Mediocre, Insatiably Ambitious Officer ISO Eighteen Holes, Scotch, and Manchuria

Above you’ll find nine members of the Japanese Imperial Army, photographed during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on August 5, 1924. According to this newspaper article, the mission had already made an extensive tour of Europe when it arrived in the United States on the SS Minnetonka in the company of forty-six British polo ponies. Take note that this was seventeen years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Japan was already gearing up its military. That same year, in 1924, the Imperial Army established a Committee for the Research of Military Preparation Against the United States and within a year had begun to create plans for the invasion of Guam and the Philippines. The Japanese did not well know the ins and outs of American military power, and this visit, while ostensibly friendly, was one way of rectifying that.
Anyway, the men pictured above (don’t ask me who’s who) are:

  • Lieutenant General Kameji Wada, commandant of the Japanese Staff College;
  • Major General Jinzaburo Mazaki, commandant of the Officers’ School;
  • Major General Enjiro Kurosaki, a technical expert;
  • Colonel Miakiro Furisho, the mission’s chief of staff;
  • Surgeon-Colonel Michiaki Mirooka;
  • Major Shohei Washizu;
  • Major Takamasas Exeki;
  • Major Masazo Kawabe; and
  • Captain Teiji Imamura.

General Wada was 52 at the time, or so say the folks at Ellis Island. Does that mean he’s the portly dude in the middle? On August 21, Captain Imamura and General Kurosaki visited the Rock Island Arsenal, near my hometown, and can be seen in the snapshot below:

None of these nine visitors to Virginia, as far as I can tell, played much of a role in the Second World War. General Mazaki was an early supporter of Nazi Germany and a member of the Imperial Way Faction of the army that sought to exploit the very worst of the army’s totalitarian and expansionist impulses. After he was forced into retirement in 1935, the general responsible was assassinated with a sword. Which, let’s face it, is so Japan.
General Wada wrote a book of propaganda during the war, but otherwise doesn’t seem to have sparked the interest of too many historians. Major Washizu, meanwhile, shows up in Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer (1946) by Ellis M. Zacharias. As the army’s attaché to Washington in the 1930s, Washizu enjoyed a good eighteen holes and, for the traditional nineteenth, a Scotch and soda. He was, Mr. Zacharias tells us,

typical of the Japanese officer of his rank. Of moderate height, he had a small face with finely chiseled features. He wore glasses, and his general appearance greatly resembled that of Heinrich Himmler. He was inclined to be uncommunicative, but he was always precise.

Zacharias goes on to describe Washizu and his ilk—the Japanese diplomats and attachés bred to serve abroad—as “mediocre but insatiably ambitious men.” In the spring of 1931, Zacharias invited Washizu and his two aides, Teramoto and Hirota, for a drink, the aim of which was to extract some clue as to Japanese intentions toward Manchuria. He posed a question regarding the Chinese province “in a most serious tone,” rehearsed but casual.

It was the sixty-four-dollar question, the provocative query which we hoped would yield us the needed clues. We were not disappointed, since their reactions were fully revealing. The Colonel [Washizu] colored a deep red, put his hands to his mouth, and cleared his throat with apparent difficulty; Colonel Teramoto, who was in the process of sipping his drink, choked on it and had to leave the room in obvious panic; Major Hirota burst out in drowning laughter and fell over backward in his chair as he lost control of himself.

Later in the year, on September 18, the Japanese Imperial Army exploded some dynamite on a railroad, blamed the Chinese, and—hey, what do you know!—invaded Manchuria.


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