Considering that this was published just a few months after Pearl Harbor it seems amazingly mild and reasonable.


DO YOU believe that the Japanese launched their attack as a form of national suicide? If so, you’re wrong. They have dared to attack the most powerful nation in the world simply because they believe our national characteristics prove us to be vulnerable.

To know what the Japs really think of us you have to live among them. You have to have a little house in Tokyo, employ native servants, buy from the local grocer, know your district policeman, travel a lot on busses, tramcars, and in taxis. Drink with your Japanese friend in little Ginza bars and escort him home afterward so he won’t lose “face” with the little woman, who invariably waits up for him; work with him or for him, and—here comes the rub—try to sell him an idea. If your idea is thoroughly American he will get a little mad, and you will catch a glimpse of what he really thinks of Americans.

During two years in the “flowery kingdom” under commission by the Japanese Foreign Office to make photographs of “the true Japanese life,” I had an unusual opportunity to learn their point of view and their feeling toward us. Talking with all kinds of people, from the then Prime Minister, Prince Konoye, in the home of whose brother I lived for three months, to my taxi driver, I gathered that the Japanese national opinion of Americans can be summed up like this: THEY think we are soft, wasteful, irreverent, and stupid. They credit us with being sincere, as opposed to the English, whom they hold to be full of guile and treachery. But our sincerity, in their eyes, is a kind of naivete which, in the face of our stupidity, cannot count for much.

Since most of the people in Japan have never left their native shores, about all they know of us is what they see in the movies. And to them it is a curious picture. They see us as completely lacking in the qualities which are the very sinew of their strength.

Japanese people work hard all the time. They have to in order to exist. And their industries have been organized to that end. For instance, manufacturing operations have been broken down into an infinite number of subdivisions which can be installed in the home, so that the work can be carried on continuously. This means long hours and cheap labor. No wonder the Japanese, seeing newsreels of American laborers driving to an eight-hour day’s work and back to an evening by the radio, brand us as soft.

Another American characteristic which violates all Japanese principles is our wastefulness. To 70,000,000 people cooped up in an area less than that of California, thriftiness is next to godliness. And it follows that in their eyes we who waste must be good for nothing.

MOST serious of all to the Japanese is their belief that we have no spiritual quality, no sense of honor. For centuries they have been taught reverence for the head of the family, the policeman, the local great men, the ministers of state, and, above all, the God-Emperor, from whom stems all spirituality. Our pictures of gangsters defying the law, of unruly election crowds, of children “sassing” their parents, are proof to the Japanese that we are lacking in reverence and respect.

They see it as proof, too, that we certainly cannot be brave. Because, to the Japanese, bravery comes through a dedication of oneself to spiritual ideals. When they sank the Panay they waited in fear and trembling for our declaration of war, and, when all we asked was money to save our national honor, they believed they had our number. When they jumped us at Pearl Harbor it was not treachery to them—” How can you be treacherous to a nation without honor or the warrior spirit?” It was a measure of their contempt for us.

And then the Japanese think we are stupid—stupid because we cannot see that they are eventually going to conquer China and that we should back the winning horse. They claim that Japan has always been a better customer of ours than China and that we would make more money out of a triumphant Japan governing a well-ordered East Asia than from an always venal China. They are sure we are stupid, because we are not true to their conception of America. If money is our God, why should we hesitate to grab the chance they offer us to make more and more money?

The Japanese do not minimize the strength of our resources and our wealth. They see the job ahead as hard and long, full of sacrifice and suffering. But, because of their conception of our national character, they believe there can be only one outcome—victory for their side.

AND so it is time we stopped and asked ourselves: What kind of people are we really? Are we so soft and wasteful that we cannot match the Japanese in industry and thrift? Above all, are we so lacking in spiritual ideals that we cannot dedicate ourselves to the national honor?

It’s up to us to prove that there is something wrong with the Japanese picture of us, if we hope to win this war and the peace to follow.


  1. Hirudinea says: February 26, 201311:29 am

    Hey Americans are soft, wasteful, irreverent, and stupid (sorry but it’s true), but when they are up against a wall they will pull together and work like the devil to win, and that’s where the Japanese got America wrong, and boy did they pay for it.

  2. Toronto says: February 26, 20137:12 pm

    That’s a hell of an essay. All I can find out about the author is his photography credits.

  3. jayessell says: February 27, 20135:14 pm

    Part of the problem of the Japanese plans may have been, pardon my inability to express it, that Output of the Propaganda department not filtered out of the Input of the War Department.

    Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attack could not help but cause the involvement of the US Marines.

    Just what was the expected US response to those two events?

  4. Toronto says: February 27, 20137:02 pm

    @jayessell: If they carriers had been in port or had otherwise been picked off by the Japanese fleet, the US wouldn’t have had a response. As bad as Dec 7th was, it could have been worse.

  5. Hirudinea says: February 28, 20137:41 am

    @ Toronto – Or if Nagumo had launched a land invasion of Hawaii, or even launched a second wave to destroy U.S. Navy fuel stores Pearl Harbour would have been a far worse disaster, Yamamoto should have fired Nagumo.

  6. JMyint says: February 28, 20139:12 am

    Even if Nagumo had launch all three waves against Pearl Harbour, or even if one or two of the Carriers had been in part, it would not have affected the eventual outcome. Between 1941 and 1945 Japan built 10 aircraft carriers, in the same period the US built 150 carriers. Though the Japanese front line fighter planes performed better than the P-40 or the F4F Wildcat at the cost of armour, self sealing tanks, or parachutes for the pilots, they were outclassed by the P-51, F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair.

  7. Hirudinea says: February 28, 201312:37 pm

    @ JMyint – Oh I agree, in the long run Japan couldn’t hope to compete against U.S. industrial output in the long run, BUT if Pearl Harbour had been handled differently Japan could have extended the war at least a couple of years, maybe even taken Australia, gotten a negotiated peace, but that’s all conjecture.

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