41. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Current U.S.-Japanese and World Problems


  • Eisaku Sato, Prime Minister of Japan
  • Toshiro Shimanouchi, Consul General of Japan at Los Angeles (interpreter)
  • The President
  • Lloyd Hand, Chief of Protocol
  • James Wickel, Language Services
  • Mr. Okamoto, USIA Photographer

The President showed several photographs to the Prime Minister. He said that the photographer, Mr. Okamoto, was of Japanese extraction. The Prime Minister was curious whether he was a Nisei. The President showed a photo of his ranch and photographic portraits of his daughters, Lynda and Luci.

The President said he would not show his entire album but did wish to demonstrate what a fine job the photographer had done. He showed a picture of Secretary of Defense McNamara, with Generals LeMay and Wheeler, which had been taken at his ranch. He said that Secretary McNamara had asked him to find out if the Prime Minister had a few billion dollars extra. The President commented that Mr. McNamara needs more money for defense. The Prime Minister asked if the President had some funds hidden in his pocket.

The Prime Minister expressed his gratification to the President for the warm reception he had been given at the White House.

The President said that he had an enduring friendship for the Japanese people and their government, especially this one. He noted that Ambassador Reischauer’s reports are all good and reflect favorably upon Japan. He commented that the Prime Minister is a pragmatist, like himself.

The Prime Minister said that Japan is a democratic nation, as the President knew, and as a politician he would understand that it is important to consider the people.

[Page 67]

The President reminisced about his boyhood in Texas. He said that he was raised near San Antonio, and the Prime Minister commented that he had visited there as a young man. The President said that he had always looked west. He recalled that his grandfather had had to look east, to New York, for money in those days. Our Government leaders are proud of our European allies in NATO, to the east, but we also wish to develop another strong alliance with Japan where we turn our heads toward the sun as it sets in the west. He had tried to convey this thought in his welcoming remarks this morning. It is not a habit with us to look always east to Europe; we look as well to other parts of the world.

The President said that a number of items were listed for discussion and he wondered what were the Prime Minister’s interests. The list included the Ryukyu Islands; Bonin Islands graves visits; the Saylor Amendment; Japan-Korea normalization; Communist China and Taiwan; Pacific area defense; and South Viet-Nam and Southeast Asia. The President asked the Prime Minister to mention any other issues in which he had an interest. The President said that he also was anxious to hear the Prime Minister’s views on the Pacific area. He wanted to get a feeling for the Prime Minister’s opinions, and afford the Prime Minister the same opportunity to sound out his views; these matters could then be discussed more profitably. The President said that he and the Prime Minister were the ones who had to take the blame when anything went wrong.

The Prime Minister said that the greatest problems center around Communist China and South Viet-Nam, and an exchange of views is needed on those issues. He added that a new problem has arisen as a result of President Sukarno taking Indonesia out of the United Nations. The Prime Minister then asked the President to explain the position of the United States with reference to holding the 38th parallel in Korea and regarding the defense of Taiwan. He inquired whether the President could make a commitment not to withdraw from South Viet-Nam.

The President said, first, that the Prime Minister could depend on us fully for defense in the Pacific area. He said it is clear that Japan relies on the United States for defense, or else Japan would be creating its own independent defense systems. Second, he said that the Prime Minister could rely on the United States to consult closely with Japan before making any crucial decisions involving policy changes on the China problem and matters of comparable importance. The President expressed a desire to discuss these issues with the Prime Minister and understand fully the problems involved before taking action.

The President said that the main problem involving the Republic of China’s retention of its United Nations seat is that the Nationalist Chinese not get angry and walk out of the United Nations. If the [Page 68] Nationalists do not walk out then the Chinese Communists will not soon gain admission to the United Nations. The President said that what we want to do is keep down the Nationalist Chinese blood pressure, so that they won’t do something rash that might enable the Communist Chinese to enter the United Nations.

Photographer Okamoto entered the office and was introduced by the President as his friend. The President asked whether he was born in the United States or Japan. Mr. Okamoto said that he had been born and raised in this country, and that his home is in Bronxville, New York. His father is in Japan, in his home town near Yokohama; his mother is in New York, and her home town is Kyoto. He has no brothers or sisters in Japan, but had been told that he has many uncles.

Continuing his comments on the China situation, which he remarked is a problem for him as it is for the Prime Minister, the President said that what we must do is to keep the Nationalist Chinese from upsetting the situation, or to forestall their doing so as long as we can. In order to keep the Chinese Communists from walking in, we don’t want the Nationalist Chinese to walk out. He affirmed that the United States and Japan should have the closest consultation on this matter and commented that Ambassadors Reischauer and Takeuchi are already devoting their attention to it. He said that he had asked Ambassador Reischauer to remain at his post and to keep the Prime Minister informed of developments.

The President said that attention would have to be given to the problem of trade with China, as it is a nation of 600 million people. The President noted that Japan regards trade and political relations with Communist China as separate matters.

The Prime Minister confirmed that politics and trade are differentiated in Japan’s contacts with mainland China. He said that Japan cannot ignore the mainland’s propinquity and its long history of cultural contact with the Chinese. Therefore, Japan has developed trade relations with the mainland. However, Japan maintains diplomatic and treaty relations with the Republic of China. He said that Japan is in the same boat as the United States, and does not wish to anger Chiang Kai-shek.

The President solicited the Prime Minister’s analysis of the China situation as it might emerge in two or three years.

The Prime Minister reiterated that it is essential that we consult closely on this matter. We cannot deny that a situation might develop in which Communist China could be admitted to the United Nations. This possibility puts us in a critical position. He said that the Communist China question is of an even more urgent nature than the Viet-Nam problem.

[Page 69]

The President emphasized our hope that the Communist Chinese will leave their neighbors alone and turn their attention to internal affairs.

The Prime Minister said that this would be difficult for them to do, since they are communists. However, Mao Tse-tung will not live forever. On the other hand, Chiang may not live too much longer either. He said that we should not be unduly hasty with respect to Communist China lest we create new problems. Communist China will continue to pose serious difficulties until it has completed its revolutionary phase. This evolutionary process has been witnessed before in the history of China. The Shin [Chin]2 and Mongol dynasties provide examples. The Prime Minister said that 40 years have passed since the Soviet revolution, during which time the regime has matured and changed. But only a decade and a half have passed since the Chinese Communist revolution which is still in an early stage.

The President agreed. He said that this is a great problem for the Prime Minister and himself.

The President said that Viet-Nam is another major problem, and it could worsen if no stable government can be established. If none is, we could be out tomorrow. The President stressed what he said in his State of the Union message: we intend to stay in Viet-Nam and we will do more rather than less.3 The President asked how hopeful the Prime Minister was about the situation in Viet-Nam.

The Prime Minister said that the United States must hold out and be patient. The United States is an outsider which has sent in troops, whereas the opposition is native. He said that the United States should work for the establishment of a liberal atmosphere that would enable the government to gain the support of the people. Above all, popular sentiment must be understood and channeled in politically constructive ways.

The Prime Minister indicated that the United States should not think in terms of pursuit to the north which he rejected, but should rather lend its efforts to such ventures as the establishment of model communities in South Viet-Nam, especially around Saigon. He believed that the biggest headache for the United States is the absence of leaders who could form a reliable government.

The President interposed that our headache is bigger than that. He said we intend to stay in Viet-Nam so long as our assistance is sought by the Vietnamese people. The answer to the Prime Minister’s earlier [Page 70] question whether the United States is committed not to withdraw from Viet-Nam was yes.

The Prime Minister applauded the United States determination to maintain a firm stand in Viet-Nam and reiterated his desire that we hold out.

The President said in reply to a question that Prime Minister phrased about defense that, since Japan possesses no nuclear weapons, and we do have them, if Japan needs our nuclear deterrent for its defense, the United States would stand by its commitments and provide that defense. The President asked whether that struck at the heart of the Prime Minister’s question. The Prime Minister confirmed that that is what he would like to ask but said that he is unable to say so publicly. The President said that his reply on the defense of Japan is affirmative, adding that this exchange befits statesmen of the type he and the Prime Minister wish to be in the interest of their peoples.

The President asked whether the Prime Minister wished to discuss any foreign policy matters other than China, Viet-Nam, and security arrangements. The Prime Minister replied that he was concerned about developments in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The President explained that Sukarno’s character is a crucial element in the situation. He is impulsive and impetuous, and if he gets too upset we are fearful that he will create even more serious problems. He said that the U.S. is lending its influence to ameliorate this problem in every way possible. The Prime Minister cautioned that we should avoid actions which would drive Sukarno, and with him Indonesia, into the arms of Communist China.

The President said that the United States is exercising extreme forebearance in trying to prevent this. He said that Sukarno had insulted the United States recently but he was prepared to overlook this in the light of our larger interests. The week following Sukarno’s statements, the United States delivered food valued at several million dollars to Indonesia under the terms of an agreement reached three years ago. President Kennedy had been severely criticized in the Senate when he executed his agreement. The President said that the United States is following a policy of conciliation in regard to the Indonesian problem and is trying not to be inflammatory.

The Prime Minister said that Japan is still on speaking terms with Indonesia, and is willing to do what it can. The Prime Minister indicated that consultations with Great Britain about Indonesia might be desirable. The President replied that any contributions to a solution would be welcomed.

The Prime Minister said that he wished to refer to one major problem in which the prospects were somewhat brighter. He said that a settlement between Japan and South Korea should be forthcoming soon. [Page 71] He noted that internal political considerations in Korea seem to be the only barrier to an early settlement. The President said yes, he understood.

The Prime Minister raised the question whether the President would be interested in visiting Japan. The President said that he hoped very much that he would have an opportunity to do so. He characterized Japan as a country that excites and interests him. He noted that many members of his Cabinet family had been there, including the six Cabinet members who were en route to Japan at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. In time, such a visit could be worked out.

The Prime Minister asked whether he could reply to a question in his press conference that he had asked the President about making a trip to Japan. The President expressed his approval and said that he would confirm that the Prime Minister did extend an invitation during one of his own press conferences. The President said that he is most interested in being a close friend to Japan. He commented that Secretary Udall had gone mountain climbing in Japan; and he and other Americans have all reported that Japan is a wonderful country. He expressed the hope that he would be able to visit the Prime Minister during his term of office.

The Prime Minister said that Foreign Minister Shiina would proceed to London following the present talks to participate in a regular British-Japanese consultation. Since Britain is one of the nations which recognizes Communist China, the Prime Minister wondered whether it would be useful to have the Foreign Minister consult with the British to gain their assistance with respect to the Viet-Nam question.

The President said that he would speak to Secretary Rusk about this, but that we have already made strong appeals to our friends to do all they can. But it seems that all of our friends are under the bridge or hiding in caves. It would be useful if they would take some constructive action. Even a strong speech would help. The United States has 25,000 men in Viet-Nam and we need dollars to continue this assistance. Some would like us to withdraw but we will not do so.

The President said that the United States will be dealing increasingly with major powers such as Britain, Japan, and Germany in trying to resolve the Viet-Nam and other crisis situations in Asia. With respect to Japan’s security, Japan need not give even a second thought to the dependability of its American ally. If Japan is attacked, the United States will contribute to its defense. Similarly, the United States will abide by commitments to its other allies. The United States will remain in Viet-Nam as long as the Vietnamese let us. It would be very helpful, however, if the President were able to point out to the American people tangible assistance extended to Viet-Nam by our friends, [Page 72] such as money or the medical task force which Japan has sent there. The United States investment in Viet-Nam is four or five billion dollars. We seem to be alone, and the President wondered where Britain, Japan and Germany were.

The President said that he would summarize his statements in conclusion because the others were waiting in the Cabinet Room and they would also like to talk with the Prime Minister. The United States is conciliatory toward Indonesia. When Sukarno told us off, the President turned the other cheek. When he told us to go jump in the lake, we sent him food. We have no desire to drive Sukarno into the arms of Communism. If he does go, he will do so out of his own decision.

The Prime Minister said that Japan will do all it can to assist in these problems, and noted the success of the medical task force which Japan had sent to South Viet-Nam.

The President said he understood that Japan’s contribution cost $1.5 million. He appreciated dispatch of the medical task force and said that it would be helpful if Japan could show the flag. If Japan gets in trouble, we would send our planes and bombs to defend her. We are now in trouble in Viet-Nam and ask how Japan can help us. He indicated that the Prime Minister need not publicize these views at home. The President said, however, that he himself would do so with the members of the Senate. Any statement of support by the Prime Minister would, of course, help.

The President said that he heard a lot about trade problems between our two countries, related to cotton textiles, woolen goods, television sets such as Sony, and other things the Japanese produce so efficiently. He had also been informed of the Japanese desire to extend their air routes. He invited the Prime Minister’s views on the major outstanding bilateral trade problems.

The Prime Minister said that, in his view, the major problem is to sustain the prosperity of the United States.

The President said that textile representatives in the United States are extremely concerned about the import of Japanese woolens. The Prime Minister indicated that he preferred to reserve the discussion of the textiles and civil aviation problems for his meeting with Secretary Rusk.

The President observed that, while we have worked out the problems of cotton textiles, we now have a problem with woolen textiles. The President said that he daily confronts a number of Senators who jump down his throat because of problems arising from Japanese imports. He said we have to watch that and exercise restraint. He said that RCA is fussing with him about Sony television sets. He commented that, nevertheless, he had some Sony television sets and led the Prime Minister into his private study where he showed him three miniature [Page 73] Sony television sets, each tuned to a different network. He demonstrated for the Prime Minister a control device by which he could tune in on the audio portion of any of the three. He said that he had these sets on constantly.

With respect to trade with Japan, the President said the United States wants to trade and considers its commercial relationship with Japan to be extremely important. Japan buys American cotton. On the other hand, Japanese woolen exports to the United States create difficult problems because the industry is depressed. The President said that he would appreciate anything Japan could do to help alleviate this situation, for he had 50 Senators after him on it.

The Prime Minister said he wondered why so relatively small an export item as woolens should be such a problem when Japan buys so much from the United States. The President said this is because the industry is badly depressed. When a baby does not get milk he cries.

The Prime Minister said that he still found it difficult to understand complaints about Japanese trade, particularly those which originate in areas of soy bean production, since Japan purchases $100 million worth of soy beans from the United States and exports only $1 million worth of woolen textiles.

The President said that if the situation were reversed he is sure he would hear about it. As a politician the Prime Minister could understand why he (the President) would hear complaints from those in a depressed industry.

The Prime Minister said that since President Johnson is from Texas, a cotton-producing state, in contrast to President Kennedy, who was from a textile-manufacturing state, he had anticipated a different attitude with respect to textile problems. He said that he hoped the President could handle these problems, which he believed stem fundamentally from domestic considerations in the United States rather than from Japan’s actions.

The President said he appreciated this point, but every day he sees representatives of the textile industry and, since he gets so much criticism from this area, he hoped that the Prime Minister could do something at his end to alleviate the situation. Every morning he received calls from textile manufacturers complaining about Japanese textiles. The President said he did not wish to make this a major point of the discussion, but he must live at home just as the Prime Minister must. The Prime Minister said that representatives of the woolen textile industry in Japan had told him prior to his departure for the United States not to raise the issue of woolen textiles in Washington.

The President commented in a lighter vein that textiles and civil aviation could probably be discussed all day. The Prime Minister made the point that civil aviation is a different matter because Japanese [Page 74] airlines use American planes exclusively. The President said that the American airline companies do not manufacture aircraft and this point is lost on them. The Prime Minister expressed his understanding of that situation.

The President said that both he and the Prime Minister were the new leaders of great nations which have promising futures and that problems between us could be resolved through give-and-take discussions on the basis of fairness and justice. We must understand that it is essential that we communicate with each other freely, frankly, and in a friendly manner. He said that he would be available later in the visit to discuss any problem the Prime Minister wished to raise.

The President expressed his appreciation and pleasure at the warm treatment accorded American Cabinet officers who had visited Japan. He said he was proud of the manner in which Japan has rebuilt itself over the past 20 years. He said that he could understand the problems a new Prime Minister might face and offered to help to the extent possible. The President cautioned the Prime Minister to exercise care in his statements about outstanding problems between the United States and Japan that might make it more difficult for the President to cope with United States domestic pressures on these issues.

The Prime Minister referred once again to his invitation to the President to visit Japan. The President reiterated how much he would like to make the trip. He cited his great interest in the people and the country and confirmed that he would like to visit at an appropriate time during his term of office. The Prime Minister remarked that the President’s term of office will undoubtedly be eight years and it would be too long to wait until the latter part of this period to have him visit Japan.

The President said that a very good friend of his, Mr. Youngman, an insurance company executive presently working in Japan, would be at dinner. He wanted to introduce him to the Prime Minister because Mr. Youngman, just as many other Americans, speaks very favorably of the people of Japan.

The President asked whether the Prime Minister had any other matters to discuss confidentially before joining the 30 people waiting in the Cabinet Room.

The Prime Minister said that it was not necessary to add to what had already been said.

The President said that he felt he had gotten to know the Prime Minister and hoped that the Prime Minister also felt that they had gotten their personal relationship off on a good footing. The President said that they now had their own private treaty which is just as binding as any treaty ratified by the Senate.

He then escorted the Prime Minister and other members of the group into the Cabinet Room.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG59, Central Files 1964–66, POL JAPAN–US. Secret. Drafted by Wickel and approved in the White House on February 2. The meeting was held in the Office of the President and lasted approximately 45 minutes. An unapproved copy of the memorandum is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Japan, Sato’s Visit, Memos and Cables, January 11–14, 1965.
  2. Brackets in the source text.
  3. The text of the State of the Union Message delivered on January 4 is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, pp. 1–9.