We all more or less know that Japan was going through a tumultuous time in the late 1930's and early 1940's, its government and society increasingly controlled by the iron fist of the military at home while abroad engaged in a quagmire war in China and then an eventually disastrous war with the Allied Powers in the Pacific. But beyond this dry if factual outline, what was it really like to live there as all this was going on? John Morris, a British globe-trotter mucking about right there in the thick of things, offers us one invaluable perspective in this little-known rarity originally printed in 1943 (right after the author was repatriated to England) and thankfully reprinted by KPI in a high-quality sturdy format. Written in an affable and conversational style laced with a bit of dry wit and a lot of keen observation, this memoir of sorts by a former soldier and mountaineer then lecturing in English Literature at Keio University in Tokyo (afterwards Director of the Far Eastern Service for BBC Radio) enjoyably gives the reader an intriguingly concrete sense of everyday life in the nation's capital during this dramatic era as well as sharing some fine insights on Japanese culture and society in general.
The book more or less consists of two parts. In the first half Morris uses the early years of his stay in Tokyo to frame a nice miscellany of "things Japanese" somewhat in the style of Basil Hall Chamberlain but kinder and updated for the times, including the effects of the increasing militarization of Japanese society on these various facets of Japanese life. Everything from Japanese food and fashions and housing to the press, radio broadcasting, literature, games and sports, musical tastes, and of course mountain-climbing, even the deliberately arcane difficulties of acquiring a telephone--Morris has something interesting to say about all these things and more, all as he experienced them firsthand. Things get a bit more grim in the second half, as Morris then tells the tale of his tense and rather constrained days in Tokyo after December 1941, meanwhile leaving a vividly detailed and almost unique description of Japanese police methods and criminal procedure during these dark days and a moving account of the distorting and negative effect of wartime mobilization on the everyday lives of normal Japanese subjects. Throughout all of this too Morris maintains a suitably patriotic and sympathetically critical tone that at the same time is exemplary in its fair-minded reasonableness. All in all it's a short book and a fairly quick read, and yet three very full years are somehow all contained within in concentrated form. Whether your interests tend more towards Japanese social history and culture or towards travel writing and wartime memoirs, don't make the mistake of overlooking this fine little tome.
P.S. The original edition of this book is also available on Amazon for the antiquarian collector, Traveller from Tokyo., and John Morris later wrote a fuller account of his life as well: Hired to kill;: Some chapters of autobiography.