On This Day

Japan’s Pompous Emissary to Occupied Burma in WWII

By Wei Yan Aung 20 July 2020

YANGON—On this day in 1943, Renzo Sawada commenced his new position as the first Japanese ambassador to Myanmar during Japanese rule of then Burma.

Sawada was so arrogant and imperious that U Nu, Myanmar’s first foreign affairs minister during Japanese rule—and later the first prime minister of independent Myanmar—left his job to lead another ministry.

Before serving as ambassador to Myanmar, Sawada served as councilor of embassy in France, consul general in New York and councilor of embassy in Manchukuo. He became vice-minister of foreign affairs in the Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe’s cabinet in 1938 and was then appointed ambassador to France.

Sawada, who was 55 when he was appointed as ambassador to Myanmar, lived near the Foreign Office, near Inya Lake on Pyay Road in Yangon.

However, he only went to the Foreign Office twice during his tenure—once when he was received on his first arrival and once when he visited the office.

If U Nu wanted to discuss anything with Sawada, he had to go to the ambassador’s office, but if Sawada wanted to discuss anything, he spoke directly to Head of State Dr. Ba Maw. If he had any business with the Foreign Office, Sawada would not come himself but would only send his charge d’affaires.

U Nu, 37 at the time, transferred from the Foreign Affairs Ministry to lead the Information Ministry because he could no longer tolerate the Japanese ambassador’s bossy manner.

“I much disliked having to put up with these slights, and as I could not escape being affronted I wanted to clear out,” U Nu wrote in his book “Burma under the Japanese” about his experiences during five years of Japanese rule in Myanmar.

Sawada returned to Japan while Myanmar was still under Japanese rule, and Itaro Ishii replaced him as Japan’s ambassador to Myanmar until Japanese troops left the country.

In 1953, Sawada was appointed ambassador to head the Japanese Delegation to the United Nations. He worked to solve the problems of repatriation of Japanese prisoners held by the US and Japan’s admittance as a UN member.

He oversaw almost all the preliminary negotiations to restore diplomatic relations between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1955 in New York.

He died at the age of 82 in Tokyo in 1970.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.