Japanese war crimes occurred during the period of Japanese imperialism. Some of the incidents have also been described as an Asian Holocaust and Japanese war atrocities. Some war crimes were committed by military personnel from the Empire of Japan in the late 19th century, although most took place during the first part of the Shōwa Era, the name given to the reign of Emperor Hirohito, until the military defeat of the Empire of Japan, in 1945.
Historians and governments of some countries officially hold Japanese military forces, namely the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy, responsible for killings and other crimes committed against millions of civilians and prisoners of war.
War crimes have been defined by the Nuremberg Charter as "violations of the laws or customs of war," which includes crimes against enemy civilians and enemy combatants. 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 (POWs) 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).
Although the Empire of Japan did not sign the Geneva Conventions, which have provided the standard definition of war crimes since 1864, the crimes committed fall under other aspects of international and Japanese law. For example, many of the alleged crimes committed by Japanese personnel during World War II broke Japanese military law, and were subject to court martial, as required by that law. The Empire also violated international agreements signed by Japan, including provisions of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) such as a ban on the use of chemical weapons and protections for prisoners of war. The Japanese government also signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1929), thereby rendering its actions in 1937-45 liable to charges of crimes against peace, 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."
In Japan, the term "Japanese war crimes" generally only refers to cases tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials, following the end of the Pacific War. However, the tribunal did not prosecute war crimes allegations involving mid-ranking officers or more junior personnel. Those were dealt with separately in other cities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
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). This is because the treaty does not mention the legal validity of the tribunal. Had Japan certified the legal validity of the war crimes tribunals in the San Francisco Treaty, the war crimes would have become open to appeal and overturning in Japanese courts. This would have been unacceptable in international diplomatic circles. Former Prime Minister Shinzo 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 this view, those convicted of war crimes are not criminals under Japanese law. This view may have been accepted by Japanese courts.
Outside Japan, different societies use widely different timeframes in defining Japanese war crimes. For example, the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 was enforced by the Japanese military, and was followed by the deprivation of civil liberties and exploitation of the Korean people. Thus, some Koreans refer to "Japanese war crimes" as events occurring during the period of 1910 (or earlier) to 1945.
By comparison, the Western Allies did not come into military conflict with Japan until 1941, and North Americans, Australasians, South East Asians and Europeans may consider "Japanese war crimes" to be events that occurred in 1941-45.
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.
Japan's sovereignty over Korea and Formosa (Taiwan), in the first half of the 20th century, was recognized by international agreements—the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) and the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty (1910)—and they were considered at the time to be integral parts of the Japanese Empire. However, the legality of these treaties is in question, as the native populations were not consulted, there was armed resistance to Japan's annexations, and war crimes may also be committed during civil wars.
Centuries previously, the samurai of Japan had been taught unquestioning obedience to their lords, as well as to be fearless in battle. 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 Empire" in the late 19th century, Japan followed the lead of other world powers in developing an empire, pursuing that objective aggressively.
As with other imperial powers, Japanese popular culture became increasingly jingoistic through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. The rise of Japanese nationalism was seen partly in the adoption of Shinto as a state religion from 1890, including its entrenchment in the education system. Shinto held the Emperor to be divine because he was deemed to be a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. This provided justification for the requirement that the emperor and his representatives be obeyed without question.
Victory in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) signified Japan's rise to the status of a major military power.
Unlike the other major powers, Japan did not sign the Geneva Convention—which stipulates the humane treatment of civilians and POWs—until after World War II. Nevertheless, an Imperial Proclamation (1894) stated that Japanese soldiers should make every effort to win the war without violating international law. According to 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 again. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), all 79,367 Russian Empire prisoners were released, and were paid for labour performed, in accordance with the Hague Convention. Similarly the behaviour of the Japanese military in World War I (1914-18) was at least as humane as that of other militaries, with some German POWs of the Japanese finding life in Japan so agreeable that they stayed and settled in Japan after the war.
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, known as the Kempeitai, which resembled the Nazi Gestapo in its role in annexed and occupied countries. As in other dictatorships, irrational brutality, hatred and fear became commonplace. Perceived failure, or insufficient devotion to the Emperor would attract punishment, frequently of the physical kind. In the military, officers would assault and beat men under their command, who would pass the beating on to lower ranks, all the way down. In POW camps, this meant prisoners received the worst beatings of all.
The Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s is often compared to the military of Nazi Germany during 1933–45 because of the sheer scale of suffering. 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. The historian Chalmers Johnson has written that:
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate among POWs from Asian countries, held by Japan was 27.1%. The death rate of Chinese POWs was much higher because—under a directive ratified on August 5, 1937 by Emperor Hirohito—the constraints of international law on treatment of those prisoners was removed. Only 56 Chinese POWs were released after the surrender of Japan.
R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, states that between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most likely 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war. "This democide was due to a morally bankrupt political and military strategy, military expediency and custom, and national culture." According to Rummel, in China alone, during 1937-45, approximately 3.9 million Chinese were killed, mostly civilians, as a direct result of the Japanese operations and 10.2 millions in the course of the war. 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 300,000 civilians and prisoners of war, although the accepted figure is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. A similar crime was the Changjiao massacre. In Southeast Asia, the Manila massacre, resulted in the deaths of 100,000 civilians in the Philippines and in the Sook Ching massacre, between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore were taken to beaches and massacred. There were numerous other massacres of civilians e.g. the Kalagong massacre.
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. This scorched earth strategy, sanctioned by Hirohito himself, directed Japanese forces to "Kill All, Burn All, and Loot All."
Additionally, captured allied service personnel were massacred in various incidents, including:
Special Japanese military units conducted experiments on civilians and POWs in China. One of the most infamous was Unit 731 under Shirō Ishii. Victims were subjected to vivisection without anesthesia, amputations, and were used to test biological weapons, among other experiments. Anesthesia was not used because it was believed to affect results.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the experiments carried out by Unit 731 alone caused 3,000 deaths. 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. According to other sources, "tens of thousands, and perhaps as many as 400,000, Chinese died of bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases...", resulting from the use of biological warfare.
One of the most notorious cases of human experimentation occurred in Japan itself. At least nine out of 12 crew members survived the crash of a U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 bomber on Kyūshū, on May 5, 1945. (This plane was Lt. Marvin Watkins' crew of the 29th Bomb Group of the 6th Bomb Squadron.) The bomber's commander was 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. On March 11, 1948, 30 people including several doctors 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 by 1958.
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. The surgery included amputations. Ken Yuasa, a former military doctor in China, has also admitted to similar incidents in which he was compelled to participate.
According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Kentaro Awaya, gas weapons, such as tear gas, were used only sporadically in 1937 but in the spring of 1938, however the Imperial Japanese Army began full-scale use of sneeze and nausea gas (red), and from summer 1939, mustard gas (yellow) was used against both Kuomintang and Communists Chinese troops.
According to Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, Emperor Shōwa authorized by specific orders (rinsanmei) the use of chemical weapons in China. 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 Article 23 of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and article V of the Treaty in Relation to the Use of Submarines and Noxious Gases in Warfare and a resolution adopted by the League of Nations on May 14, condemning 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 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 prohibited by the Shōwa army from evacuating. Some 3,000 Chinese soldiers were in the area and 1,600 were affected. The Japanese report say that "the effect of gas seems considerable".
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).
Deaths caused by the diversion of resources to the Japanese military in occupied countries are also regarded as war crimes by many people. Millions of civilians in south-east Asia—especially Vietnam and the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), both of which were major rice-growing countries—died during a preventable famine in 1944–45. (See, for example, the articles on the Vietnamese Famine of 1945 and Japanese occupation of Indonesia.)
An estimated 2 million Vietnamese, or 10% of the population then, died during the famine of 1944–45. A later UN report stated that 4 million people died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labour during the Japanese occupation.
The sheer volume of murdered civilians posed a formidable logistical challenge when it came to disposing of the bodies. Many Chinese were conscripted into "burial teams", an experience they would later recall as horrifically traumatic.
Many Chinese were conscripted into "burial teams" to dispose the sheer number of murdered civilians.
Chinese prisoners being buried alive
Nanking Massacre severed heads
Japanese imperial forces employed widespread use of torture on prisoners, usually in an effort to gather military intelligence quickly. Tortured prisoners were often later executed. A former Japanese Army officer who served in China, Uno Shintaro, stated:
Many written reports and testimonies collected by the Australian War Crimes Section of the Tokyo tribunal, and investigated by prosecutor William Webb (the future Judge-in-Chief), indicate that Japanese personnel in many parts of Asia and the Pacific committed acts of cannibalism against Allied prisoners of war. In many cases this was inspired by ever-increasing Allied attacks on Japanese supply lines, and the death and illness of Japanese personnel as a result of hunger. However, according to historian Yuki Tanaka: "cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers". 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 small pieces and fried it."
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. As 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.
Americans were referred as kichiku (mongrel beast or mongrelized apes) .
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 mobilized by the Kōa-in (Japanese Asia Development Board) for forced labour. More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway.
The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between four and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.
According to historian Akira Fujiwara, Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the decision to remove the constraints of international law (Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)) on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war in the directive of August 5, 1937. This notification also advised staff officers to stop using the term "prisoners of war". 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. However, Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention at the time, and Japanese forces did not follow the convention.
The terms "comfort women" (慰安婦 ianfu ) or "military comfort women" (従軍慰安婦 jûgun-ianfu ) are euphemisms for women in Japanese military brothels in occupied countries, many of whom were recruited by force or deception, and regard themselves as having been sexually assaulted or sex slaves.
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 Kôa-in and "comfort stations". When Yoshimi's findings were published in the Japanese news media on January 12, 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 January 17, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa presented formal apologies for the suffering of the victims, during a trip in South Korea. On July 6 and August 4, the Japanese government issued two statements by which it recognized 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".
The controversy was re-ignited on March 1, 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo 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. However, Abe denied that it applied to comfort stations. "There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it." Abe's comments provoked negative reactions overseas. For example, a New York Times editorial on March 6 said:
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."
On April 17, 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 Tokeitai (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 Tokeitai members having arrested women on the streets, and after enforced medical examinations, putting them in brothels.
On May 12, 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.
A Dutch-Indonesian "comfort woman", Jan Ruff-O'Hearn (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'Hearn said that she had been raped "day and night" for three months by Japanese soldiers when she was 21.
To this day, only one Japanese woman published her testimony. This was done in 1971, when a former "comfort woman" forced to work for showa soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota.
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, mostly from Korea and China, and some other countries such as the Philippines, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Netherlands, and Australia were forced to engage in sexual activity.
On 26 June 2007, the U.S. 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". On 30 July 2007, the House of Representatives passed the resolution, while Shinzo Abe said this decision was "regrettable".
Many historians state that the Japanese government and individual military personnel engaged in widespread looting during the period of 1895 to 1945. The stolen property included private land, as well as many different kinds of valuable goods looted from banks, depositories, temples, churches, other commercial premises, mosques, museums and private homes.
Sterling and Peggy Seagrave, in their 2003 book Gold Warriors: America’s secret recovery of Yamashita's gold—report that secret repositories of loot from across Southeast Asia, were created by the Japanese military in the Philippines during 1942–45. They allege that the theft was organized on a massive scale, either by yakuza gangsters such as Yoshio Kodama, or by officials at the behest of Emperor Hirohito, who wanted to ensure that as many of the proceeds as possible went to the government. The Seagraves also allege that Hirohito appointed his brother, Prince Chichibu, to head a secret organisation called Kin no yuri (Golden Lily) for this purpose.
Soon after the war, the Allied powers indicted 25 individuals as Class-A war criminals, and 5,700 individuals 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. 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.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was formed to try accused people in Japan itself.
High ranking officers who were tried included Koichi Kido and Sadao Araki. Three former (unelected) prime ministers: Koki 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. Many 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" 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." 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."
Between 1946–51, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, the USSR, 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.
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.
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 organization of prisoner of war camps in south east Asia. In 2006, the South Korean government "pardoned" 83 of the 148 convicted Korean war criminals.
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).
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 March 7, 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.
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.”
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 September 4, 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.
On May 26, 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.
By the end of 1958, all Japanese war criminals, including A-, B- and C-class were released from prison and politically rehabilitated. Hashimoto Kingorô, Hata Shunroku, Minami Jirô, and Oka Takazumi were all released on parole in 1954. Araki Sadao, Hiranuma Kiichirô, Hoshino Naoki, Kaya Okinori, Kido Kôichi, Ôshima Hiroshi, Shimada Shigetarô, and Suzuki Teiichi were released on parole in 1955. Satô Kenryô, 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 April 7, 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.
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 September 29, 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."
However, 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. On 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". On 2 March 2007, the issue was raised again by Japanese prime minister Shinzo 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 Yohei Kono's 1993 apology to former comfort women. However, 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 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. 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".
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. 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, although not everyone agrees.
Citing Brandt's action as an example, John Borneman, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell, states that, "an apology represents a non-material or purely symbolic exchange whereby the wrongdoer voluntarily lowers his own status as a person." Borneman further states that once this type of apology is given, the injured party must forgive and seek reconciliation, or else the apology won't have any effect. The injured party may reject the apology for several reasons, one of which is to prevent reconciliation, because, "By keeping the memory of the wound alive, refusals prevent an affirmation of mutual humanity by instrumentalizing the power embedded in the status of a permanent victim."
Therefore, some argue that a nation's reluctance to accept the conciliatory gestures that Japan has made may be because that nation doesn't think that Japan has "lowered" itself enough to provide a sincere apology. On the other hand, others state their belief that that particular nation is choosing to reject reconciliation in pursuit of permanent "victimhood" status as a way to try to assert power over Japan.
There is a widespread perception that the Japanese government has not accepted the legal responsibility for compensation and, as a direct consequence of this denial, it has failed to compensate the individual victims of Japanese atrocities. In particular, a number of prominent human rights and women's rights organisations insist that Japan still has a moral or legal responsibility to compensate individual victims, especially the sex slaves conscripted by the Japanese military in occupied countries and known as comfort women.
The Japanese government officially accepted the requirement for monetary compensation to victims of war crimes, as specified by the Potsdam Declaration. The details of this compensation have been left to bilateral treaties with individual countries, except North Korea, because Japan recognises South Korea as the sole legitimate government of the Korean peninsula. In the Asian countries involved, claims to compensation were either abandoned by their respective countries, or were paid out by Japan under the specific understanding that it was to be used for individual compensation. However, in some cases such as with South Korea, the compensation was not paid out to victims by their governments, instead being used for civic projects and other works. Due to this, large numbers of individual victims in Asia received no compensation.
Therefore, the Japanese government's position is that the proper avenues for further claims are the governments of the respective claimants. As a result, every individual compensation claim brought to Japanese court has failed. Such was the case in regard to a British POW who was unsuccessful in an attempt to sue the Japanese government for additional money for compensation. As a result, the UK Government later paid additional compensation to all British POWs. There were complaints in Japan that the international media simply stated that the former POW was demanding compensation and failed to clarify that he was seeking further compensation, in addition to that paid previously by the Japanese government.
A small number of claims have also been brought in US courts, though these have also been rejected.
During the treaty negotiation with South Korea, the Japanese government proposed that it pay monetary compensation to individual Korean victims, in line with the payments to western POWs. The Korean government instead insisted that Japan pay money collectively to the Korean government, and that is what occurred. The South Korean government then used the funds for economic development. The content of the negotiations was not released by the Korean government until 2004, although it was public knowledge in Japan. Due to the release of the information by the Korean government, a number of claimants have stepped forward and are attempting to sue the government for individual compensation of victims.
There are those that insist that because the governments of China and Taiwan abandoned their claims for monetary compensation, then the moral or legal responsibility for compensation belongs with these governments. Such critics also point out that even though these governments abandoned their claims, they signed treaties that recognised the transfer of Japanese colonial assets to the respective governments. Therefore, to claim that these governments received no compensation from Japan is incorrect, and they could have compensated individual victims from the proceeds of such transfers. However, others dispute that Japanese colonial assets in large proportion were built or stolen with extortion or force in occupied countries, as was clearly the case with artworks collected (or stolen) by Nazis during World War II throughout Europe.
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. 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.
The reality is that without a sincere and unequivocal apology from the government of Japan, the majority of surviving Comfort Women refused to accept these funds.
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%.
Japanese overseas assets refers to all assets owned by the Japanese government, firms, organisation and private citizens, in colonised 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. It is considered that Korea was also entitled to the rights provided by Clause 21.
Japanese overseas assets in 1945 Country/region Value (1945, ¥15=US$1) Korea 70,256,000,000 Taiwan 42,542,000,000 North East China 146,532,000,000 North China 55,437,000,000 Central South China 36,718,000,000 Others 28,014,000,000 Total ¥379,499,000,000
Clause 16 of the San Francisco Treaty stated that Japan would transfer its assets and those of its citizens in countries which were at war with any of the Allied Powers or which were neutral, or equivalents, to the Red Cross, which would sell them and distribute the funds to former prisoners of war and their families. Accordingly, the Japanese government and private citizens paid out £4,500,000 to the Red Cross.
According to historian Linda Goetz Holmes, many funds used by the government of Japan were not Japanese funds but relief funds contributed by the governments of USA, UK and Netherlands and sequestred in the Yokohama Specie Bank during the final year of the war.
Clause 14 of the treaty stated that Japan would enter into negotiations with Allied powers whose territories were occupied by Japan and suffered damage by Japanese forces, with a view to Japan compensating those countries for the damage.
Accordingly, the Philippines and South Vietnam received compensation in 1956 and 1959 respectively. Burma and Indonesia were not original signatories, but they later signed bilateral treaties in accordance with clause 14 of the San Francisco Treaty.
Japanese compensation to countries occupied during 1941-45 Country Amount in Yen Amount in US$ Date of treaty Burma 72,000,000,000 200,000,000 November 5, 1955 Philippines 198,000,000,000 550,000,000 May 9, 1956 Indonesia 80,388,000,000 223,080,000 January 20, 1958 Vietnam 14,400,000,000 38,000,000 May 13, 1959 Total ¥364,348,800,000 US$1,012,080,000
The last payment was made to the Philippines on July 22, 1976.
There is a widespread perception, outside Japan, that there is a reluctance inside Japan to discuss such events or admit that there were war crimes. However, the controversial events of the Japanese imperial era are openly debated in the media, with the various political parties and ideological groups taking quite different positions. What differentiates Japan from Germany and Austria is that in Japan, there is no restriction to the freedom of speech in regard to this matter, while in Germany, Austria and some other European countries, Holocaust denial is a criminal offence.
Until the 1970s, such debates 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 Nanking 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 (they generally do not use the word "massacre"), 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.
However, under the same logic, the new right/new left considers the killing of Chinese who were suspected of guerilla 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/new left also takes 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. However, 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. Others argue that Hirohito deliberately styled his rule in the manner of the British constitutional monarchy, and he always accepted the decisions and consenses 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, apart all members of the imperial family such as prince Chichibu, prince Yasuhiko Asaka, prince Higashikuni, prince Hiroyasu Fushimi and prince Takeda.
Some activists outside Japan are also attempting controversial reinterpretations of Japanese imperialism. For example, the views of a South Korean ex-military officer and right wing commentator, Ji Man-Won, have caused controversy in Korea and further abroad. Ji has praised Japan for "modernising" Korea, and has said of women forced to become sex slaves: "most of the old women claiming to be former comfort women, or sex slaves to the Japanese military during World War II, are fakes." In East Asia, such views are widely regarded as being offensive, libellous of the women concerned, and as representing negationism in a similar fashion to the Holocaust deniers of Europe.
As with investigations of Nazi war criminals, official investigations and inquiries are still ongoing. During the 1990s, the South Korean government started investigating some individuals who had allegedly become wealthy while collaborating with the Japanese military. In South Korea, it is also alleged that, during the political climate of the Cold War, many such individuals 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.
Non-government bodies and individuals have also undertaken their own investigations. For example, in 2005, a South Korean freelance journalist, Jung Soo-woong, located in Japan some descendants of people involved in the 1895 assassination of Empress Myeongseong (Queen Min), the last Empress of Korea. The assassination was conducted by the Dark Ocean Society, perhaps under the auspices of the Japanese government, because of the Empress's involvement in attempts to reduce Japanese influence in Korea. Jung recorded the apologies of the individuals.
As these investigations continue more evidence is discovered each day. It has been claimed that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed the reports on Korean comfort women. 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.
Sensitive information regarding the Japanese occupation of Korea is often difficult to obtain. Many argue that this is due to the fact that the Government of Japan has gone out of its way to cover up many incidents that would otherwise lead to severe international criticism. On their part, Koreans have often expressed their abhorrence of Human experimentations carried out by the Imperial Japanese Army where people often became fodder as human test subjects in such macabre experiments as liquid nitrogen tests or biological weapons development programs (See articles: Unit 731 and Shiro Ishii). Though some vivid and disturbing testimonies have survived, they are largely denied by the Japanese Government even to this day.
Today cover-ups by Japan and other countries such as Britain are slowly exposed as more thorough investigations are conducted. "Britain and Japan tried to keep secret one of the worst war crimes of WWII." The reason for the cover-up was because the British ministers wanted to end the war crimes trial early in order to maintain good relations with Japan to prevent the spread of communism.
|Imperial Japanese Army special research units|
|Unit 100 (Shenyang) | Unit 516 (Qiqihar) | Unit 543 (Hailar) | Unit 731 (Pingfang) / Unit 200 (Manchuria) / Unit 8604 or Nami Unit (Guangzhou) | Unit 773 (Songo) | Unit Ei 1644 (Nanjing) | Unit 1855 (Nanjing) | Unit 2646 or Unit 80 (Hailar) | Unit 9420 or Oka Unit (Singapore)|