Japanese war crimes

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Bodies of victims along the Qinhuai River out of Nanjing's west gate during the Nanking Massacre. Nanking bodies 1937.jpg
Bodies of victims along the Qinhuai River out of Nanjing's west gate during the Nanking Massacre.

War crimes were committed by the Empire of Japan in many Asian-Pacific countries during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. These incidents have been described as an "Asian Holocaust", [1] [2] but this characterisation has been challenged by scholars on the basis of unique features of the Holocaust. [3] Some war crimes were committed by Japanese military personnel during the late 19th century, but most were committed during the first part of the Shōwa era, the name which was given to the reign of Emperor Hirohito.


Under Emperor Hirohito, numerous war crimes were perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Some historical estimates of the number of deaths which resulted from Japanese war crimes range from 3 [4] to 14 [5] million through massacre, human experimentation, starvation, and forced labor that was either directly perpetrated or condoned by the Japanese military and government. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Some Japanese soldiers have admitted to committing these crimes. [12] Airmen of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service were not included as war criminals because there was no positive or specific customary international humanitarian law that prohibited the unlawful conduct of aerial warfare either before or during World War II. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service took part in conducting chemical and biological attacks on enemy nationals during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II and the use of such weapons in warfare were generally prohibited by international agreements signed by Japan, including the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), which banned the use of "poison or poisoned weapons" in warfare. [13] [14]

Since the 1950s, senior Japanese government officials have issued numerous apologies for the country's war crimes. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the country acknowledges its role in causing "tremendous damage and suffering" during World War II, especially in regard to the IJA entrance into Nanjing, during which Japanese soldiers killed a large number of non-combatants and engaged in looting and rape. [15] That being said, some members of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Japanese government, such as former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzō Abe have prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which has been the subject of controversy, as the shrine honours all Japanese who died during the war, including convicted Class A war criminals. Some Japanese history textbooks only offer brief references to the various war crimes, [16] and members of the Liberal Democratic Party have denied some of the atrocities, such as government involvement in abducting women to serve as "comfort women" (sex slaves). [12] [17]


War crimes have been defined by the Tokyo Charter as "violations of the laws or customs of war," [18] which includes crimes against enemy combatants and enemy non-combatants. [19] War crimes also included deliberate attacks on citizens and property of neutral states as they fall under the category of non-combatants, as at the attack on Pearl Harbor. [20] Military personnel from the Empire of Japan have been accused or convicted of committing many such acts during the period of Japanese imperialism from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. They have been accused of conducting a series of human rights abuses against civilians and prisoners of war throughout East Asia and the western Pacific region. These events reached their height during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45 and the Asian and Pacific campaigns of World War II (1941–45).

International and Japanese law

Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese troops. Chinese civilians to be buried alive.jpg
Chinese civilians being buried alive by Japanese troops.

Japan signed the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War and the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Sick and Wounded, [21] but the Japanese government declined to ratify the POW Convention. In 1942, the Japanese government stated that it would abide by the terms of the Convention mutatis mutandis ('changing what has to be changed'). [22] The crimes committed also fall under other aspects of international and Japanese law. For example, many of the crimes committed by Japanese personnel during World War II broke Japanese military law, and were subject to court martial, as required by that law. [23] The Empire also violated international agreements signed by Japan, including provisions of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) such as protections for prisoners of war and a ban on the use of chemical weapons, the 1930 Forced Labour Convention which prohibited forced labor, the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children which prohibited human trafficking, and other agreements. [24] [25] The Japanese government also signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1929), thereby rendering its actions in 1937–45 liable to charges of crimes against peace, [26] a charge that was introduced at the Tokyo Trials to prosecute "Class A" war criminals. "Class B" war criminals were those found guilty of war crimes per se, and "Class C" war criminals were those guilty of crimes against humanity. The Japanese government also accepted the terms set by the Potsdam Declaration (1945) after the end of the war, including the provision in Article 10 of punishment for "all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners".

Japanese bayonet practice against a dead Chinese prisoner near Tianjin Japanese bayonet practice with dead Chinese near Tianjin.jpg
Japanese bayonet practice against a dead Chinese prisoner near Tianjin

Japanese law does not define those convicted in the post-1945 trials as criminals, despite the fact that Japan's governments have accepted the judgments made in the trials, and in the Treaty of San Francisco (1952).[ clarification needed ] Former Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has advocated the position that Japan accepted the Tokyo tribunal and its judgements as a condition for ending the war, but that its verdicts have no relation to domestic law. According to Abe, those convicted of war crimes are not criminals under Japanese law. [27]

Historical and geographical extent

Samurai warriors of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period of the 1860s. Satsuma-samurai-during-boshin-war-period.jpg
Samurai warriors of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period of the 1860s.

Outside Japan, different societies use widely different timeframes in defining Japanese war crimes.[ citation needed ] For example, the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 was enforced by the Japanese military, and the Society of Yi Dynasty Korea was switched to the political system of the Empire of Japan. Thus, North and South Korea refer to "Japanese war crimes" as events occurring during the period of Korea under Japanese rule.[ citation needed ]

By comparison, the Western Allies did not come into military conflict with Japan until 1941, and North Americans, Australians, South East Asians and Europeans may consider "Japanese war crimes" to be events that occurred in 1942–1945. [28]

Japanese war crimes were not always carried out by ethnic Japanese personnel. A small minority of people in every Asian and Pacific country invaded or occupied by Japan collaborated with the Japanese military, or even served in it, for a wide variety of reasons, such as economic hardship, coercion, or antipathy to other imperialist powers. [29] In addition to Japanese civil and military personnel, Chinese, Koreans, Manchus and Taiwanese who were forced to serve in the military of the Empire of Japan were also found to have committed war crimes as part of the Japanese Imperial Army. [30] [31] [32] [33]

Japan's sovereignty over Korea and Taiwan, in the first half of the 20th century, was recognized by international agreements—the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895 and the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910—and they were considered at the time to be integral parts of the Japanese colonial empire. Under the international law of today, there is a possibility the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was illegal, [34] as the native populations were not consulted during the signing, there was armed resistance to Japan's annexations, and war crimes may also have been committed during the civil wars.[ citation needed ]


Japanese militarism and imperialism

Japanese illustration depicting the beheading of Chinese captives during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. Japanese Beheading 1894.jpg
Japanese illustration depicting the beheading of Chinese captives during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.

Militarism, especially during Japan's imperialist expansion, had great bearing on the conduct of the Japanese armed forces before and during the Second World War. After the Meiji Restoration and the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Emperor became the focus of military loyalty. During the so-called "Age of Imperialism" in the late 19th century, Japan followed the lead of other world powers in developing a colonial empire, pursuing that objective aggressively.

Unlike many other major powers, Japan had not ratified the Geneva Convention of 1929—also known as the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva 27 July 1929—which was the version of the Geneva Convention that covered the treatment of prisoners of war during World War II. [35] Nevertheless, Japan ratified the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which contained provisions regarding prisoners of war [36] and an Imperial Proclamation in 1894 stated that Japanese soldiers should make every effort to win the war without violating international laws. According to Japanese historian Yuki Tanaka, Japanese forces during the First Sino-Japanese War released 1,790 Chinese prisoners without harm, once they signed an agreement not to take up arms against Japan if they were released. [37] After the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, all 79,367 Russian prisoners held were released and were paid for labour performed, in accordance with the Hague Convention. [37] Similarly the behaviour of the Japanese military in World War I was at least as humane as that of other militaries in the war,[ citation needed ] with some German prisoners of the Japanese finding life in Japan so agreeable that they stayed and settled in Japan after the war. [38] [39]

Two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda competing to see who could kill (with a sword) one hundred people first. The headline reads, "'Incredible Record' (in the Contest to Decapitate 100 People)--Mukai 106 - 105 Noda--Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings". Contest To Cut Down 100 People.jpg
Two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda competing to see who could kill (with a sword) one hundred people first. The headline reads, "'Incredible Record' (in the Contest to Decapitate 100 People)—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings".

As Japan continued its modernization in the early 20th century, her armed forces became convinced that success in battle would be assured if Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen had the "spirit" of Bushido . ... The result was that the Bushido code of behavior "was inculcated into the Japanese soldier as part of his basic training." Each soldier was indoctrinated to accept that it was the greatest honor to die for the Emperor and it was cowardly to surrender to the enemy. ... Bushido therefore explains why the Japanese soldiers who were stationed in the NEI so mistreated POWs in their custody. Those who had surrendered to the Japanese—regardless of how courageously or honorably they had fought—merited nothing but contempt; they had forfeited all honor and literally deserved nothing. Consequently, when the Japanese murdered POWs by shooting, beheading, and drowning, these acts were excused since they involved the killing of men who had forfeited all rights to be treated with dignity or respect. While civilian internees were certainly in a different category from POWs, it is reasonable to think that there was a "spill-over" effect from the tenets of Bushido.

Fred Borch, Military Trials of War Criminals in the Netherlands East Indies 1946–1949 [40]

The events of the 1930s and 1940s

By the late 1930s, the rise of militarism in Japan created at least superficial similarities between the wider Japanese military culture and that of Nazi Germany's elite military personnel, such as those in the Waffen-SS . Japan also had a military secret police force within the IJA, known as the Kenpeitai , which resembled the Nazi Gestapo in its role in annexed and occupied countries, but which had existed for nearly a decade before Hitler's own birth. [41] Perceived failure or insufficient devotion to the Emperor would attract punishment, frequently of the physical kind. [42] In the military, officers would assault and beat men under their command, who would pass the beating all the way down on to the lowest ranks. In POW camps, this meant that prisoners received the worst beatings of all, [43] partly in the belief that such punishments were merely the proper technique to deal with disobedience. [42]

War crimes

An Australian POW, Sgt. Leonard Siffleet, captured in New Guinea, about to be beheaded by a Japanese officer with a gunto, 1943. LeonardGSiffleet.jpg
An Australian POW, Sgt. Leonard Siffleet, captured in New Guinea, about to be beheaded by a Japanese officer with a guntō, 1943.

The Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s is often compared to the military of Germany from 1933 to 1945 because of the sheer scale of destruction and suffering that both of them caused. Much of the controversy regarding Japan's role in World War II revolves around the death rates of prisoners of war and civilians under Japanese occupation. Historian Sterling Seagrave has written that:

Arriving at a probable number of Japan's war victims who died is difficult for several interesting reasons, which have to do with Western perceptions. Both Americans and Europeans fell into the unfortunate habit of seeing WW1 and WW2 as separate wars, failing to comprehend that they were interlaced in a multitude of ways (not merely that one was the consequence of the other, or of the rash behavior of the victors after WW1). Wholly aside from this basic misconception, most Americans think of WW2 in Asia as having begun with Pearl Harbor, the British with the fall of Singapore, and so forth. The Chinese would correct this by identifying the Marco Polo Bridge incident as the start, or the earlier Japanese seizure of Manchuria. It really began in 1895 with Japan's assassination of Korea's Queen Min, and invasion of Korea, resulting in its absorption into Japan, followed quickly by Japan's seizure of southern Manchuria, etc. – establishing that Japan was at war from 1895 to 1945. Prior to 1895, Japan had only briefly invaded Korea during the Shogunate, long before the Meiji Restoration, and the invasion failed. Therefore, Rummel’s estimate of 6-million to 10-million dead between 1937 (the Rape of Nanjing) and 1945, may be roughly corollary to the time-frame of the Nazi Holocaust, but it falls far short of the actual numbers killed by the Japanese war machine. If you add, say, 2-million Koreans, 2-million Manchurians, Chinese, Russians, many East European Jews (both Sephardic and Ashkenazi), and others killed by Japan between 1895 and 1937 (conservative figures), the total of Japanese victims is more like 10-million to 14-million. Of these, I would suggest that between 6-million and 8-million were ethnic Chinese, regardless of where they were resident. [5]

According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate among prisoners of war from Asian countries held by Japan was 27.1%. [44] The death rate of Chinese prisoners of war were much higher because—under a directive ratified on 5 August 1937, by Emperor Hirohito—the constraints of international law on treatment of those prisoners was removed. [45] Only 56 Chinese prisoners of war were released after the surrender of Japan. [46] After 20 March 1943, the Imperial Japanese Navy was under orders to execute all prisoners taken at sea.[ citation needed ]

Attacks on parachutists and downed airmen

As the Battle of Shanghai and Nanjing signaled the beginning of World War II in Asia, fierce air battles raged across China between the airmen of the Chinese Air Force and the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, and the Japanese soon gained notoriety for strafing downed airmen trying to descend to safety in their parachutes; the very first recorded act of Japanese fighter pilots strafing downed airmen of the war occurred on 19 September 1937, when Chinese Air Force pilot Lt. Liu Lanqing (劉蘭清) of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group flying P-26 Model 281 fighters, were part of an intercept mission against a force of 30 Japanese bombers and fighters attacking Nanjing. [47] Lt. Liu bailed out in his parachute after his plane was shot-up and disabled, and while hanging in his parachute during descent, he was killed by the Japanese pilots taking turns strafing at him; [48] [49] his flight leader Capt. John Huang Xinrui tried shooting off those Japanese pilots shooting at the helpless Lt. Liu, but was shot-up himself and had to bail, and waiting until the last possible moment to rip his parachute cord to avoid the cruel acts of the Japanese pilots. [50] [51] As a result, Chinese and Russian volunteer pilots were all warned about opening their parachutes too early if bailing out of stricken aircraft, but even after a safe parachute descent, the Japanese still went after them; on 18 July 1938, Soviet volunteer pilot Valentin Dudonov was hit by an A5M fighter piloted by Nangō Mochifumi, after which Dudonov bailed out in his parachute and landed on a sand bank on Poyang Lake only to be continuous strafed by another A5M, but Dudonov having to run in wild zig-zags and jumping and hiding under water in the lake, survived as the Japanese A5M finally departed. [52] As the Americans joined the war a few years later in 1941, they too encountered many harrowing and tragic events of these war crimes clarified and prosecutable under the protocols of the Geneva Convention.

Attacks on neutral powers

The USS Arizona burning during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - NARA 195617 - Edit.jpg
The USS Arizona burning during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Article 1 of the 1907 Hague Convention III – The Opening of Hostilities prohibited the initiation of hostilities against neutral powers "without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of a reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war" and Article 2 further stated that "[t]he existence of a state of war must be notified to the neutral Powers without delay, and shall not take effect in regard to them until after the receipt of a notification, which may, however, be given by telegraph." Japanese diplomats intended to deliver the notice to the United States thirty minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on 7 December 1941, but it was delivered to the U.S. government an hour after the attack was over. Tokyo transmitted the 5,000-word notification (commonly called the "14-Part Message") in two blocks to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, but transcribing the message took too long for the Japanese ambassador to deliver it in time. [53] The 14-Part Message was actually about sending a message to U.S. officials that peace negotiations between Japan and the U.S. were likely to be terminated, not a declaration of war. In fact, Japanese officials were well aware that the 14-Part Message was not a proper declaration of war as required by the 1907 Hague Convention III – The Opening of Hostilities. They decided not to issue a proper declaration of war anyway as they feared that doing so would expose the possible leak of the secret operation to the Americans. [54] [55] Some historical negationists and conspiracy theorists charge that President Franklin D. Roosevelt willingly allowed the attack to happen to create a pretext for war, but no credible evidence exists to support that claim. [56] [57] [58] The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan declared war on the U.S. and the U.S. declared war on Japan in response the same day.

Simultaneously with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (Honolulu time), Japan invaded the British colony of Malaya and bombed Singapore, and began land actions in Hong Kong, without a declaration of war or an ultimatum. Both the United States and the United Kingdom were neutral when Japan attacked their territories without explicit warning of a state of war. [59]

The U.S. officially classified all 3,649 military and civilian casualties and destruction of military property at Pearl Harbor as non-combatants as there was no state of war between the U.S. and Japan when the attack occurred. [60] [ failed verification ] [61] [ page range too broad ][ self-published source ] Joseph B. Keenan, the chief prosecutor in the Tokyo Trials, says that the attack on Pearl Harbor not only happened without a declaration of war but was also a "treacherous and deceitful act". In fact, Japan and the U.S. were still negotiating for a possible peace agreement which kept U.S. officials very distracted when Japanese planes launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. Keenan explained the definition of a war of aggression and the criminality of the attack on Pearl Harbor:

The concept of aggressive war may not be expressed with the precision of a scientific formula, or described like the objective data of the physical sciences. Aggressive War is not entirely a physical fact to be observed and defined like the operation of the laws of matter. It is rather an activity involving injustice between nations, rising to the level of criminality because of its disastrous effects upon the common good of international society. The injustice of a war of aggression is criminal of its extreme grosses, considered both from the point of view of the will of the aggressor to inflict injury and from the evil effects which ensue ... Unjust war are plainly crimes and not simply torts or breaches of contracts. The act comprises the willful, intentional, and unreasonable destruction of life, limb, and property, subject matter which has been regarded as criminal by the laws of all civilized peoples ... The Pearl Harbor attack breached the Kellogg–Briand Pact and the Hague Convention III. In addition, it violated Article 23 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, of October 1907 ... But the attack of Pearl Harbor did not alone result in murder and the slaughter of thousands of human beings. It did not eventuate only in the destruction of property. It was an outright act of undermining and destroying the hope of a world for peace. When a nation employs a deceit and treachery, using periods of negotiations and the negotiations themselves as a cloak to screen a perfidious attack, then there is a prime example of the crime of all crimes. [62] [63]

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, was fully aware that if Japan lost the war, he would be tried as a war criminal for that attack [ citation needed ] (although he was killed by the USAAF in Operation Vengeance in 1943). At the Tokyo Trials, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo; Shigenori Tōgō, then Foreign Minister; Shigetarō Shimada, the Minister of the Navy; and Osami Nagano, Chief of Naval General Staff, were charged with crimes against peace (charges 1 to 36) and murder (charges 37 to 52) in connection with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Along with war crimes and crimes against humanity (charges 53 to 55), Tojo was among the seven Japanese leaders sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1948, Shigenori Tōgō received a 20-year sentence, Shimada received a life sentence, and Nagano died of natural causes during the Trial in 1947. [55] [64]

Over the years, many Japanese nationalists argued that the attack on Pearl Harbor was justified as they acted in self-defense in response to the oil embargo imposed by the United States. Most historians and scholars agreed that the oil embargo cannot be used as justification for using military force against a foreign nation imposing the oil embargo because there is a clear distinction between a perception that something is essential to the welfare of the nation-state and a threat truly being sufficiently serious to warrant an act of force in response, which Japan had failed to consider. Japanese scholar and diplomat, Takeo Iguchi, states that it is "[h]ard to say from the perspective of international law that exercising the right of self-defense against economic pressures is considered valid." While Japan felt that its dreams of further expansion would be brought to a screeching halt by the American embargo, this "need" cannot be considered proportional with the destruction suffered by the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, intended by Japanese military planners to be as devastating as possible. [55]

Mass killings

Japanese War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
Part of
The Pacific War
Second Sino-Japanese War
LocationIn and around East Asia and the Pacific
Deaths3,000,000 [4] to 14,000,000 [5] civilians and POWs
Japanese shooting blindfolded Sikh prisoners.jpg
Japanese atrocities imperial war museum K9923.jpg
Japanese soldiers shooting blindfolded Sikh prisoners and then bayonetting them. (Photos discovered after the liberation of Singapore).
Hsuchow, China, 1938. A mass grave filled with bodies of Chinese civilians, murdered by Japanese soldiers. Chinese killed by Japanese Army in a ditch, Hsuchow.jpg
Hsuchow, China, 1938. A mass grave filled with bodies of Chinese civilians, murdered by Japanese soldiers.

R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, estimates that between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly three to over ten million people, most likely six million Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Filipinos and Indochinese, among others, including European, American and Australian prisoners of war. According to Rummel, "This democide [i.e., death by government] was due to a morally bankrupt political and military strategy, military expediency and custom, and national culture." [4] According to Rummel, in China alone, from 1937 to 1945, approximately 3.9 million Chinese were killed, mostly civilians, as a direct result of the Japanese operations and a total of 10.2 million Chinese were killed in the course of the war. [66] The most infamous incident during this period was the Nanking Massacre of 1937–38, when, according to the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Japanese Army massacred as many as 260,000 civilians and prisoners of war, though some have placed the figure as high as 350,000. [67] The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders has the death figure of 300,000 inscribed on its entrance. [68]

During the Second Sino-Japanese War the Japanese followed what has been referred to as a "killing policy", including killings committed against minorities like Hui Muslims in China. According to Wan Lei, "In a Hui clustered village in Gaocheng county of Hebei, the Japanese captured twenty Hui men among whom they only set two younger men free through "redemption", and buried alive the other eighteen Hui men. In Mengcun village of Hebei, the Japanese killed more than 1,300 Hui people within three years of their occupation of that area." Mosques were also desecrated and destroyed by the Japanese, and Hui cemeteries were also destroyed. After the Rape of Nanking mosques in Nanjing were found to be filled with dead bodies. [69] Many Hui Muslims in the Second Sino-Japanese war fought against the Japanese military.[ citation needed ]

In addition, The Hui Muslim county of Dachang was subjected to massacres by the Japanese military. [70]

One of the most infamous incidents during this period was the Parit Sulong massacre in Malaya, when, according to the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Imperial Japanese Army massacred about five hundred prisoners of war, although there are even higher estimates.[ citation needed ] A similar crime was the Changjiao massacre in China. Back in Southeast Asia, the Laha massacre resulted in the deaths of 705 prisoners of war on Indonesia's Ambon Island, and in Singapore's Alexandra Hospital massacre, where thousands of wounded Allied soldiers, innocent citizens and medical staff were murdered by Japanese soldiers. [ citation needed ]

In Southeast Asia, the Manila massacre of February 1945 resulted in the death of 100,000 civilians in the Philippines. It is estimated that at least one out of every 20 Filipinos died at the hands of the Japanese during the occupation. [71] [72] In Singapore during February and March 1942, the Sook Ching massacre was a systematic extermination of perceived hostile elements among the Chinese population there. Lee Kuan Yew, the ex-Prime Minister of Singapore, said during an interview with National Geographic that there were between 50,000 and 90,000 casualties, [73] while according to Major General Kawamura Saburo, there were 5,000 casualties in total. [74]

There were other massacres of civilians, e.g. the Kalagong massacre. In wartime Southeast Asia, the Overseas Chinese and European diaspora were special targets of Japanese abuse; in the former case, motivated by Sinophobia vis-à-vis the historic expanse and influence of Chinese culture that did not exist with the Southeast Asian indigenes, and the latter, motivated by a racist Pan-Asianism and a desire to show former colonial subjects the impotence of their Western masters. [75] The Japanese executed all the Malay Sultans on Kalimantan and wiped out the Malay elite in the Pontianak incidents. In the Jesselton Revolt, the Japanese slaughtered thousands of native civilians during the Japanese occupation of British Borneo and nearly wiped out the entire Suluk Muslim population of the coastal islands. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, when a Moro Muslim juramentado swordsman launched a suicide attack against the Japanese, the Japanese would massacre the man's entire family or village.[ citation needed ]

Historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta reports that a "Three Alls Policy" (Sankō Sakusen) was implemented in China from 1942 to 1945 and was in itself responsible for the deaths of "more than 2.7 million" Chinese civilians.[ citation needed ] This scorched earth strategy, sanctioned by Hirohito himself,[ citation needed ] directed Japanese forces to "Kill All, Burn All, and Loot All", which caused many massacres such as the Panjiayu massacre, where 1,230 Chinese people were killed, Additionally, captured Allied servicemen and civilians were massacred in various incidents, including:

Human experimentation and biological warfare

A hypothermia experiment, using Chinese prisoners as subjects under surveillance by Japanese soldiers in 731. Unit 731 cold experiment.jpg
A hypothermia experiment, using Chinese prisoners as subjects under surveillance by Japanese soldiers in 731.
Shiro Ishii, the commander of Unit 731. Shiro-ishii.jpg
Shirō Ishii, the commander of Unit 731.

Special Japanese military units conducted experiments on civilians and POWs in China. One of the most infamous was Unit 731 under Shirō Ishii. Unit 731 was established by order of Hirohito himself. Victims were subjected to experiments including but not limited to vivisection, amputations without anesthesia, testing of biological weapons, horse blood transfusions, and injection of animal blood into their corpses. [78] Anesthesia was not used because it was believed that anesthetics would adversely affect the results of the experiments. [79]

To determine the treatment of frostbite, prisoners were taken outside in freezing weather and left with exposed arms, periodically drenched with water until frozen solid. The arm was later amputated; the doctor would repeat the process on the victim's upper arm to the shoulder. After both arms were gone, the doctors moved on to the legs until only a head and torso remained. The victim was then used for plague and pathogens experiments. [80]

According to one estimate, the experiments carried out by Unit 731 alone caused 3,000 deaths. [81] Furthermore, according to the 2002 International Symposium on the Crimes of Bacteriological Warfare, the number of people killed by the Imperial Japanese Army germ warfare and human experiments is around 580,000. [82] Top officers of Unit 731 were not prosecuted for war crimes after the war, in exchange for turning over the results of their research to the Allies. They were also reportedly given responsible positions in Japan's pharmaceutical industry, medical schools and health ministry. [83] [84]

Unit 731 members spraying a noxious substance onto a victim as part of their "research". Unit 731 victim.jpg
Unit 731 members spraying a noxious substance onto a victim as part of their "research".

One case of human experimentation occurred in Japan itself. At least nine of 11 members of Lt. Marvin Watkins' 29th Bomb Group crew (of the 6th Bomb Squadron) survived the crash of their U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 bomber on Kyūshū, on 5 May 1945. [85] The bomber's commander was separated from his crew and sent to Tokyo for interrogation, while the other survivors were taken to the anatomy department of Kyushu University, at Fukuoka, where they were subjected to vivisection or killed. [86] [87]

In China, the Japanese waged ruthless biological warfare against Chinese civilians and soldiers. Japanese aviators sprayed fleas carrying plague germs over metropolitan areas, creating bubonic plague epidemics. [88] [89] Japanese soldiers used flasks of diseases-causing microbes, which included cholera, dysentery, typhoid, anthrax and paratyphoid, to contaminate rivers, wells, reservoirs and houses; mixed food with deadly bacteria to infect hungry Chinese civilians; and even passed out chocolate filled with anthrax bacteria to the local children. [90]

During the final months of World War II, Japan had planned to use plague as a biological weapon against U.S. civilians in San Diego, California, during Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, hoping that the plague would spread terror to the American population, and thereby dissuade America from attacking Japan. The plan was set to launch at night on 22 September 1945, but Japan surrendered five weeks earlier. [91] [92] [93] [94]

On 11 March 1948, 30 people, including several doctors and one female nurse, were brought to trial by the Allied war crimes tribunal. Charges of cannibalism were dropped, but 23 people were found guilty of vivisection or wrongful removal of body parts. Five were sentenced to death, four to life imprisonment, and the rest to shorter terms. In 1950, the military governor of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, commuted all of the death sentences and significantly reduced most of the prison terms. All of those convicted in relation to the university vivisection were free after 1958. [95]

In 2006, former IJN medical officer Akira Makino stated that he was ordered—as part of his training—to carry out vivisection on about 30 civilian prisoners in the Philippines between December 1944 and February 1945. [96] The surgery included amputations. [97] Most of Makino's victims were Moro Muslims. [98] [99] [100] [101] [102] Ken Yuasa, a former military doctor in China, has also admitted to similar incidents in which he was compelled to participate. [103]

The Imperial House of Japan was responsible for the human experimentation programs, as members of the imperial family, including, but not limited to, Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko, Prince Chichibu, Prince Mikasa and Prince Takeda Tsuneyoshi, participated in the programs in various ways, which included authorizing, funding, supplying, and inspecting biomedical facilities. [104] [105]

Use of chemical weapons

According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Kentaro Awaya, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, gas weapons, such as tear gas, were used only sporadically in 1937, but in early 1938 the Imperial Japanese Army began full-scale use of phosgene, chlorine, Lewisite and nausea gas (red), and from mid-1939, mustard gas (yellow) was used against both Kuomintang and Communist Chinese troops. [106] [107]

According to Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, Emperor Hirohito signed orders specifying the use of chemical weapons in China. [108] For example, during the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions, despite the 1899 Hague Declaration IV, 2 – Declaration on the Use of Projectiles the Object of Which is the Diffusion of Asphyxiating or Deleterious Gases [109] and Article 23 (a) of the 1907 Hague Convention IV – The Laws and Customs of War on Land. [24] [110] A resolution adopted by the League of Nations on 14 May condemned the use of poison gas by Japan.

Another example is the Battle of Yichang in October 1941, during which the 19th Artillery Regiment helped the 13th Brigade of the IJA 11th Army by launching 1,000 yellow gas shells and 1,500 red gas shells at the Chinese forces. The area was crowded with Chinese civilians unable to evacuate. Some 3,000 Chinese soldiers were in the area and 1,600 were affected. The Japanese report stated that "the effect of gas seems considerable". [111]

In 2004, Yoshimi and Yuki Tanaka discovered in the Australian National Archives documents showing that cyanide gas was tested on Australian and Dutch prisoners in November 1944 on Kai Islands (Indonesia). [112]

Torture of prisoners of war

A burial detail of American and Filipino POWs killed during the Bataan Death March, 1942. Photograph of American Prisoners Using Improvised Litters to Carry Comrades - NARA - 535565.tif
A burial detail of American and Filipino POWs killed during the Bataan Death March, 1942.

Japanese imperial forces employed widespread use of torture on prisoners, usually in an effort to gather military intelligence quickly. [113] Tortured prisoners were often later executed. A former Japanese Army officer who served in China, Uno Shintaro, stated:

The major means of getting intelligence was to extract information by interrogating prisoners. Torture was an unavoidable necessity. Murdering and burying them follows naturally. You do it so you won't be found out. I believed and acted this way because I was convinced of what I was doing. We carried out our duty as instructed by our masters. We did it for the sake of our country. From our filial obligation to our ancestors. On the battlefield, we never really considered the Chinese humans. When you're winning, the losers look really miserable. We concluded that the Yamato (Japanese) race was superior. [114]

The effectiveness of torture might also have been counterproductive to Japan's war effort. After the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, the Japanese military tortured a captured American P-51 fighter pilot named Marcus McDilda to discover how many atomic bombs the Allies had and what the future targets were. McDilda, who knew nothing about the atomic bomb nor the Manhattan Project, "confessed" under torture that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs and that Tokyo and Kyoto were next targets:

As you know, when atoms are split, there are a lot of pluses and minuses released. Well, we've taken these and put them in a huge container and separated them from each other with a lead shield. When the box is dropped out of a plane, we melt the lead shield and the pluses and minuses come together. When that happens, it causes a tremendous bolt of lightning and all the atmosphere over a city is pushed back! Then when the atmosphere rolls back, it brings about a tremendous thunderclap, which knocks down everything beneath it.

Marcus McDilda, [115]

McDilda's false confession may have swayed the Japanese leaders' decision to surrender. [115]

According to many historians, one of the favorite techniques of Japanese torturers was "simulated drowning", in which water was poured over the immobilized victim's head, until they suffocated and lost consciousness. They were then resuscitated brutally (usually with the torturer jumping on their abdomen to expel the water) and then subjected to a new session of torture. The entire process could be repeated for about twenty minutes. [lower-alpha 1]

Execution and killing of captured Allied airmen

A blindfolded Doolittle Raider taken captive in 1942. Doolittle Raider RL Hite blindfolded by Japanese 1942.jpg
A blindfolded Doolittle Raider taken captive in 1942.

Many Allied airmen captured by the Japanese on land or at sea were executed in accordance with official Japanese policy. During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, three American airmen who were shot down and landed at sea were spotted and captured by Japanese warships. After brief interrogations, two airmen were killed, their bodies then tied to five-gallon kerosene cans filled with water and dumped overboard from destroyer Makigumo; the third was killed and his body dumped overboard from Arashi .[ citation needed ]

On 13 August 1942, Japan passed the Enemy Airmen's Act, which stated that Allied pilots who bombed non-military targets in the Pacific Theater and were captured on land or at sea by Japanese forces were subject to trial and punishment despite the absence of any international law containing provisions regarding aerial warfare. [119] This legislation was passed in response to the Doolittle Raid, which occurred on 18 April 1942, in which American B-25 bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle bombed Tokyo and other Japanese cities. According to the Hague Convention of 1907 (the only convention which Japan had ratified regarding the treatment of prisoners of war), any military personnel captured on land or at sea by enemy troops were to be treated as prisoners of war and not punished for simply being lawful combatants. Eight Doolittle Raiders captured upon landing in China (four months before the passage of the Act) were the first Allied aircrew to be brought before a kangaroo court in Shanghai under the act, charged with alleged (but unproven) strafing of Japanese civilians during the Doolittle Raid. The eight aircrew were forbidden to give any defense and, despite the lack of legitimate evidences, were found guilty of participating in aerial military operations against Japan. Five of the eight sentences were commuted to life imprisonment; the other three airmen were taken to a cemetery outside Shanghai, where they were executed by firing squad on 14 October 1942. [120] [121]

The Enemy Airmen's Act contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Allied airmen throughout the Pacific War. An estimated 132 Allied airmen shot down during the bombing campaign against Japan in 1944–1945 were summarily executed after short kangaroo trials or drumhead courts-martial. Imperial Japanese military personnel deliberately killed 33 American airmen at Fukuoka, including fifteen who were beheaded shortly after the Japanese Government's intention to surrender was announced on 15 August 1945. [122] [ full citation needed ] Mobs of civilians also killed several Allied airmen before the Japanese military arrived to take the airmen into custody. [123] Another 94 airmen died from other causes while in Japanese custody, including 52 who were killed when they were deliberately abandoned in a prison during the bombing of Tokyo on 24–25 May 1945. [124] [125]


Many written reports and testimonies which were collected by the Australian War Crimes Section of the Tokyo tribunal, and investigated by prosecutor William Webb (the tribunal's future Judge-in-Chief), indicate that Japanese personnel committed acts of cannibalism against Allied prisoners of war in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. In many cases these acts of cannibalism were inspired by ever-increasing Allied attacks on Japanese supply lines, and the death and illness of Japanese personnel which resulted from hunger. According to historian Yuki Tanaka: "cannibalism was often a systematic activity which was conducted by whole squads which were under the command of officers." [126] This frequently involved murder for the purpose of securing bodies. For example, an Indian POW, Havildar Changdi Ram, testified that: "[on November 12, 1944] the Kempeitai beheaded [an Allied] pilot. I saw this from behind a tree and watched some of the Japanese cut flesh from his arms, legs, hips, buttocks and carry it off to their quarters ... They cut it [into] small pieces and fried it." [127] [128]

In some cases, flesh was cut from living people: another Indian POW, Lance Naik Hatam Ali (later a citizen of Pakistan), testified in New Guinea and stated:

... the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 50 miles [80 km] away where 10 prisoners died of sickness. At this place, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died. [129]

According to another account by Jemadar Abdul Latif of 4/9 Jat Regiment of the Indian Army who was rescued by the Australian army at the Sepik Bay in 1945:

At the village of Suaid, a Japanese medical officer periodically visited the Indian compound and selected each time the healthiest men. These men were taken away ostensibly for carrying out duties, but they never reappeared. [130]

Perhaps the most senior officer convicted of cannibalism was Lt Gen. Yoshio Tachibana (立花芳夫,Tachibana Yoshio), who with 11 other Japanese personnel was tried in August 1946 in relation to the execution of U.S. Navy airmen, and the cannibalism of at least one of them, during August 1944, on Chichi Jima, in the Bonin Islands. The airmen were beheaded on Tachibana's orders. Because military and international law did not specifically deal with cannibalism, they were tried for murder and "prevention of honorable burial". Tachibana was sentenced to death, and hanged. [131]

Avoidable hunger

Australian and Dutch prisoners of war at Tarsau in Thailand, 1943. POWs Burma Thai RR.jpg
Australian and Dutch prisoners of war at Tarsau in Thailand, 1943.

Deaths caused by the diversion of resources to Japanese troops in occupied countries are also considered war crimes by many people.[ who? ] Millions of civilians in South Asia – especially in Vietnam and Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), who were major producers of rice – died during an avoidable hunger in 1944–45. [132]

Forced labor

Japanese soldiers escorting Chinese forced-labour farm workers in 1937 Baoshan1937-Asahi-01-1a.jpg
Japanese soldiers escorting Chinese forced-labour farm workers in 1937

The Japanese military's use of forced labor, by Asian civilians and POWs also caused many deaths. According to a joint study by historians including Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyoshi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilised by the Kōa-in (Japanese Asia Development Board) for forced labour. [133] More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway. [134]

The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java the Japanese military forced between four and ten million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborers") to work. [135] About 270 000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in Southeast Asia, but only 52 000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of eighty percent.

According to historian Akira Fujiwara, Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the decision to remove the constraints of international law (The Hague Conventions) on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war in the directive of 5 August 1937. This notification also advised staff officers to stop using the term "prisoners of war". [136] The Geneva Convention exempted POWs of sergeant rank or higher from manual labour, and stipulated that prisoners performing work should be provided with extra rations and other essentials. Japan was not a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War at the time, and Japanese forces did not follow the convention, although they ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Sick And Wounded. [21]


The expressions ianpu (" comfort women") or jongun-ianpu (" women of military comfort") are euphemisms for women used in military brothels in occupied countries, many of whom were forcefully recruited or recruited through fraud, and who are considered victims of sexual assault and/or sexual slavery. [137] [138]

In 1992, historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi published material based on his research in archives at Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies. Yoshimi claimed that there was a direct link between imperial institutions such as the Kōain and "comfort stations". When Yoshimi's findings were published in the Japanese news media on 12 January 1993, they caused a sensation and forced the government, represented by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Koichi, to acknowledge some of the facts that same day. On 17 January, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa presented formal apologies for the suffering of the victims, during a trip in South Korea. On 6 July and 4 August, the Japanese government issued two statements by which it recognised that "Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military of the day", "The Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women" and that the women were "recruited in many cases against their own will through coaxing and coercion". [139]

The controversy was re-ignited on 1 March 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe mentioned suggestions that a U.S. House of Representatives committee would call on the Japanese Government to "apologize for and acknowledge" the role of the Japanese Imperial military in wartime sex slavery. Abe denied that it applied to comfort stations. "There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it." [140] Abe's comments provoked negative reactions overseas. For example, a New York Times editorial on 6 March said: [141]

These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army's involvement is documented in the government's own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993 ... Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn't the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea, China, and the Philippines are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.

The same day, veteran soldier Yasuji Kaneko admitted to The Washington Post that the women "cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance." [142]

The Bahay na Pula in the Philippines, was an example of a military-operated garrison where local women were raped. [143]

On 17 April 2007, Yoshimi and another historian, Hirofumi Hayashi, announced the discovery, in the archives of the Tokyo Trials, of seven official documents suggesting that Imperial military forces, such as the Tokkeitai (naval secret police), directly coerced women to work in frontline brothels in China, Indochina and Indonesia. These documents were initially made public at the war crimes trial. In one of these, a lieutenant is quoted as confessing having organized a brothel and having used it himself. Another source refers to Tokkeitai members having arrested women on the streets, and after enforced medical examinations, putting them in brothels. [144]

On 12 May 2007, journalist Taichiro Kaijimura announced the discovery of 30 Netherland government documents submitted to the Tokyo tribunal as evidence of a forced massed prostitution incident in 1944 in Magelang. [145]

In other cases, some victims from East Timor testified they were dragged from their homes and forced into prostitution at military brothels even when they were not old enough to have started menstruating and were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers "Night after Night". [146]

A Dutch-Indonesian comfort woman, Jan Ruff O'Herne (now resident in Australia), who gave evidence to the U.S. committee, said the Japanese Government had failed to take responsibility for its crimes, that it did not want to pay compensation to victims and that it wanted to rewrite history. Ruff O'Herne said that she had been raped "day and night" for three months by Japanese soldiers when she was 21. [147]

Only one Japanese woman published her testimony. In 1971 a former comfort woman, forced to work for Japanese soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota. [148]

There are different theories on the breakdown of the comfort women's place of origin. While some Japanese sources claim that the majority of the women were from Japan, others, including Yoshimi, argue as many as 200,000 women, [149] [150] mostly from Korea, and some other countries such as China, Philippines, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Netherlands, [151] and Australia [152] were forced to engage in sexual activity. [153] [154] [155] [156] In June 2014, more official documents from the government of Japan's archives were made public, documenting sexual violence committed by Imperial Japanese soldiers in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia. [157]

On 26 June 2007, the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution asking that Japan "should acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its military's coercion of women into sexual slavery during the war". [158] On 30 July 2007, the House of Representatives passed the resolution. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said this decision was "regrettable". [158]


Several scholars have claimed that the Japanese government along with Japanese military personnel engaged in widespread looting during the period of 1895 to 1945. [159] [160] The stolen property included private land, as well as many different kinds of valuable goods looted from banks, Depositories, vaults, temples, churches, mosques, art galleries, commercial offices, libraries (including Buddhist monasteries), museums and other commercial premises as well as private homes. [161]

In China, an eyewitness, journalist F. Tillman of The New York Times , sent an article to his newspaper where he described the Imperial Japanese Army's entry into Nanjing in December 1937: "the plunder carried out by the Japanese reached almost the entire city. Almost all buildings were entered by Japanese soldiers, often in the sight of their officers, and the men took whatever they wanted. Japanese soldiers often forced Chinese to carry the loot." [162]

In Korea, it is estimated that about 100,000 priceless artifacts and cultural goods were looted by Japanese colonial authorities and private collectors during the nearly fifty years of military occupation. The Administration claims that there are 41,109 cultural objects which are located in Japan but remain unreported by the Japanese authorities. Unlike the works of art looted by Nazis in Europe, the return of property to its rightful owners or even the discussion of financial reparations in the post-war period, met with strong resistance from the American government, particularly General Douglas MacArthur. [163]

According to several historians, MacArthur's disagreement was not based on issues of rights, ethics or morals, but on political convenience. He spoke on the topic in a radio message to the U.S. Army in May 1948, the transcript of which was found by the magazine Time in the U.S. National Archives. In it MacArthur states: "I am completely at odds with the minority view of replacing lost or destroyed cultural property as a result of military action and occupation". With the advent of Cold War, the general feared "embittering the Japanese people towards us and making Japan vulnerable to ideological pressures and a fertile ground for subversive action". [163]

Kyoichi Arimitsu, one of the last living survivors of the Japanese archeological missions which operated on the Korean peninsula, which started early in the twentieth century, agrees that the plunder in the 1930s was out of control, but that researchers and academics, such as him, had nothing to do with it. However, he recognizes that the excavated pieces which were deemed to be most historically significant were sent to the Japanese governor-general, who then decided what would be sent to Emperor Hirohito. [164]

In 1965, Japan and South Korea negotiated a treaty to reestablish diplomatic relations and the issue of returning the cultural artifacts was raised. However, the then South Korean dictator, Park Chung-hee, preferred to receive cash compensation that would allow him to build highways and steelworks; works of art and cultural goods were not a priority. As a result, at the time the Koreans had to settle for the return of only 1,326 items, including 852 rare books and 438 ceramic pieces. The Japanese claim that this put an end to any Korean claim regarding reparation for cultural goods (or of any other nature). [165] [166] American journalist Brad Glosserman has stated that an increasing number of South Koreans are raising the issue of the repatriation of stolen cultural artifacts from Japan due to rising affluence among the general populace as well as increased national confidence. [166]


Throughout the Pacific War, Japanese soldiers often feigned injury or surrender to lure the approaching American forces before attacking them. One of the most famous examples of this was the "Goettge Patrol" during the early days of the Guadalcanal Campaign in August 1942. After the patrol saw a white flag displayed on the west bank of Matanikau River, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Frank Goettge assembled 25 men, primarily consisting of intelligence personnel, to search the area. Unknown to the patrol, the white flag was actually a Japanese flag with the Hinomaru disc insignia obscured. A Japanese prisoner earlier deliberately tricked the Marines into an ambush by telling them that there were a number of Japanese soldiers west of the Matanikau River who wanted to surrender. [167] The Goettge Patrol landed by boat west of the Lunga Point perimeter, between Point Cruz and the Matanikau River, on a reconnaissance mission to contact a group of Japanese troops that American forces believed might be willing to surrender. Soon after the patrol landed, a group of Japanese naval troops ambushed and almost completely wiped out the patrol. Goettge was among the dead. Only three Americans made it back to American lines in the Lunga Point perimeter alive. News of the killing and treachery by the Japanese outraged the American Marines:

This was the first mass killing of the Marines on Guadalcanal. We were shocked. Shocked ... because headquarters had believed anything a Jap had to say ... The loss of this patrol and the particularly cruel way in which they had met death, hardened our hearts toward the Japanese. The idea of taking prisoners was swept from our minds. It was too dangerous. [168]

Second Lieutenant D. A. Clark of the 7th Marines told a similar story while patrolling Guadalcanal:

I was on my first patrol here, and we were moving up a dry stream bed. We saw 3 Japs come down the river bed out of the jungle. The one in front was carrying a white flag. We thought they were surrendering. When they got up to us they dropped the white flag and then all 3 threw hand grenades. We killed 2 of these Japs, but 1 got away. Apparently they do not mind a sacrifice to get information. [167]

Samuel Eliot Morison, in his book, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, wrote:

There were innumerable incidents such as a wounded Japanese soldier at Guadalcanal seizing a scalpel and burying it in the back of a surgeon who was about to save his life by an operation; and a survivor of the Battle of Vella Lavella, rescued by PT-163, pulling a gun and killing a bluejacket in the act of giving a Japanese sailor a cup of coffee. [169]

(A PT is a patrol torpedo boat and a bluejacket is an enlisted sailor.)

These incidents, along with many other perfidious actions of the Japanese throughout the Pacific War, led to an American tendency to shoot the dead or wounded Japanese soldiers and those who were attempting to surrender and not take them as prisoners of war easily. Two Marines of Iwo Jima told cautionary tales. One confided:

They always told you take prisoners but we had some bad experiences on Saipan taking prisoners, you take them and then as soon as they get behind the lines they drop grenades and you lose a few more people. You get a little bit leery of taking prisoners when they are fighting to the death and so are you." The other reported, "Very few of them came out on their own; when they did, why, usually one in the front he'd come out with his hands up and one behind him, he'd come out with a grenade." [170] [171] [172]

Attacks on hospital ships

Hospital ships are painted white with large red crosses to show they are not combat ships, but ships with wounded and medical staff. Japan had signed the Hague Convention X of 1907 that stated attacking a hospital ship is a war crime. [173] [174]

War crime trials

General Tomoyuki Yamashita (2nd right) under trial in 1945 by a U.S. military commission for the Manila massacre and other violations in Singapore. He was sentenced to death. The case set a precedent (the "Yamashita Standard") on the responsibility of commanders for war crimes. Japanese War Crimes Trials. Manila - NARA - 292613.jpg
General Tomoyuki Yamashita (2nd right) under trial in 1945 by a U.S. military commission for the Manila massacre and other violations in Singapore. He was sentenced to death. The case set a precedent (the "Yamashita Standard") on the responsibility of commanders for war crimes.

Soon after the war, the Allied powers indicted 25 persons as Class-A war criminals, and 5,700 persons were indicted as Class-B or Class-C war criminals by Allied criminal trials. Of these, 984 were initially condemned to death, 920 were actually executed, 475 received life sentences, 2,944 received some prison terms, 1,018 were acquitted, and 279 were not sentenced or not brought to trial. These numbers included 178 ethnic Taiwanese and 148 ethnic Koreans. [187] The Class-A charges were all tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as "the Tokyo Trials". Other courts were formed in many different places in Asia and the Pacific.

Tokyo Trials

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was formed to try accused people in Japan itself.

High-ranking officers who were tried included Kōichi Kido and Sadao Araki. Three former (unelected) prime ministers: Kōki Hirota, Hideki Tojo and Kuniaki Koiso were convicted of Class-A war crimes. Many military leaders were also convicted. Two people convicted as Class-A war criminals later served as ministers in post-war Japanese governments.

Hirohito and all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Asaka, Prince Takeda and Prince Higashikuni were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by MacArthur, with the help of Bonner Fellers who allowed the major criminal suspects to coordinate their stories so that the Emperor would be spared from indictment. [188] Some historians criticize this decision. According to John Dower, "with the full support of MacArthur's headquarters, the prosecution functioned, in effect, as a defense team for the emperor" [189] and even Japanese activists who endorse the ideals of the Nuremberg and Tokyo charters, and who have labored to document and publicize the atrocities of the Showa regime "cannot defend the American decision to exonerate the emperor of war responsibility and then, in the chill of the Cold War, release and soon afterwards openly embrace accused right-winged war criminals like the later prime minister Nobusuke Kishi." [190] For Herbert Bix, "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war." [191] MacArthur's reasoning was that if the emperor were executed or sentenced to life imprisonment, there would be a violent backlash and revolution from the Japanese from all social classes, which would interfere with his primary goal to change Japan from a militarist, semi-feudal society to a pro-Western modern democracy. In a cable sent to General Dwight Eisenhower in February 1946, MacArthur said executing or imprisoning the emperor would require the use of one million occupation soldiers to keep the peace. [192]

Other trials

Sergeant Hosotani Naoji of the Kempeitai unit at Sandakan (North Borneo), is interrogated on 26 October 1945, by Squadron Leader F.G. Birchall of the Royal Australian Air Force, and Sergeant Mamo (a Nisei interpreter). Naoji confessed to shooting two Australian POWs and five ethnic Chinese civilians. AWM 121782 sandakan.jpg
Sergeant Hosotani Naoji of the Kempeitai unit at Sandakan (North Borneo), is interrogated on 26 October 1945, by Squadron Leader F.G. Birchall of the Royal Australian Air Force, and Sergeant Mamo (a Nisei interpreter). Naoji confessed to shooting two Australian POWs and five ethnic Chinese civilians.
In Singapore, a hooded Lieutenant Nakamura is led to the scaffold after being found guilty of beheading an Indian soldier on the Palau Islands, March 1946. Japanese War Crimes Trial in Singapore SE6985.jpg
In Singapore, a hooded Lieutenant Nakamura is led to the scaffold after being found guilty of beheading an Indian soldier on the Palau Islands, March 1946.

Between 1946 and 1951, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, the Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the Philippines all held military tribunals to try Japanese indicted for Class B and Class C war crimes. Some 5,600 Japanese personnel were prosecuted in more than 2,200 trials outside Japan. Class B defendants were accused of having committed such crimes themselves; class C defendants, mostly senior officers, were accused of planning, ordering or failing to prevent them.[ citation needed ]

The judges presiding came from the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, France, the Soviet Union, New Zealand, India and the Philippines. Additionally, the Chinese Communists also held a number of trials for Japanese personnel. More than 4,400 Japanese personnel were convicted and about 1,000 were sentenced to death.[ citation needed ]

The largest single trial was that of 93 Japanese personnel charged with the summary execution of more than 300 Allied POWs, in the Laha massacre (1942). The most prominent ethnic Korean convicted was Lieutenant General Hong Sa Ik, who orchestrated the organisation of prisoner of war camps in Southeast Asia. In 2006, the South Korean government "pardoned" 83 of the 148 convicted Korean war criminals. [31] One hundred-sixty Taiwanese who had served in the forces of the Empire of Japan were convicted of war crimes and 11 were executed. [30]

Post-war events and reactions

The parole-for-war-criminals movement

In 1950, after most Allied war crimes trials had ended, thousands of convicted war criminals sat in prisons across Asia and across Europe, detained in the countries where they were convicted. Some executions were still outstanding as many Allied courts agreed to reexamine their verdicts, reducing sentences in some cases and instituting a system of parole, but without relinquishing control over the fate of the imprisoned (even after Japan and Germany had regained their status as sovereign countries).[ citation needed ]

An intense and broadly supported campaign for amnesty for all imprisoned war criminals ensued (more aggressively in Germany than in Japan at first), as attention turned away from the top wartime leaders and towards the majority of "ordinary" war criminals (Class B/C in Japan), and the issue of criminal responsibility was reframed as a humanitarian problem.

On 7 March 1950, MacArthur issued a directive that reduced the sentences by one-third for good behavior and authorized the parole of those who had received life sentences after fifteen years. Several of those who were imprisoned were released earlier on parole due to ill-health.[ citation needed ]

The Japanese popular reaction to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal found expression in demands for the mitigation of the sentences of war criminals and agitation for parole. Shortly after the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in April 1952, a movement demanding the release of B- and C-class war criminals began, emphasizing the "unfairness of the war crimes tribunals" and the "misery and hardship of the families of war criminals". The movement quickly garnered the support of more than ten million Japanese. In the face of this surge of public opinion, the government commented that "public sentiment in our country is that the war criminals are not criminals. Rather, they gather great sympathy as victims of the war, and the number of people concerned about the war crimes tribunal system itself is steadily increasing."[ citation needed ]

The parole-for-war-criminals movement was driven by two groups: those from outside who had "a sense of pity" for the prisoners; and the war criminals themselves who called for their own release as part of an anti-war peace movement. The movement that arose out of "a sense of pity" demanded "just set them free (tonikaku shakuho o) regardless of how it is done".

On 4 September 1952, President Truman issued Executive Order 10393, establishing a Clemency and Parole Board for War Criminals to advise the President with respect to recommendations by the Government of Japan for clemency, reduction of sentence, or parole, with respect to sentences imposed on Japanese war criminals by military tribunals. [193]

On 26 May 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles rejected a proposed amnesty for the imprisoned war criminals but instead agreed to "change the ground rules" by reducing the period required for eligibility for parole from 15 years to 10. [194]

By the end of 1958, all Japanese war criminals, including A-, B- and C-class were released from prison and politically rehabilitated. Hashimoto Kingorō, Hata Shunroku, Minami Jirō, and Oka Takazumi were all released on parole in 1954. Araki Sadao, Hiranuma Kiichirō, Hoshino Naoki, Kaya Okinori, Kido Kōichi, Ōshima Hiroshi, Shimada Shigetarō, and Suzuki Teiichi were released on parole in 1955. Satō Kenryō, whom many, including Judge B.V.A. Röling regarded as one of the convicted war criminals least deserving of imprisonment, was not granted parole until March 1956, the last of the Class A Japanese war criminals to be released. On 7 April 1957, the Japanese government announced that, with the concurrence of a majority of the powers represented on the tribunal, the last ten major Japanese war criminals who had previously been paroled were granted clemency and were to be regarded henceforth as unconditionally free from the terms of their parole.[ citation needed ]

Official apologies

The Japanese government considers that the legal and moral positions in regard to war crimes are separate. Therefore, while maintaining that Japan violated no international law or treaties, Japanese governments have officially recognised the suffering which the Japanese military caused, and numerous apologies have been issued by the Japanese government. For example, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, in August 1995, stated that Japan "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations", and he expressed his "feelings of deep remorse" and stated his "heartfelt apology". Also, on 29 September 1972, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka stated: "[t]he Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself." [195]

The official apologies are widely viewed as inadequate or only a symbolic exchange by many of the survivors of such crimes or the families of dead victims. In October 2006, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed an apology for the damage caused by its colonial rule and aggression, more than 80 Japanese lawmakers from his ruling party LDP paid visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Many people aggrieved by Japanese war crimes also maintain that no apology has been issued for particular acts or that the Japanese government has merely expressed "regret" or "remorse". [196] On 2 March 2007, the issue was raised again by Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe, in which he denied that the military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II. He stated, "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion." Before he spoke, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers also sought to revise the Kono Statement. [12] [17] This provoked negative reaction from Asian and Western countries.

On 31 October 2008, the chief of staff of Japan's Air Self-Defense Force Toshio Tamogami was dismissed with a 60 million yen allowance [197] due to an essay he published, arguing that Japan was not an aggressor during World War II, that the war brought prosperity to China, Taiwan and Korea, that the Imperial Japanese Army's conduct was not violent and that the Greater East Asia War is viewed in a positive way by many Asian countries and criticizing the war crimes trials which followed the war. [198] On 11 November, Tamogami added before the Diet that the personal apology made in 1995 by former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama was "a tool to suppress free speech". [197]

Some in Japan have asserted that what is being demanded is that the Japanese Prime Minister or the Emperor perform dogeza , in which an individual kneels and bows his head to the ground—a high form of apology in East Asian societies that Japan appears unwilling to do. [199] Some point to an act by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who knelt at a monument to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1970, as an example of a powerful and effective act of apology and reconciliation similar to dogeza. [200]

On 13 September 2010, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met in Tokyo with six former American POWs of the Japanese and apologized for their treatment during World War II. Okada said: "You have all been through hardships during World War II, being taken prisoner by the Japanese military, and suffered extremely inhumane treatment. On behalf of the Japanese government and as the foreign minister, I would like to offer you my heartfelt apology." [201]

On 29 November 2011, Japanese Foreign Minister Kōichirō Genba apologized to former Australian POWs on behalf of the Japanese government for pain and suffering inflicted on them during the war. [202]


The Japanese government, while admitting no legal responsibility for the so-called "comfort women", set up the Asian Women's Fund in 1995, which gives money to people who claim to have been forced into prostitution during the war. Though the organisation was established by the government, legally, it has been created such that it is an independent charity. The activities of the fund have been controversial in Japan, as well as with international organisations supporting the women concerned.[ citation needed ] Some argue that such a fund is part of an ongoing refusal by the Japanese government to face up to its responsibilities, while others say that the Japanese government has long since finalised its responsibility to individual victims and is merely correcting the failures of the victims' own governments. California Congressman Mike Honda, speaking before U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of the women, said that "without a sincere and unequivocal apology from the government of Japan, the majority of surviving Comfort Women refused to accept these funds. In fact, as you will hear today, many Comfort Women returned the Prime Minister's letter of apology accompanying the monetary compensation, saying they felt the apology was artificial and disingenuous." [203]

Intermediate compensation

The term "intermediate compensation" (or intermediary compensation) was applied to the removal and reallocation of Japanese industrial (particularly military-industrial) assets to Allied countries. It was conducted under the supervision of Allied occupation forces. This reallocation was referred to as "intermediate" because it did not amount to a final settlement by means of bilateral treaties, which settled all existing issues of compensation. By 1950, the assets reallocated amounted to 43,918 items of machinery, valued at ¥165,158,839 (in 1950 prices). The proportions in which the assets were distributed were: China, 54.1%; the Netherlands, 11.5%; the Philippines 19%, and; the United Kingdom, 15.4%.[ citation needed ]

Compensation under the San Francisco Treaty

Compensation from Japanese overseas assets
Japanese overseas assets in 1945
Country/regionValue (1945, ¥15=US$1)2021 US dollars [204]
North East China146,532,000,000$140 billion
Korea70,256,000,000$67.3 billion
North China55,437,000,000$53.1 billion
Taiwan42,542,000,000$40.8 billion
Central South China36,718,000,000$35.2 billion
Others28,014,000,000$26.8 billion
Total¥379,499,000,000$364 billion

Japanese overseas assets refers to all assets which were owned by the Japanese government, firms, organizations and private citizens, in colonized or occupied countries. In accordance with Clause 14 of the San Francisco Treaty, Allied forces confiscated all Japanese overseas assets, except those in China, which were dealt with under Clause 21.

Compensation to Allied POWs

Clause 16 of the San Francisco Treaty stated that Japan would transfer its assets and those of its citizens in countries which were at war with any of the Allied Powers or which were neutral, or equivalents, to the Red Cross, which would sell them and distribute the funds to former prisoners of war and their families. Accordingly, the Japanese government and private citizens paid out £4,500,000 to the Red Cross.[ citation needed ]

According to historian Linda Goetz Holmes, many funds used by the government of Japan were not Japanese funds but relief funds contributed by the governments of the US, the UK and the Netherlands and sequestred in the Yokohama Specie Bank during the final year of the war. [205]

Allied territories occupied by Japan
Japanese compensation to countries occupied during 1941–45
CountryAmount in YenAmount in US$ 2021 US dollars [204] Date of treaty
Burma72,000,000,000200,000,000$1.93 billion5 November 1955
Philippines198,000,000,000550,000,000$5.24 billion9 May 1956
Indonesia80,388,000,000223,080,000$2 billion20 January 1958
South Vietnam14,400,000,00038,000,000$337 million13 May 1959

Clause 14 of the treaty stated that Japan would enter into negotiations with Allied powers whose territories were occupied by Japan and suffered damage by Japanese forces, with a view to Japan compensating those countries for the damage.

Accordingly, the Philippines and South Vietnam received compensation in 1956 and 1959 respectively. Burma and Indonesia were not original signatories, but they later signed bilateral treaties in accordance with clause 14 of the San Francisco Treaty.[ citation needed ]

The last payment was made to the Philippines on 22 July 1976.[ citation needed ]

Debate in Japan

From a fringe topic to an open debate

Hideki Tojo and Nobusuke Kishi, who was imprisoned as a war criminal. Hideki Tojo and Nobusuke Kishi in 1943.jpg
Hideki Tōjō and Nobusuke Kishi, who was imprisoned as a war criminal.

Until the 1970s, Japanese war crimes were considered a fringe topic in the media. In the Japanese media, the opinions of the political centre and left tend to dominate the editorials of newspapers, while the right tend to dominate magazines. Debates regarding war crimes were confined largely to the editorials of tabloid magazines where calls for the overthrow of "Imperialist America" and revived veneration of the Emperor coexisted with pornography. In 1972, to commemorate the normalisation of relationship with China, Asahi Shimbun , a major liberal newspaper, ran a series on Japanese war crimes in China including the Nanjing massacre. This opened the floodgates to debates which have continued ever since. The 1990s are generally considered to be the period in which such issues become truly mainstream, and incidents such as the Nanking Massacre, Yasukuni Shrine, comfort women, the accuracy of school history textbooks, and the validity of the Tokyo Trials were debated, even on television.

As the consensus of Japanese jurists is that Japanese forces did not technically commit violations of international law, many right wing elements in Japan have taken this to mean that war crimes trials were examples of victor's justice. They see those convicted of war crimes as "Martyrs of Shōwa" (昭和殉難者, Shōwa Junnansha), Shōwa being the name given to the rule of Hirohito. This interpretation is vigorously contested by Japanese peace groups and the political left. In the past, these groups have tended to argue that the trials hold some validity, either under the Geneva Convention (even though Japan hadn't signed it), or under an undefined concept of international law or consensus. Alternatively, they have argued that, although the trials may not have been technically valid, they were still just, somewhat in line with popular opinion in the West and in the rest of Asia.

By the early 21st century, the revived interest in Japan's imperial past had brought new interpretations from a group which has been labelled both "new right" and "new left". This group points out that many acts committed by Japanese forces, including the Nanjing Incident, were violations of the Japanese military code. It is suggested that had war crimes tribunals been conducted by the post-war Japanese government, in strict accordance with Japanese military law, many of those who were accused would still have been convicted and executed. Therefore, the moral and legal failures in question were the fault of the Japanese military and the government, for not executing their constitutionally defined duty.

The new right/new left also takes the view that the Allies committed no war crimes against Japan, because Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and as a victors, the Allies had every right to demand some form of retribution, to which Japan consented in various treaties.

Member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" putting up a banner reading "[Give] the children correct history textbooks" in front of the Yasukuni Jinja. Revisionists Yasukuni 1.jpg
Member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" putting up a banner reading "[Give] the children correct history textbooks" in front of the Yasukuni Jinja.

Under the same logic, the new right/new left considers the killing of Chinese who were suspected of guerrilla activity to be perfectly legal and valid, including some of those killed at Nanjing, for example. They also take the view that many Chinese civilian casualties resulted from the scorched earth tactics of the Chinese nationalists. Though such tactics are arguably legal, the new right/new left takes the position that some of the civilian deaths caused by these scorched earth tactics are wrongly attributed to the Japanese military.

Similarly, they take the position that those who have attempted to sue the Japanese government for compensation have no legal or moral case.

The new right and new left also take a less sympathetic view of Korean claims of victimhood, because prior to annexation by Japan, Korea was a tributary of the Qing dynasty and, according to them, the Japanese colonisation, though undoubtedly harsh, was "better" than the previous rule in terms of human rights and economic development.

They also argue that, the Kantōgun (also known as the Kwantung Army) was at least partly culpable. Although the Kantōgun was nominally subordinate to the Japanese high command at the time, its leadership demonstrated significant self-determination, as shown by its involvement in the plot to assassinate Zhang Zuolin in 1928, and the Manchurian Incident of 1931, which led to the foundation of Manchukuo in 1932. Moreover, at that time, it was the official policy of the Japanese high command to confine the conflict to Manchuria. But in defiance of the high command, the Kantōgun invaded China proper, under the pretext of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The Japanese government not only failed to court martial the officers responsible for these incidents, but it also accepted the war against China, and many of those who were involved were even promoted. (Some of the officers involved in the Nanking Massacre were also promoted.)

Whether or not Hirohito himself bears any responsibility for such failures is a sticking point between the new right and new left. Officially, the imperial constitution, adopted under Emperor Meiji, gave full powers to the Emperor. Article 4 prescribed that "The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution" and article 11 prescribed that "The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and the Navy".

For historian Akira Fujiwara, the thesis that the emperor as an organ of responsibility could not reverse cabinet decisions is a myth (shinwa) fabricated after the war. [206] Others argue that Hirohito deliberately styled his rule in the manner of the British constitutional monarchy, and he always accepted the decisions and consensus reached by the high command. According to this position, the moral and political failure rests primarily with the Japanese High Command and the Cabinet, most of whom were later convicted at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as class-A war criminals, absolving all members of the imperial family such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, Prince Higashikuni, Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi and Prince Takeda.

Nippon Kaigi, the main negationist lobby

The denial of Japanese war crimes is one of the key missions of the openly negationist lobby Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a nationalistic nonparty organisation that was established in 1997 and also advocates patriotic education, the revision of the constitution, and official visits to Yasukuni Shrine. [207] [208] [209] [210] Nippon Kaigi's members and affiliates include lawmakers, ministers, a few prime ministers, and the chief priests of prominent Shinto shrines. The chairman, Toru Miyoshi, is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Japan.[ citation needed ] Former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, is a member of the Nippon Kaigi. [211]

Later investigations

As with investigations of Nazi war criminals, official investigations and inquiries are still ongoing.[ as of? ] During the 1990s, the South Korean government started investigating some people who had allegedly become wealthy while collaborating with the Japanese military. [212] [213] In South Korea, it is also alleged that during the political climate of the Cold War, many such people or their associates or relatives were able to acquire influence with the wealth they had acquired collaborating with the Japanese and assisted in the covering-up, or non-investigation, of war crimes in order not to incriminate themselves. With the wealth they had amassed during the years of collaboration, they were able to further benefit their families by obtaining higher education for their relatives. [213]

Further evidence has been discovered as a result of these investigations. It has been claimed that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed the reports on Korean comfort women. [214] [215] Some have cited Japanese inventory logs and employee sheets on the battlefield as evidence for this claim. For example, one of the names on the list was of a comfort woman who stated she was forced to be a prostitute by the Japanese. She was classified as a nurse along with at least a dozen other verified comfort women who were not nurses or secretaries. Currently, the South Korean government is looking into the hundreds of other names on these lists. [216]

In 2011, it was alleged in an article published in the Japan Times newspaper by Jason Coskrey that the British government covered up a Japanese massacre of British and Dutch POWs to avoid straining the recently re-opened relationship with Japan, along with their belief that Japan needed to be a post-war bulwark against the spread of communism. [217]

Tamaki Matsuoka's 2009 documentary Torn Memories of Nanjing includes interviews with Japanese veterans who admit to raping and killing Chinese civilians. [218]

Concerns of the Japanese Imperial Family

Potentially in contrast to Prime Minister Abe's example of his Yasukuni Shrine visits, by February 2015, some concern within the Imperial House of Japan — which normally does not issue such statements – over the issue was voiced by then-Crown Prince Naruhito, [219] who succeeded his father on 1 May 2019. Naruhito stated on his 55th birthday (23 February 2015) that it was "important to look back on the past humbly and correctly", in reference to Japan's role in World War II-era war crimes, and that he was concerned about the ongoing need to "correctly pass down tragic experiences and the history behind Japan to the generations who have no direct knowledge of the war, at the time memories of the war are about to fade". [220] Two visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in the second half of 2016 by Japan's former foreign minister, Masahiro Imamura, were again followed by controversy that still showed potential for concern over how Japan's World War II history may be remembered by its citizens [221] [222] as it entered the Reiwa era.

List of major crimes

See also

Japanese movements


  1. "Interestingly, although the United States condemned these practices, notably during the Tokyo Trial, its armed forces used the same technique several times in the context of the War on Terror. They then proceeded to deny that simulated drowning was torture, an opinion shared by at least one influential body in the mainstream media, The Wall Street Journal, which on 12 November 2005, commenting on the torture of alleged terrorists of Al-Qaeda, published an editorial denying that the technique had " any proximity to torture ". [116] During the presidential elections in the United States in 2008, these interpretations were the subject of controversy, with candidates John McCain and Barack Obama [117] considering the practice as torture, as opposed to other candidates republicans. [118]

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Further reading

Audio/visual media

  • Minoru Matsui (2001), Japanese Devils, a documentary which is based on interviews which were conducted with veteran soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army (Japanese Devils sheds light on a dark past) CNN
  • The History Channel (2000). Japanese War Crimes: Murder Under The Sun (Video documentary (DVD & VHS)). A & E Home Video.