The Japanese mentality, observed by me, was a queer mixture of conflicting emotions. He said, and believed, that he was winning the war, yet knew he was not. He had implicit faith in his superiors yet distrusted them. He hated the white man and yet secretly admired him. He was thorough in nothing. He was hounded continually by officialdom, red tape, and ancient religious customs. There was little sincerity in his life, all was empty show, and everything was preordained for him. Thus all became face. How he appeared to others was most important, if he had a uniform so much the better. To steal was not a crime, but to be caught, that meant “Loss of Face”.
In the paint shop, Nicholson a prisoner, had a pair of leather gloves obtained through the Red Cross, (about a dozen pairs had reached the camp). One noon hour these gloves disappeared. Nicholson reported the loss to the Master Painter, telling him that the Army would hold him responsible for their disappearance. When we returned from our midday bowl of rice lo and behold there were the gloves. We asked Condo how they were recovered. He struck a pose and said, “I am great detective Sherlock Holmes. (Conan Doyle’s stories were popular in Japan and many had read them.)
“Tell us how you did it?” we chorused.
“I say, who was in the place when gloves disappear? Prisoners and Albert. (a Jap worker.)
“You say prisoners would not take gloves, then Albert do take them. Simple Mr. Watson. Now where would Albert hide same? No place in shop, too open. He would hide gloves on person. We undress Albert and inside ‘G’ cloth we find gloves. Thank you.” He bowed.
Having been discovered Albert was never the same man again. He had lost face and from them on he avoided us.
While I was at Shinagawa Prison Camp near Tokyo the Gempi suddenly instituted a search of all prisoners and their belongings. They were looking for a secret radio set, as they knew we were getting the news from somewhere. They found nothing suspicious, however until they came to examine the shelf over the bunk occupied by an American named Johnson. Here they found a heavy box. Carefully taking it down they carefully opened it. Heavy, it could contain shells or batteries. The investigators gathered around. What was their surprise, when opened it contained nothing but stones. Now Johnson, who was a cigarette smoker, had trouble like the rest of us in getting a light for his fag, as no matches or lighters were allowed. He got the idea that he would make a lighter out of pieces of steal and some flint. He therefore became a collector of stones, trying to find which was the most flint like. These were the stones that the Japanese found. They had Johnson brought before them, “What is the meaning of this box of stones?”
Johnson thought fast and then said with a silly grin, “Oh, those. I play with them like this.” He seized a handful and commenced to juggle them not too successfully. The Japs were astonished that a grown man should want to play like a child with stones and thought he must be a little peculiar. The white NCO in charge of the hut confirmed this viewpoint. He tapped his head significantly and they all laughed as the balmy one left juggling his stones until he could continue his experiments.
The Japs were in such good humour after this incident which seemingly proved their own conclusion that most of us were batty, that they soon departed with only a perfunctory further search.