Longread: Jurists as Tourists in Postwar Tokyo

by James Burnham Sedgwick [1]

Cover image ©Daniela Brabner-Smith, by permission. 

The Legal Sightseeing blog has really stumbled onto something. Our Ilk are inveterate tourists. Speaking from personal experience, we are graduate students who walk down muddy paths from our University of British Columbia dorms to local “clothing optional” beaches only to find our gazes most fixed on disused World War II fortifications that evoke even placid Vancouver’s wartime consciousness. We are the type of people who go to The Hague for research, appreciate the fabulous Mauritshuis gallery and captivating Panorama Mesdag, but positively revel in the Hague International Open Day’s celebration of – and access to! – the city’s international organisations. Who among us could turn down a tour of the International Criminal Court, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or the Peace Palace?

People like us visit Manila almost oblivious to the bustling modern city around us as we plod through the Intramuros retracing the Japanese army’s rampage plaque by austere plaque, feeling each name of horror writ large: The Bayview Hotel, the Santo Domingo Church, the University of Santo Tomas, Fort Santiago, Santa Rosa College. We forgo Philippine beach play to tour the Pacific War Memorial Museum on Corregidor Island. Once there, taking in the beautiful shoreline of the Bataan Peninsula in the distance, we think only (mostly) of the site’s eponymous ‘Death March’. We might trudge through 45-degree heat in Canberra’s hottest summer on record (and that is saying something!) to solemnly marvel at the Australian War Memorial’s stark beauty. Once inside, instead of posing for pictures beside buffed tools of war (tanks, jets, etc.), we stare intently into every one of the 2,434 faces of Sandakan-Ranau death march victims or quietly contemplate Will Longstaff’s haunting Menin Gate at Midnight.

We might visit bustling Tokyo and be most stirred by the ritualised denial and reconstitution of historical narrative apparent at Yasukuni shrine than anything else (Mark Drumbl’s earlier post on this site captures the jarring aesthetics of the shrine’s serene apologia). We might be late visiting an old friend in Ho Chi Minh City because we wanted just a few more minutes in the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes). We might be astonished by Angkor Wat’s majesty but leave the temple complex laden with bootleg copies of our colleagues’ genocide studies books purchased from children catering to Cambodia’s other tourist industry: mass violence (see Caroline Fournet and Mark Drumbl’s piece on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for further evidence).

Legal Sightseeing establishes that we are that kind of people. So far, however, none of the site’s posts has explored historical examples of our modern legal pilgrimages. We were/are not the first tourist jurists. Participants at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (1946-1948) in Tokyo, did everything we do and more. Tourism became central and consequential to their experiences ‘abroad’. Peripatetic existence impacted the work trial participants performed in bringing Japanese leaders to justice: time and travel in postwar Japan tempered expectations, dulled rage, and fueled empathy. It contextualized atrocity and accountability and confused and complicated participant engagement in their IMTFE roles.  

Disaster tourism complicated wartime assumptions. Some trial participants knew wartime suffering, especially individuals from occupied territories like the Netherlands, France, the Philippines, Burma, and China or bombarded territories like Britain and the Soviet Union. Surviving the war meant at least witnessing the razing of homes, feeling the agony of loss, and situational deprivation. Some IMTFE participants had frontline military experience. Service men and women assigned to the court from within the Pacific arena knew Japanese crimes intimately. The Philippine judge, Delfin Jaranilla, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Other trial contributors arrived in Tokyo with little or no firsthand encounter with the war’s devastation, particularly civilian participants from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US. Regardless of wartime experience, the pervasive deprivation of postwar Japan proved jarring. The level of personal and physical destruction, especially in major cities, was astonishing.

Some felt grim satisfaction in Allied strength. Prosecutor Osmond Hyde diary, for instance, noted the “terrible” destruction in Tokyo (“Words cannot describe how awful it is – one has to see it.”). Yet, the wreckage also gratified Hyde: “The almost total devastation of proud Tokyo for another day is indeed a silent reminder of the folly of these misguided people,” Hyde wrote in his diary. “Our boys really did a job.”[2]

The war’s human toll forced other IMTFE participants to reconsider views on Japan’s citizenry, justice efforts, and even the war itself. Visible suffering put a damper on vengeance and complicated moral imperatives. Hyde’s colleague, James J. Robinson, for instance, recounted the shock of seeing Hiroshima in late 1945:

"From a plane over Hiroshima fifty days after the atomic bomb was dropped there, one saw a flat carpet of gray-red dust and rubble, divided in squares by empty streets and canals. For block after block and mile after mile, no sign of life, no living human being or other creature or tree or other vegetation was seen. There was the feel of death, of the instantaneous ending of almost a hundred thousand human lives with all their earthly possessions and surroundings. The silence of the dead city seemed to rise and press into the plane and to leave speechless and motionless all of us who were staring down at those great areas where there had been at one moment a busy city of a quarter of a million people, and then in a blinding flash of flame and a soaring cloud of smoke and dust, leaving only a lifeless, silent checkerboard of flat and littered earth."[3]

Robinson was not alone. As I have detailed elsewhere, seeing firsthand the irreparable violence caused by Allied incendiary and atomic bombs left an emotional and moral scar on Harold Evans the assistant to New Zealand’s Tokyo judge. He never excused Japan’s atrocities, but struggled with accepting the omission of Allied crimes from the trial. The dissonance made Evans a lifelong peace and nuclear disarmament advocate.

Not every participant in Tokyo underwent Evans’ “alternation” but seeing sites of ruin in everyday life (in Tokyo and Yokohama) and (sight)seeing destruction in travel (to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) shaped participant performance and experiences as jurists in Tokyo.

Tokyo street life and poverty through the lens of Peter Booras, War Crimes Photography Detachment.
©Peter Booras, by permission.

Peter Booras self-portrait, Japan’s parliamentary Diet Building through the rubble.
©Peter Booras, by permission.

Cultural exploration and travel formed significant components of life abroad in Japan. Sightseeing of this kind helped reinforce expectations about exotic Japanese ‘otherness’. At first blush, visits to castles, palaces, and other imperial and feudal sites helped IMTFE participants see the Japan and Japanese people they wanted/expected; the fanatical followers of bushido and other tenets of ‘ancient’ traditions and samurai ethic. Willing to yell bonzaii and reverently – gleefully? – sacrifice individual lives for collective, national, imperial, and cultural preservation.

Over time, however, living and travelling in Japan (sometimes for years) eroded essentializing assumptions. After a trip to Kyoto, US Prosecutor Walter I. McKenzie remarked on the “big surprise and disappointment . . . that nearly all the people on the street and in the shops wore Western dress. I saw very few kimonos.” Yet, the Michigander also marveled at the exquisite “shrines and temples and sacred gardens” he visited: “I saw many interesting things and enjoyed the experience.”[4]

Temple visits showed Tokyo participants a rich panoply of Japan’s aesthetic, an apparent softer side to unrepentant warrior culture. Even when considered superficially, the country’s Buddhist monasteries are beautiful. IMTFE tourists took in (with appreciation) the Daibutsu ‘Great Buddha’ in Kamakura, Nikkō Tōshō-gū (with its five-story pagoda and stark torii leading to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s tomb), Tōdai-ji  and other parts of the Nara complex, and many more. Considered more profoundly, Japanese philosophy proved life-changing for some. Three IMTFE participants enjoyed post-trial careers as notable Zen scholars and practitioners (Richard DiMartino, Roshi Philip Kapleau, and Christmas Humphreys).

Torii entrance to Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō. Frances Guthrie Collection MS-311, Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina – Wilmington, Box 5.
The ‘Great Buddha’ and approach in Kamakura. ©Peter Booras, by permission.

Even the simple pleasures and creature comforts of Japanese culture undermined reductive preconceptions of barbaric austerity. IMTFE participants spend working retreats at the Fuji-View Hotel or escaped Tokyo’s heat for the same seaside resort towns (like Atami, Suzenji, or Ito) once frequented by the accused war criminals on trial. They took up summer residences confiscated from and/or ‘loaned’ by Japanese elite.

Resort life images from the scrapbook of prosecutor John Brabber Smith.
©Daniela Brabner-Smith, by permission. 

Classic shot of Mount Fuji captured by legal and historical analyst Basil Buchko. I have found similar photographs in dozens of participant archives and private collections. ©Basil Buchko by permission.  
Dining room at Fuji View Hotel in February 1946 from private collection of New Zealand Prosecution.
R. H. Quilliam, by permission. 

Tokyo jurists travelled Japan from tip to tip, visiting onsen hot springs, resorts, and other sites along the way. Frances Guthrie, an administrator for several IMTFE branches and other SCAP divisions spent several years toured Japan from Kyushu in the south to Hokkaido in the north.  

Aso Kanko Hotel on Kyushu – literally means “Sightseeing Hotel” – a favourite recreation site among Occupation personnel, also an apparent favourite of Hirohito. Frances Guthrie Collection MS-311, Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina – Wilmington, Box 5.
Noboribetsu Onsen and environs. Frances Guthrie Collection MS-311, Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina – Wilmington, Box 5. Still considered one of Japan’s best onsen.

Cultural events formed part of regular social calendars as well as travel itineraries: Noh theatre, geisha displays (like the Miyako-Odori celebration of Cherry Blossoms and Kyoto’s imperial history), cha-no-yu Tea Ceremonies, Hina Matsuri ‘Doll’ Festivals, Sumo wrestling tournaments, and the like. Travel and sightseeing humanised Japan and its people to Allied occupiers. Serene monks, dancing children, refined rituals, community, love, warmth. Rarely did wartime propaganda – or indeed pre-war primers – convey Japan’s rich cultural, social, and historical tapestry and traditions, unless to reinforce Orientalist assumptions of ‘ancient’ stasis. On the ground, face to face, among and embedded (to a degree) inside Japanese society IMTFE participants encountered a very different “Japan”.  In court, the prosecution proclaimed a “judgment of civilization”. Trial evidence catalogued horrific atrocities. Yet, blaming systemic wartime violence on broader societal debility became harder the more IMTFE participants steeped themselves in Japanese cultural refinements.

Geisha perform the Miyako-Odori in Kyoto.©Regents of the University of Michigan. Access courtesy of Walter I. McKenzie Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, Box 3 – Photographs – Other Japanese Subjects.

Daily lives, routines, and personal interaction probably went farthest in humanising Japan and its people to IMTFE participants. Close personal and professional engagement every day broke down barriers, or at least slid them to the side for a time. Theoretically “fraternisation” was restricted. In practice, it proved impossible to avoid. Civilian trial participants had live-in household staff. They passed the same neighbours every day enroute to work. Though always outsiders and occupiers, they were also physically part of the wider Tokyo community. They became invested in the lives of staff members. Almost every personal trial collection that I have worked with includes post-trial correspondence with former Japanese staff and friends, or letters asking Allied personnel who remained behind to ‘check-in’ or ‘report back’ on the wellbeing of Japanese associates. Enlisted participants lived in military billets with stricter controls over fraternisation. For them, IMTFE offices became transmissive multi-cultural spaces. Almost all trial divisions relied on translators and interpreters, most of whom were Japanese. The secretarial pool and other administrative sections included a mix of Allied and Japanese staff members. Demanding collaborative working conditions forged strong bonds. In the least, it created very human social spaces. Not everyone got along, but proximity meant that even antipathy became grounded in subjective opinion rather than reductive assumptions. Working together transformed the “inscrutable” Japanese “other” into a person and colleague with a name, personality, and life.    

Life apart from the scrapbook of prosecutor John Brabber Smith.
©Daniela Brabner-Smith, by permission.

Multicultural workspaces reflected in this office party from August 1948. Frances Guthrie Collection MS-311, Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina – Wilmington, Box 5.

Any exploration of this ‘closeness’ must be considered critically. Neither the war nor the peaceful occupation ‘ended’ deep-seated racism and hatred. IMTFE prosecutor Guido Pignatelli, for instance, ‘confided’ to  Washington Times-Herald gossip columnist Austine Cassini:

I have already requisitioned a mansion, and am moving in as soon as I can get a western bathroom installed and a household together. But I view this plan with some misgivings. In the first place, this house will have to be shared with its present Jap occupants. I saw them once and they don’t look good to me! Our Amah and the Jap family will share the kitchen. There I foresee all kinds of complications! But my friend Col. Brabner-Smith … seems completely taken in by this eastern atmosphere. (I notice his eyes are even beginning to slant.) And I can see him getting a great thrill out of the whole business – such as serving our guests with their shoes off.”[5]

Farewell party for “Pop” Nathan May 10, 1946 Hattori House. Prominent members of the Tokyo prosecution in Geisha-face. ©Regents of the University of Michigan. Access courtesy of McKenzie Papers, Box 3, Folder: Photographs – Far East War Crimes Trial 1946-1947.

Furthermore, Japanese citizens maintained their own agency during the Occupation. Although some did genuinely become close to Allied members, everything about their interaction refracted through a colonial or peri-colonial prism. Power and racial hierarchies created distinct imbalances. This imbalance structurally favoured the occupiers, but John Dower, Herbert Bix, and others have shown how local elites and citizens manipulated Allied ignorance and hubris to preserve traditional power and institutions or simply to help eke out an existence in war-torn Japan. IMTFE experiences certainly reflect agentic Japan. For instance, the Imperial Household cultivated warm relations with IMTFE groups, especially the defence staff.  

We must, therefore, understand IMTFE tourist jurists (or jurist tourists) in the context of their very privileged lens and positionality as occupiers. They held powerful positions – or worked within a powerful institution. They lived casual lives of leisure mostly blind to their privilege: playing tennis, golfing, fly-fishing, hunting fowl, partying, dating, travelling widely. Working and living in Japan formed a charmed existence for IMTFE participants. Most Japanese around IMTFE participants did not – could not – share in the exclusive wanderlust. Nevertheless, contributing to Allied justice efforts ‘abroad’ engendered a deep fondness for the people and country on trial. The exiting working holiday – challenging, different, stressful, isolating, but also bonded, collegial, social, adventurous, important – underpinned and informed participant experiences, performance, and narratives of postwar justice.  


[1] I would like to thank Sofia and Renske for this opportunity. The piece could not have been completed without the invaluable work of my research assistant Kate Jardine.

[2] Entry: 20 January 1946, G. Osmond Hyde Diary, Private Collection.

[3] James Robinson to Walter McKenzie (10 April 1947), Walter I. McKenzie Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, Box I, Folder: Correspondence – April 1947.

[4] Walter I McKenzie to Family (21 August 1946), Walter I. McKenzie Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, Box I, Folder: Correspondence with Wife and Family – August 1946.

[5] Austine Cassini, “These Charming People,” (4 April 1946) Washington Times Herald, From an excerpt clipped for John Brabner-Smith’s scrapbook.

James Burnham Sedgwick is an Associate Professor in the Department of History & Classics at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. His research and teaching interest include transnational histories of East Asia, catastrophe and response (atrocity and aftermath, global justice, and humanitarianism), and modern empire. He is completing a book manuscript titled Inside Justice: Being International in Postwar Tokyo, 1946-1948.

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