249 Note by Sir John Latham, Minister to Japan, of Conversation with Mr Y. Matsuoka, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs

TOKYO, 10 January 1941

On 10th January, 1941, I called upon Mr. Y. Matsuoka, Foreign Minister.

In the course of our conversation I said that I noticed a great difference between Japan in 1934 and in 1940. In 1934 I met a bright, happy, smiling and friendly people. The people were very different today. I was told that many Japanese would be frightened today to speak to me.

Mr. M. Yes! That is so, but they will soon get over it. A renaissance is taking place, and there are always difficulties with a renaissance, and one difficulty is feeling against foreigners.

J.G.L. Yes! But the reactions of Japanese against foreigners appear to be so irregular and sporadic. A week ago there was an anti-American meeting in Tokyo; in 1940 there were anti-British meetings; in 1936 anti-Italian meetings when Italy was attacking a coloured race; and in 1934 anti-German meetings when Hitler had proclaimed the superiority of the Aryan race and had spoken in very disparaging terms of Orientals.

Mr. M. I do not believe in anti-Foreign agitation. I repudiated it last year in a public statement and I stopped the anti-British agitation by speaking severely to the officers of the Municipality of Tokyo.

J.G.L. Yes! I heard of your statement, and I am glad to hear your views. I cannot conceal the fact that Australian feeling towards Japan now is much less friendly than it was in 1934. One reason for this is to be found in statements made in Japan with respect to a New Order in Asia, and the occasional inclusion of Australia and New Zealand in East Asia for this purpose.

Mr. M. I assure you that in my view and in the view of the Government East Asia does not include Australia or New Zealand.

Japan has no designs whatever upon either of these countries.

J.G.L. Our civilization is European. It is not an Oriental civilization. Our own people will determine the character of our civilization, and are not prepared to have it determined for them by any other power-even by Great Britain herself, and much less by an Oriental owner.

I spoke about the relations of Japan to China.

Mr. M. I have no desire that Japan should acquire China. It is true that many Japanese have so spoken but I and Prince Konoye [1], though we are in a minority, want to treat China upon a basis of equality. J.G.L. I said the general view outside of Japan was that Japan claimed for a particular class of foreigners, viz.

Japanese, monopoly privileges in China under a profession or pretence of saving China from foreign exploitation.

Mr. M. I agree that it would so appear to many people, but that is not my idea at all.

J.G.L. I do not understand, if that is the case, why Japan went into China at all. All the other powers were bound to a policy of equal opportunities in China, and if that was all that Japan wanted she had it already; the natural advantages accruing to Japan by reason of her proximity to China would have given Japan everything which you now say Japan wants without Japan attacking China.

Mr. M. Prince Konoye and I are trying to alter the position.

J.G.L. I wonder whether your Excellency is aware of the extent to which Japan is not only making herself unpopular but actually becoming a subject of hatred in Asia. I gave the example of what happened on the day I left Shanghai, when the Japanese removed certain barricades, which they had placed around a quarter of Shanghai, and permitted the resumption of traffic. Japanese private soldiers compelled the Chinese drivers of motor buses to kneel before them in the street and bow, in the presence of large numbers of Chinese. I said that such actions brought about a black hatred of Japan. I added that this was only one instance of such action, and reminded him of the fable of Aesop concerning the traveller and his cloak and the contest between the sun and the wind.

Mr. M. I know this fable, and I agree with what you have said:

that such Japanese actions are very wrong, but many of the private soldiers are very ignorant.

J.G.L. But they have Officers, and do not the Officers control them? Mr. M. Some of the Officers are not very good, but I am trying to see that the standard is improved.

He repeated that it was not his policy to seek political or economic domination over China.

J.G.L. I said that if such a policy as this were published and really adopted, a very different position would arise.


I then spoke of the raiders in the Pacific and made a statement, of which I left a note, in the following terms:-

'The recent attack on Nauru Island, and on British shipping in transit to Australia by German vessels is of vital concern to Australia.

I raise the matter for three reasons:-

(1) The report that some at least of the German vessels carry Japanese names and ports of registry and, until the actual moment of attack, Japanese flags.

(2) The report that the German ships are sheltering and transhipping stores in Japanese waters.

(3) The strong suspicion that German ships going in and out of Japanese ports are supply ships to the raiders.

As to (1) my information is that one German ship has the name "Manyo Maru" painted on each bow and on her stern in both English script and Japanese characters and Tokyo as port of registry; she has Japanese flags painted on each side abreast the foremast and on the cover of No. 2 hatch. A second ship until recently bore the name "Tokyo Maru" and had similar markings, and the funnel was painted with the O.S.K. [2] markings. When the "Manyo Maru"

shelled Nauru on December 27th and during the attacks on shipping the Japanese names were not cancelled but the flags were covered by Nazi colours.

As regards (2) my information is that one raider received supplies from another at an anchorage in the Marshall Islands about 12th and 13th December.

As regards (3) unless I have evidence to the contrary I must suspect that German vessels which during recent weeks have left Kobe and then returned after some interval have been supplying the raiders.

I urge that it is contrary to Japan's interest either to encourage or to permit such activities. If they continue the inevitable consequence will be British patrols, British examination of neutral shipping and probably hostilities in the Pacific. But I cannot believe that a great power like Japan will allow her flag and her waters to be used in such a manner with the possible result that the international relations of Japan will really be determined by the actions of another power.' After I had concluded my statement Mr. Matsuoka said that there was no satisfactory evidence that the Marshall Islands had been used for the purpose stated. He added that he had strong objections to the use of the Japanese flag and markings by the German ships, and had stated his objections to the German Ambassador. [3]

I pointed out that the Germans had deliberately destroyed the loading apparatus and ships engaged in carrying phosphates from Nauru. I said that the principal sources for the supply of phosphates in the Pacific were Angaur Islands (Japanese); Nauru and Ocean Islands (British) and Makatea Island (French); that all except Angaur Islands were under British control; that the destruction of the loading apparatus and the ships at Nauru would necessarily greatly diminish the available supply of phosphates;

that the result would almost certainly be that Japan would receive no phosphates whatever from either Nauru, Ocean or Makatea Islands and that the consequences would be that Japan would have still less rice next year.

He was impressed by this statement. He believed that Japan was obtaining phosphates from Nauru.

My information, I told him, was to the effect that Japan was obtaining phosphates from Ocean Island but not from Nauru at present, but I said that, in any case, the result must be that the supply of phosphates from these Islands to Japan would be certainly diminished and almost certainly entirely stopped. [4]


1 Japanese Prime Minister.

2 Osaka Shosen Kaisha, a Japanese shipping line.

3 General Eugen Ott. For further details see Latham's cablegrams 26 of 1 January, 35 of 9 January and 63 of 30 January on file AA:A816, 56/301/21.

On 14 March R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, cabled to Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs, that he had 'evidence which is practically certain but not absolutely factually conclusive that at least one such [German] raider ...

both refuelled and re-equipped at several Japanese ports during at least the first three weeks of January, and that this took place at the request of Germany and with the knowledge and assent of the Japanese Government'. See cablegram 201 on file AA:A816, 56/301/21.

4 This record of Latham's first formal call on Matsuoka was sent to Stewart under cover of memorandum S-4 of 15 January 1941. See file AA:A989, 43/80/9/7.

[AA:A816, 19/304/275]