Major Hashida’s Diary: a Japanese spy in wartime Australia, Part 4

Adelaide to Darwin

Previous parts gave the background to Major Sei Hashida’s espionage mission to Australia in January-March 1941. After five weeks snooping around, Hashida’s relations with Australian Military Intelligence establishment were deteriorating.

On 22 February Hashida arrived in Adelaide, where the local Military Intelligence section was determined to keep him on a tight leash. On arrival the MI officer assigned to him, a Major Machin, presented him with a map of all the areas which were out of bounds to him.

Hashida telephoned Consul General Akiyama in Sydney complaining about the restrictions, and Akiyama sent a telegram conveying Hashida’s complaint to Tokyo in plain text Japanese, well aware that it would be read by the Australians – a way of complaining unofficially. Akiyama had read the Australians correctly: Canberra was sensitive to charges that it was breaching its diplomatic obligations. To ensure their position was justified, the Australian authorities would later seek from the British Embassy in Tokyo examples of Japanese practice in cases equivalent to the Hashida visit. They were reassured that the restrictions placed on British military officials in Japan were every bit as stringent as the Australian treatment of Hashida.

In Adelaide, the local office of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch got involved in the surveillance of Hashida. The CIB had informants within the local Japanese language society, which contacted Hashida and Otabe and offered to show them around Adelaide. But just as he had been wary of ‘Miss Brisbane’, jams Hashida was wary of the friendly Australian language students. Fearful the invitation might be a trap, he sent along Otabe who, because he was an accredited diplomat, was less likely to get into trouble with the authorities. Hashida waited anxiously until Otabe came back late at night, full of useful information about the slope of the beaches, the railways and the location of the General Motors factory. Otabe had also been told that there were no sharks around Adelaide – in fact the last attack had been in 1936.

On 24 February Hashida made his customary courtesy call on the state Commissioner of Police. By now he was sick of Australia: sick of the omnipresent surveillance, sick of the endless diet of statistics about wheat and wool production fed him by his Australian minders – and particularly sick of the stodgy Australian food. That night he and Otabe cooked a rice dinner in a hotel bathroom: ‘Delicious!’

The next day Hashida was guided by Machin: a ‘typical Australian. Honest, and his stupidity was amusing. He is a lawyer’. They drove along the base of the Adelaide Hills to the Onkaparinga wool mill, then in the evening Hashida went to the cinema to see Waterloo Bridge, the 1940 Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor remake of the 1931 classic weepy.

On 26 February, declining Machin’s services, Hashida and Otabe took a hire car up to Mount Lofty itself, where they had a bird’s eye view of the coastline which MI had forbade him to approach. That evening the CIB’s language student informants made another attempt to draw out Hashida and Otabe, inviting them to a gathering at a private home. The Japanese accepted, but when the informants reported in their accounts contradicted each other: one thought that Hashida could not understand or speak English very well at all; another that Hashida did indeed understand English well. He obviously understood it well enough to enjoy movies.

Hashida seems to have been genuinely taken aback by the control MI was exerting over his itinerary. He had not been surprised when his first ambit claim to go anywhere and see everything, made to Army Minister Spender, had been rebuffed: that was all part of the game. But beyond that, Australia and Japan were not at war. The prohibition on approaching the coastline seemed to him like ridiculous overkill. So now Hashida sat down and listed the reasons why he had encountered such intense scrutiny. In general, he believed that in dispatching him Tokyo had underestimated the impact on Australian public opinion of Japanese aggression in Asia. Second, he suspected that despite being encoded, cables sent from Tokyo to Sydney about his visit might have read by the Australians. (In fact some Japanese diplomatic codes had been broken, by the Americans, but these would not have been shared with the Australians.) And perhaps, Hashida conceded, he had been unwise to speak so freely to the journalist from the Telegraph upon his arrival in Sydney.

The next day Hashida visited biscuit and butter factories with Machin, learning that South Australia accounted for 34% of national butter production, and exported much of that to the UK.  In the afternoon, Hashida received a telegram from Akiyama, saying that  the Consul General had extracted from the Department of External Affairs in Canberra the undertaking that Hashidahe was henceforth to be treated as ‘a Military Man of a Friendly Power’. But this didn’t help much, as MI interpreted this to mean that while Japan was ‘Friendly’ it was nevertheless still ‘Alien’ – i.e. not part of the British Empire; and thus it still had the power to restrict Hashida’s movements. All the telegrams exchanged between Hashida and Otabe in Adelaide and Akiyama in Sydney, which were sent in plaintext Japanese, were intercepted and translated by Ic.

On 28 February Hashida flew to Perth. The following day he made the usual protocol calls on a senior military officer and the Police Commissioner. He went for a walk in King’s Park and found himself near the War Memorial, with Boy Scouts mounting an Honour Guard; ‘I also made a display of honour to the monument. Ha! Ha! Ha!’ So his display of respect had both a genuine and an ironical side, but it’s hard to say which element was uppermost.

Hashida didn’t see much in Perth. When he asked his MI liaison officer Major Parker to be taken to see some factories, Parker said there weren’t any. Then they had a tussle over Hashida being allowed to visit Fremantle; Hashida won the argument but Parker insisted on accompanying him: ‘so cunning and shameless!’ Hashida noted the Ford and General Motors factories in Fremantle, and the small size of the port facilities. On 5 March Hashida, accompanied by Parker, drove south to Dwellingup: ‘the ancient virgin forests are the natural wealth of Western Australia’. Parker rose slightly in Hashida’s estimation when, over lunch, it became apparent that he ‘doesn’t like the English’.

On 7 March Hashida flew north, stopping in Port Headland. He paid close attention to aviation details: flying conditions, the numbers and types of aircraft and radio communication protocols. The next day he arrived in Broome which, because of the pearl industry, had long been a focus of Japanese interest in Australia.

Hashida noted Broome’s multiracial population approvingly. ‘In contrast to everywhere else in Australia, where discord reigns between Japanese and Chinese, Malays, Koepangers, etc., here they follow the Japanese, whom they consider their leaders.’ Broome thus seemed like a textbook example of the intra-Asian relationship envisaged by Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese plan for a pan-Asian federation under Japanese leadership, which had been formally unveiled the previous August.

Hashida visited Broome’s Japanese cemetery, with its 900 graves, almost all of pearl-divers – ‘victims of our overseas expansion’. For the first time in Australia he was meeting not just with a few Japanese businessmen but in the midst of a Japanese community and it clearly relaxed him. He ate sukiyaki and sushi and gave speeches about the Japanese spirit which moved his audience to tears. 

On 12 March Hashida arrived at Darwin, his last stop in Australia and – because it was a forward military base, and so vulnerable to attack – the one MI was most determined that he would see the least of. They tried to hustle him on to the first flying boat leaving for the Netherlands East Indies, while Hashida was determined to resist them while gathering all the information he could. So his diary becomes a string of notes about anti-aircraft guns on the Esplanade, aircraft practicing night flying, vessel tonnages, incidence of malaria, and so on.

The next day Hashida won his point; he would leave on the day he had planned to. With that victory under his belt, he called on one of the doyens of the Japanese community in Darwin, John Nakashiba, who ‘enjoys the confidence not only of Japanese but also of Australians … He also seems to have been much used by the Army’. He was right: Nakashiba was on the books of the RAN’s Naval Intelligence Division.

On 14 March Hashida went for a drive with Nakashiba, chaperoned by a policeman. He noted work to improve the military facilities, and talk about the effect on the garrison’s indiscipline on alcohol consumption and prostitution. But he was forbidden from approaching military facilities like the new coastal artillery installation at East Point. In the evening he went to a meeting in the Japanese Club with the Japanese pearl divers who were based in Darwin. The local Japanese bombarded him with the problems they were facing such as restrictions on exchanging foreign currency and the prohibition on family members joining them in Australia. ‘They are in lamentable circumstances’, Hashida commented.

Hashida spent his last full day in Australia, 15 March, with the Japanese community. The Japanese pearl divers, who were forced to  live in ‘wretched sheds’, ‘were really sorry that I had to go.’ Then he called on Jiro Muramatsu, a Japanese businessman long resident in Australia (he was a naturalized British subject) and a major figure in the pearling industry: ‘an admirable person’. During the past decade there had been serious clashes between Japanese seamen and indigenous Australians over the abuse and exploitation of women, and Hashida told Muramatsu to use his influence to restrain ‘the regrettable desperado-like behavior’ of Japanese men towards indigenous women. Hashida’s concern was that these incidents focused public attention on the Japanese presence in Northern Australia.

The next day Hashida left by Qantas flying boat for Surabaya, leaving behind an Australian intelligence establishment trying to make sense of the information they had gathered during his visit. 

Eleven months later Japanese bombs would be falling on Darwin.

Next and final part: the Australian intelligence establishment puzzle over Hashida’s real objectives.

(Nick Hordern is the co-author, with Michael Duffy, of two histories of the Sydney underworld: ‘Sydney Noir’, which covers 1966-1972; and ‘World War Noir’, which covers 1939-1945. Both are published by NewSouth Publishing.)

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