without limit so long as people carry on mental activity. But no matter how much knowledge you accumulate, it’s only the illusion of knowledge. That’s no good. For knowledge to become useful, you need wisdom. But how study wisdom? By getting to know the classics. The classics are packed with the wisdom of the human race.” Having said this, Mokutarō stood up and blew out of the room. “That scene is crystal-clear even now. It’s the deepest impression from my student years, and it served as a revelation for the rest of my life, too.” Thereafter, no matter how busy he was, Mannen continued to read the classics.

In 1943, the student deferment was lifted (it still held for science students), and at the end of the year the draft age was lowered to 19. “One day in the Faculty of Medicine’s East Lecture Hall in the two-story wooden structure, Mokutarō entered angrily and without saying a word wrote on the blackboard, in large characters, three blocks of four Chinese characters: ‘Superior doctors treat the state; middling doctors treat people; inferior doctors treat illness.’ Then he translated it into Japanese and spat out: “There are institutions for treating the state, and it’s not at all easy. But you students at least must aim to treat people. In today’s world, there are only inferior doctors.” It was an extraordinary attitude for a professor who was normally calm and sometimes even cynical. I learned afterward that at the time someone in the Army Ministry had said of the Tōdai faculty, ‘There’s no need to teach medical students difficult stuff—lectures, praxis, theory. It’s enough if they know how to give subcutaneous and intravenous injections, so graduate them and send them to the front.’ That’s what had made Mokutarō so angry.”

Even after he heard the Imperial Proclamation ending the war, Mannen went to school virtually every day. “I well remember August 30, MacArthur’s arrival at Atsugi Air Base. It happened that one person in the group I was close to was commuting from Saitama Prefecture. He said, ‘I’ve got hold of some cooking oil. Why don’t you all come over for tempura?’ We were all starving, so we were delighted and headed for Saitama, caught a bucket full of crawfish, fried them in deep fat, and washed them down with cheap saké. It was then we heard on the radio the news of MacArthur’s landing at Atsugi. At the same time, it was reported that GHQ was considering setting up shop at Tōdai and so had spared it from the air raids. Why choose Tōdai? Because it was spacious, with room for parking. On hearing this, one of the group grumbled, ‘That idiot MacArthur doesn’t know the difference between college and garage.[2] Inexcusable!’ But no one laughed. Drunk on the cheap saké, we could say only, indignantly, ‘Goddamn! Goddamn!’”

Soon after that, on the afternoon of October 10, with the fall colors deepening, Mannen happened to go past the clinical dissection theater. The door was ajar. Without thinking, he pushed it open and looked in, and a dissection was under way, with people crowded around the dissection table. “The second floor of the dissection theater was a balcony, and from there you could observe dissections. When I looked, to my surprise there lay the body of Mokutarō, and they were just sawing open his skull to remove his brain. From seeing him in life, I had the impression that his head was large, but the brain itself was really large; I was amazed. The lab preserved the brains of exceptional people—Natsume Sōseki and others. It preserves Mokutarō’s brain to this day, and it was sheer chance that I was among the witnesses.”

Crisis: Would Tōdai Be Requisitioned by GHQ?

            It came up briefly in Mannen’s remarks that the Occupation Army thought for a while about making the Tōdai campus its general headquarters; that much is fact. Consider the following exchange in the book, Nambara Remembered.

Fukuda: Did the U. S. Army give formal notice that it wanted to requisition Tōdai?

Nambara: No, it didn’t. … A place like Tōdai with large facilities that hadn’t gone up in flames—it’s natural GHQ should want to use it: that was communicated to us. In fact, U.S. military men with Japanese officers as guides planned to come and inspect the Tōdai campus, and reports were afloat that MacArthur’s headquarters would be located at Tōdai. At the same time, technicians from the Tokyo regional office of the Communications Ministry came and began to study how to increase the number of telephones.

In haste, the Tōdai authorities appealed to the Ministry of Education. They argued that the postwar reconstruction of Japan had to focus on education, culture, and scholarship. That being the case, Tōdai would be a most important core institution of reconstruction, so it should not be requisitioned. Moreover, during the war the government had not stationed army or navy units on campus. It had not once been used for the military purposes of the Japanese military, they stressed, and the Occupation Army should give that fact full consideration. Nambara remembers: “In the end, the clincher was that during the war Tōdai had never let its land and facilities be used for military purposes. That was a good thing. … We held firm: should the U.S. do what even the Japanese military had not?”

As Nambara states, during the war Tōdai had narrowly missed being requisitioned by the Army. Here is Nambara again: “That was just at the end of June (1945). Officers from the Eastern Army—four of them, I think—came to the university and said that for defense of the capital area, Tokyo was to be divided into four sectors, with units stationed in those sectors, and they wanted us to agree to the requisitioning of Tōdai and the placing of one sector headquarters here. The headquarters would include 3,000 officers and men, so Tōdai was the only suitable place.”

Tōdai rebuffed the military’s demand on two accounts. The first was that although the arts and letters students had departed, the numbers of science students had greatly increased; so there was no room on campus. The second was the hospital. During wartime, the function of the hospital was of even greater importance to society. Given the mission assigned the Faculty of Medicine, Tōdai couldn’t be evacuated. As I stated earlier, there were orders from military headquarters to produce as many military doctors as possible as quickly as possible. The Eastern Army backed off.

Nambara Remembered records one other startling incident at the end of the war. That is what Assistant Professor Maruyama Masao went through at the end of the war. Maruyama was called up in 1944 and at the end of the war was serving as a private first class in the army transport headquarters at Ujina, port city of Hiroshima. So on August 6 he experienced the atomic bomb. Fortunately he was at some distance from Ground Zero, so he survived, and right after the war the following took place: “… I was a PFC on the planning staff of the army transport HQ and had been summoned by a lieutenant in the general affairs section and told that the university had asked that I be exempted from the call-up, but that in the end that hadn’t been possible. But perhaps on that account, on the day after the war ended, a staff officer called me into his office. He said: I know your profession. I’m giving you absolute freedom to speak, so I want you to give me a course on how this war happened and what will become of Japan from now on; for the duration you’re excused from other duties. So for a whole week I had to give lectures to that officer—we were on either side of a desk. A PFC lecturing a staff officer: officers who came to report to the staff smiled wryly.”[3]

The Activities of Ōuchi, Who’d Been Forced Out of Tōdai

There’s one person at the faculty level with unique experiences to recount: former Professor Ōuchi Hyōe of the Faculty of Economics. In 1938 Ōuchi had been arrested in the Faculty Group Incident; in 1944, after a long trial, he’d been found not guilty. Having tried unsuccessfully to return to Tōdai, he cut off relations with the university and for a while became a researcher at the Ōhara Institute for Research. In April 1945, with the end of the war near, he joined the Bank of Japan at the sudden request of Shibusawa Keizō, then chair of the Bank of Japan; Shibusawa had been a student in Ōuchi’s undergraduate seminar. Ōuchi remembers:[4] “It was in April of 1945, I’m certain, that Inoue, trustee of the Bank of Japan (and now vice chair) suddenly came to see me: Shibusawa wanted to see me, had a request concerning some research. So I went to the Bank and met Shibusawa…. Shibusawa said, ‘The war is finally nearing its end. There will be many difficulties after the war. I want to pick your brains about them.’”

The Bank of Japan had summoned an eminent scholar of public finance and begun to prepare for the economic chaos that would follow defeat. Ōuchi was given several assistants and a room next to the Bank’s Research Division and began to study inflation. While he was engaged in this study, August 15 arrived: “It must have been the morning of August 15. On some minor errand, I entered the Directors’ Room at the bank. Doing so was not permitted normally, of course. I’ve forgotten why I went in, but I did go in. A board meeting was in progress. At that moment, a private secretary entered carrying a single sheet of paper. He presented it very respectfully, ‘This is the text of the Imperial Proclamation of the end of the war that the emperor will broadcast this noon.’ Board meetings were conducted around a round table, and Chair Shibusawa took the sheet of paper and read the proclamation…. At points, overcome with emotion, he had to stop. And when he got to the part—‘The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in 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’—he was so overcome with emotion he couldn’t go on. Forcing himself to go on, he swallowed his tears and said, ‘What does ‘Gonai’ mean?[5] Does it mean inside the body?’ This scene is most vivid to me today.” Afterwards, too, thanks to being in the bank, Ōuchi witnessed one dramatic scene after another. For example, this happened right after MacArthur occupied Japan: “Then—it was two or three days after MacArthur landed, I think—when I went to the bank, all the bank officers were confined to one room. And soldiers of the Occupation army stood up and down the corridor, bayonets drawn. Someone from the Occupation army came to the Board Room in which they were being detained. Apparently the chief account books were being carried in.”

Japan’s central bank had been put under the total control of the Occupation army. The event symbolized defeat and occupation. Following on this passage comes this eyewitness account: “Something else astonished me. It was the number of Bank of Japan notes issued in the two weeks from the end of the war on August 15 to about the end of the month. It was a torrent of 100-yen notes. The back entrance of the Bank of Japan on the west side opened, and trucks entered, one after the other. Onto these trucks were loaded new wooden boxes, one after the other. The 100-yen notes in those boxes the bank had got ready at full tilt since 1944. Where did those trucks go? Needless to say, they went mainly to the Army and Navy Ministry and to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. And the notes were paid out to decommissioned military, military dependents, factories producing military goods, and the financiers of the military industries. They went to pay for guns and airplanes that weren’t finished yet, of course, and sometimes they were exchanged for checks the service ministries had issued without vouchers or receipts. The statistics show, too, that in those two weeks inflation suddenly increased; reckless military expenditures—that’s the sort of thing it was. Each day I went to work in the Bank of Japan’s research room under which the trucks passed. And I kept thinking, Inflation! Inflation!”

Thus began the horrendous hyperinflation of the immediate postwar. 100 yen then was more than $1,000 today: unless you know that, you won’t grasp the enormity of this episode. So the next problem was how to control this inflation.  Ōuchi created that occasion: “About October 10 a Japan Broadcasting Company man came to me at the Bank of Japan asking if I wouldn’t do a broadcast… I asked, “About what?” “Anything at all will do,” he said, “Anything you want to say to the public.” Okay, so on the evening of October 17, I made a 15-minute broadcast, ‘Assignment for Finance Minister Shibusawa.’ The gist of the broadcast: ‘From now on inflation will grow larger and larger. It will take reckless valor to check it. Half-hearted thinking won’t cut it. Please take forceful action now. During the war, the state incurred government debt of 120,000,000,000 yen [$60,000,000,000] to companies producing military goods; please cancel that debt now.’”

In short, to raise money for wartime military expenditures, the government had used the Bank of Japan to print mountains of government bonds. The money thereby created had been spent like water on the industrial world. And at the end of the war, the government paid off that debt at one stroke, with no backing. The vast expansion of currency that caused inflation, so there was no alternative but to declare a halt to such payments. “The cancellation I proposed of bonds that had financed military expenditures immediately became a political issue; there was much discussion, and GHQ too approved it. The government went back and forth on the issue, but ending the debt aside, it leaned to the idea that lowering the interest rates was a good idea, and that’s all it did. Two years later, at long last, the war debts were actually cancelled.

“Afterward, too, from the same viewpoint, I wrote On Breaking Up the Zaibatsu. And On Establishing a Wartime Profits Tax and On Ending Military Pensions. Each was a policy to combat rapid bourgeois inflation, and each had some degree of socialist coloration. These were my economic policy for Japan ‘in the early post-defeat years’ or ‘in the early reconstruction.’ They were anti-inflationary policies that formed a single structure.” So the Marxist economist most reviled by public finance people produced the wisdom and proposed the actual policies that rescued the Japanese economy in its bankruptcy just after the war.

In my concluding chapter, I wrote that in the end, history is a double weave of discontinuity and continuity. This sort of thing is what lay behind that phrase. I didn’t have space in the series to say this in such detail, but I did assemble these materials intending to write of the flow of history, of losers becoming winners and then winners becoming losers. In turn, the winners became losers. After the war, the Tōdai Faculty of Economics under Ōuchi’s lead became a bastion of Marxist economics, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War system, Marxist economics too lost its sway. So Marxists disappeared from its mainstream. Today adherents of the various currents of contemporary economics have become the mainstream of the Tōdai Faculty of Economics.

Arisawa Hiromi’s Research that Foresaw Defeat

To return to the period immediately after the war: the Marxist economists who had been forced out of academia took the stage in spectacular fashion as the central figures who bore the economy on their shoulders; in this sense, Assistant Professor Arisawa Hiromi, who had been arrested and indicted along with Ōuchi and the others in the Faculty Group Incident, had by far the largest presence.

What rescued the Japanese economy from its postwar collapse was priority production, and Arisawa was the one who thought it up. Priority production meant focusing investment first in economic resources for the sake of production of coal and steel and later setting the whole economy on an upward course. Nowadays Arisawa has a high reputation—he is considered perhaps the man most responsible for the recovery of the postwar Japanese economy. But at the time of the Takigawa Incident, he was attacked over and over in the Upper House and elsewhere as a “famous Marxist professor who makes his nest in the Tōdai Faculty of Economics.” When witch hunts were carried out at Tōdai, Arisawa was always at the top of the list of those to be arrested.

In fact, Arisawa had been involved in state policy since before the war. He was a Marxist, of course, but he was a specialist in war economy, planned economy. From about 1934 on, he produced one after another Plan to Mobilize Production, On Japanese Industrial Controls, Japan Under Economic Controls; from early on, he was seen as the leader in the field. So given the China-Japan War and the beginning of total state mobilization, he was called upon to take a hand in state policy. The fundamental conception of socialist economy, communist economy, lies in managing the economy and in controls to force compliance; so Marxist economy and planned economy were not so different.

Arisawa’s original involvement in state policy came in 1937 at the time of the sudden spike in the prices of military materiel, when in the attempt to control prices the government created an “Emergency Committee on Price Policy.” He became a member of that committee. As the wartime order developed, Arisawa’s role in state policy grew. In September 1939 when the Army established an economic research unit—the Akimaru Unit under Lt. Col. Akimaru Tsugurō, he joined it. This unit, directly subordinate to the General Staff, set up its office on the second floor of a bank, and operating in non-doctrinaire fashion, brought together opposition scholars. Its goal was to collect objective data, mainly on economics, and provide the army the most useful reports on which to base judgments of future changes in world conditions. In Europe, World War II had already started, and it seemed at first glance that Germany would continue its swift and violent advance.

The economic research unit had four desks—Japan, Great Britain/U.S., Germany, and the Soviet Union; Nakayama Ichirō was in charge of the Japan desk, and Arisawa Hiromi, of the Great Britain/U.S. desk. Arisawa was out on bail, but the military affairs chief of the General Staff approved his involvement. Earlier, the army had sent Akimaru to audit courses at the Faculty of Economics. From the first he respected Arisawa’s knowledge, so he protected Arisawa throughout even though the rightwing camp inside the military and outside was greatly displeased with the decision to use him.

In September 1941 the Akimaru unit issued an interim report. The interim report of the Japan branch said that Japanese productivity could not be increased further. The interim report of the German branch said that German war power was at a peak. The interim report of the Great Britain/U.S. branch said that in contrast to Japan, which had already cut civilian consumption 50% to finance the war, the U.S. had cut consumption only 15% to 20%. Not only could it continue sending military supplies to Europe at its current pace; it could supply $35,000,000,000 in new funds. This sum in new funds was roughly 7.5 times Japan’s ability to raise war funds. Akimaru made this interim report at the end of September at a meeting of Army Ministry officials, from Chief of the Army General Staff Sugiyama Hajime on down. Arisawa writes:[6] “Sugiyama said he found this report and its method of reasoning largely unimpeachable, without holes. But its conclusion ran counter to state policy, so all copies of the draft should be incinerated immediately. When he returned from this meeting, Akimaru was said to be despondent. And because he retrieved all copies of the draft team members had been given and burned them, not even I have one….

“The Army brain trust had already decided to cross the Rubicon. Once that resolution had been made, a report documenting the danger of crossing the Rubicon does great harm and no good. That’s what it meant—the strict order to burn all copies.” The entire Army general staff knew before the war began what this episode meant. Afterward, on personal orders from Gen. Tōjō Hideki (Army Minister), Arisawa had to stop working on the research unit, and thereafter until the end of the war, no matter where he went, the secret police paid him a visit once or twice a month.

Arisawa Bolsters the Postwar Economic Research Association

At the end of 1943 Arisawa received a special assignment from the Takahashi Economic Research Institute to rethink Japan’s postwar economic issues, was given a room in the Institute, and began his research. In September 1944, because air raids loomed, Arisawa rented a farmhouse outside Tokyo, put his family and his books on a truck, evacuated, and made his life there. He planted vegetables in a small plot and provided for himself. He writes: “By day, carrier planes swarmed to the attack…. Finally, August 15 arrived. At long last the war ended. And government lost its authority. Well, what will become of Japan now? I didn’t go to Tokyo but worked away on my garden. I wanted to wait and see.”

But from before the end of the war, Arisawa had been studying the postwar economy, and before long he received a summons from a group that was thinking about postwar economic policy. “The first time I was called to Tokyo was for a seminar on the postwar economy that the Foreign Ministry’s Research Group #2 convened. This seminar was set up just before the end of the war, and once the war ended, it began serious research. A large number of scholars gathered.” Arisawa was unable to make the first session, but Ōkita Saburō made a special trip to urge him to come, and he attended from the fourth session on. Afterward, this research group came to revolve around Arisawa. Through late 1945, there were forty sessions in all, and in March 1946 a report was completed for which Arisawa was the key figure: “Fundamental Problems of the Japanese Economy.” This report received very high praise as a grand design giving clear direction to the people in leading positions in financial and government circles; with the end of the war, they had sunk into a state of lethargy. While the group’s discussions were still going on, Hatoyama Ichirō came to Ōuchi and Arisawa, saying he wanted to talk. Hatoyama intended that he himself form the first postwar cabinet (in November he formed the first postwar political party and became its chair).

The Birth of Priority Production

In fact, as is well known, right after this, Hatoyama was purged and was unable to grasp political power. Instead, Yoshida Shigeru took over. Yoshida thought even more highly of Arisawa than had Hatoyama and asked him any number of times to become chief of the Economic Stabilization Board, command center of the postwar economic recovery; but Arisawa declined. He refused to become chief of the Economic Stabilization Board, but he joined the Round Table Conference, which was made up of a small number of scholars about Yoshida.

At one meeting Yoshida said he wanted to pick their brains. From GHQ had come permission to import many of the resources Japan desperately needed. When he gathered requests from the various ministries, the list numbered several hundred items. It was his desire to winnow these down to a very few. The scholars chose five: iron, smokeless coal, heavy oil, rubber, and buses. But GHQ did not permit emergency imports of three of these items. Steel was in short supply in the U.S., too. If Japan imported heavy oil, GHQ said, it would overwhelm Japan’s coal production. In fact, Arisawa had advocated forcefully for these two. According to Arisawa, the greatest bottleneck in the Japanese economy at the time was coal. If Japan were permitted to import heavy oil, that would advance the production of steel, and that steel would be invested in mining—via this roundabout route, a great increase in coal production would become possible, increasing coal production to 30,000,000 tons. If coal production increased to 30,000,000 tons, industrial production could rise to half of the prewar total (at that time it had fallen to one-third of the prewar). This was the basic concept behind what later came to be called priority production.

In response, GHQ said the concept was interesting. If GHQ included heavy oil and the government promised to realize coal production of 30,000,000 tons, then heavy oil would be approved. Reading this response, Yoshida said that since this was his friend Arisawa’s assertion, he wanted Arisawa to take responsibility and make coal production of 30,000,000 tons a reality. Here is Arisawa: “I too thought this wasn’t an easy task but that I had to take it on; so I told the prime minister I’d do it, but he’d have to support me wholeheartedly on the issue of coal. Smiling, Yoshida said, ‘If you say so, we can do anything at all: if you say, “Face left!,” we’ll face left; and if you say, “Face right!,” we’ll face right.’ That’s how I became chair and how the Coal Council was established.”

Thus the Coal Council was established, with Arisawa as chair; thereby the Japanese economy was able to take its first step toward true recovery. A Marxist, on the one hand, and the government and GHQ, on the other, set the Japanese economy, then in vast stagnation, on the track to recovery. Yet both before and after they were antagonists.

Today [2005] we are about to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of August 15, and what I feel acutely is the utterly hopeless irresponsibility of Japan’s leaders. Whose responsibility was it, that first lost war? They decided it was okay to leave that issue unclarified, that there be “collective atonement of 100,000,000 Japanese,” with no individuals taking responsibility. And how about the second lost war—the no-action no-plan for the “lost decade” (a decade that is already fifteen years long) after the bubble burst in 1991? Has responsibility for the second lost war been pursued? Has the Japanese economy emerged from this second lost war? The reforms of the much-ballyhooed Koizumi-Takenaka combo of 2002: have they been as successful as those of the Yoshida-Arisawa combo that enabled Japan to emerge from the confusion of that first lost war? I doubt it.

  1. RHM: This is a loose quotation from the Analects.
  2. RHM: the Japanese transliterations and pronunciations of the two English words are almost identical—カレッジand ガレッジ.
  3. TT: I’ve collected a great deal more information from witnesses to “Tōdai on August 15,” and there’s room here only to state that fact. So I’ve set up a page “The Day Tōdai Lost” on the Bungei shunjū website (ōdai0815) to record the experiences and thoughts of Tōdai students of the time.
  4. Keizaigaku gojūnen.
  5. RHM: The archaic Japanese term means literally ‘honorable inside.’ The official translation renders it as “Our heart.”
  6. Arisawa Hiromi no Shōwashi: gakumon to shisō to ningen to (Arisawa Hiromi no Shōwashi henshū iinkai, Tokyo: 1989).


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Tokyo University and the War by Tachibana Takashi & Richard H. Minear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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