The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 296

Sir: In view of the recent discussion at Geneva regarding the rumors to the effect that Japan is constructing naval bases in the South Seas Islands held under mandate of the League of Nations, the Department undoubtedly will be interested in the enclosed copy of a memorandum submitted by Vice Consul Hayward G. Hill, of Yokohama, covering a conversation with an American resident of Yokohama who had just returned from a trip through the Islands. Mr. Hill indicates, in his memorandum, the degree of importance which can be placed on these observations.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew

Memorandum by the Vice Consul at Yokohama (Hill)

Information Obtained From an American Tourist Concerning Japanese Mandated Islands

Dr. Louis J. Lipset, a retired American physician 62 years old (naturalized, Russian birth) living at Yokohama, has just returned from a trip to Davao, on a steamer of the N.Y.K.,71 having visited both ways various islands of the Japanese mandated group.

In response to my invitation, Dr. Lipset came for tea on February 14, 1933, bringing with him his notes and pictures of the trip, and, in the course of conversation, remarked that he had learned from three foreign residents of the islands that fortification thereof is steadily progressing and has been carried on for over a year with [Page 751] the greatest possible secrecy. He mentioned the following individuals from whom he had obtained this information:

Mr. Tretanoff, a Russian who has lived in Yap for about seven years, and who has with him at present his wife, two daughters aged 18 and 24, and a small baby son. Mr. Tretanoff is very poor, and, speaking the native dialect well, makes his living recruiting native labor for the Japanese. He is never allowed to accompany the laborers to their work, but has learned from them that they are engaged in building great stone walls and in mounting cannon behind low elevations of land near the sea coast on the island of Yap.

Mr. Osmolosky, a Russian who owns a small store in Saipan and who has a wife in Tokyo, gave similar information concerning Saipan and Palau.

Father John (or Juan) Ponce, a Spanish Catholic priest who makes frequent trips from island to island inspecting Catholic missions, further, though very briefly, corroborated the foregoing information.

The two Russians have been frequently urged by the police to leave the islands, but have begged to remain on the basis of their being very poor and having nothing to turn to elsewhere for their livelihoods. However, they stated that they were being closely watched, and that their mail was always opened by the Japanese before they received it.

Dr. Lipset stated that the Yokohama office of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha had urged him not to make the trip, stating that the hotel accommodations and food were very poor, and that he would suffer from the heat. He described the pronounced suspicion with which the Japanese authorities in the islands viewed his visit, his baggage having been thoroughly searched on several occasions, his pictures examined, and a policeman having accompanied him almost continuously during his stay. However, he was courteously treated. Part of the time he traveled with an Englishman, an artist, who made a number of sketches and paintings of the islands, and who was also regarded by the authorities with much suspicion.

The information given herein, the result of the interview with Dr. Lipset, should be regarded primarily as the casual observations of a tourist who at no time had in mind any definite ideas of investigation. It is believed, however, that it is worth while to report his remarks, as of possible interest in the corroboration of other accounts.

Much information could probably be obtained from Father Ponce, who, it is understood, occasionally comes to Japan. The Catholic Mission authorities should know when his next visit will take place.

Dr. Lipset has written up an extensive account of his journey, [Page 752] somewhat in the form of a diary, in which he sets forth his impression of the islands, the native population, and the various trips he took therein. He also has about fifteen snapshots. This material apparently does not contain anything of a confidential nature, and is probably of little value, but, if desired, it can be very easily and casually obtained for a few days.

Hayward G. Hill
  1. Nippon Yusen Kaisha (Japan Mail S.S. Co.).