The Warning Shot
Eight years before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese-language publication hit Honolulu like a bombshell, predicting war with the United States and an inevitable Japanese victory.
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The first Japanese bombshell dropped on Hawaii in late 1933. At first glance, it was merely a crate of magazine supplements offloaded from the SS President Taft and addressed to George Kojima’s Honolulu bookstore. A second consignment would be confiscated a few days later. To U.S. Customs agents, the crates contained explosive material: a riveting techno-thriller outlining the future war between Japan and the United States that might seduce Hawaiian nikkei to treason. It was written by a retired Japanese naval officer, endorsed by admirals of the Imperial Navy and distributed by a new Tokyo magazine angling for an expatriate following. It was also a literary bombshell that would reverberate from Honolulu to Washington and Tokyo.
The provocative novelette was Nichibei-sen Miraiki—Account of the Future US-Japan War. It was 119 pages, a pocket-size paperback with a cover showing a United States warship firing broadside as the silhouette of a distant destroyer slipped across an ominous horizon. Distributed by Tokyo publisher Shinchosha, it was a freebie supplement intended to entice readers to shell out 0.60 yen for the January 1934 issue of Hinode magazine. Shinchosha was hoping for sales, not scandal and confiscation. After all, American publishers had cashed in on similar themes.
War fiction and Yellow Peril fear-mongering were big sellers in 1933, on both sides of the Pacific. In the United States, flamboyant radio commentator Floyd Gibbons capitalized on the Japanese challenge to the White-supremacy myth in his 1929 serial in the popular Liberty magazine, imagining an Asian alliance with African-American freedom fighters. In film, resurrection of the Fu Manchu series in the early 1930s exploited Western fears of a diabolical Asian underworld, and Emperor Ming would confront Flash Gordon in 1934. Asian villains reflected American apprehension of a brewing face-off for power in the Pacific.
In Honolulu in December 1933, Japanese-Americans prompted the confiscation of the scandalous novelette. “The first complaint regarding this allegedly seditious literature came from local Japanese merchants who had read copies of the story and were afraid that it would be construed as an unfriendly gesture toward America,” reported the Hawaii Hochi newspaper in a sincere but clumsy attempt to recap the seizure incident. In fact, George Kojima was at the pier to receive the Hinode shipment when the SS President Taft docked. A clerk in the U.S. Customs office, who knew a few Japanese characters, examined the shipment with Kojima, who fretted aloud that the novelette ‘was not so good’ for distribution to the local Japanese.” The clerk took home a copy and, with the help of his Japanese wife, translated it. The next morning he “informally requested” the opinion of U.S. Army authorities at Fort Shafter. They informally replied, “that in its opinion the [Hinode] supplement should be seized.” Unbeknownst to the Customs clerk or the Army, Kojima had already sold 173 copies of Hinode.
Customs officials in Honolulu promptly, perhaps rashly, ordered confiscation of the Hinode shipment, based, apparently, upon the advice of the unnamed nikkei Customs clerk. They cited Section 305 of the Tariff Act of 1930 on the grounds that the novelette advocated treason against the United States. George Kojima obligingly recalled all of the copies he had distributed and turned them in to Customs without complaint. The remainder of the seven cases of Hinode that had been delivered by the President Taft was quietly locked up. The incident escaped public notice until the elegant trans-Pacific passenger liner Chichibu Maru arrived a few days later with 70 cases more. They were consigned to three Honolulu stores, whose representatives soon arrived at Customs to claim them. Customs informed them that their merchandise had been confiscated. On Dec. 14, the Hinode seizure made news in at least four different Honolulu newspapers. The wake of that publicity made waves that were soon felt by the bureaucracy in Washington.
The Hinode confiscation caused controversy even within Customs. J. Walter Doyle, the collector of Customs in Honolulu, took responsibility for the decision. His boss in Washington, James H. Moyle Jr., was the first Mormon appointed as a high federal executive, an agile Democratic Party operator who was careful to point out that the Hinode seizure was “not made on his instructions.” Doyle had to squelch rumors that the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, was behind the confiscation, but he never mentioned the “informal advice” from Fort Shafter that actually spurred the seizure.