Nanking War Crimes Tribunal

Nanking War Crimes Tribunal

Trial of the Nanking Atrocities

Two Second Lieutenants in the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division, Mukai Toshiaki and Noda Tsuyoshi, who were tried in Nanking.

Two Second Lieutenants in the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division, Mukai Toshiaki and Noda Tsuyoshi, who were tried in Nanking.

Along with the major Japanese governmental and military leaders indicted for Class-A war crimes, some 5,700 other Japanese [168] were tried for Class B and C war crimes by the Allied nations in Yokohama, Singapore, Rabaul, Batavia, Manila, Nanjing and numerous other venues. [169]

China established 13 tribunals, tried 650 cases, convicted 504 Japanese and sentenced 149 to death.

In Nanjing, presumably due to the difficulties in investigating atrocities that had happened more than 8 years earlier while caught up in the Civil War against the Communists, only four Japanese army officers were tried for the war crimes relating to the Nanking Atrocities between 1946 and 1947.

The accused were the commander of the 6th Division, Lieutenant General Tani Hisao, the company commander of the 6th Division, Captain Tanaka Gunkichi, and two Second Lieutenants in the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division, Mukai Toshiaki and Noda Tsuyoshi. Among the four defendants, Tani was the only one who was in a high commanding position when the city fell.

Of other possible suspects, General Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, was being tried at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East as a Class-A war crime suspect.

Lieutenant General Nakajima Kesago, the commander of the 16th Division and Lieutenant General Yanagawa Heisuke, the commander of the 10th Army, both died in 1945.

Lieutenant General Prince Asaka in Nanking.

Lieutenant General Prince Asaka in Nanking.

Lieutenant General Prince Asaka, the commander of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and Emperor Hirohito’s uncle, was granted immunity for any war crimes trial because of his lineage as a member of the royal family.

And finally, Lieutenant Colonel Cho Isamu, an information staff officer of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and a general staff of the CCAA, committed suicide in Okinawa before the Pacific War ended. [170]

Thus, Tani was the only one alive and available. In court he pleaded not guilty and indicated Nakajima and his troops were the real culprits, but the mounting evidence adduced against him and the testimonies of eyewitnesses and victims showed otherwise.

He was found guilty on February 6, 1947 and the court pronounced the sentence of death on March 10, which read:

Hisao Tani, having been convicted of instigating, inspiring and encouraging during the war the men under his command to stage general massacres of prisoners of war and non-combatants and to perpetrate such crimes as rape, plunder and wanton destruction of property, is hereby sentenced to death.

On April 26 he was sent before the firing squad at Yuhuatai execution site. [171]

The other three were brought to Nanking thanks to the domestic propaganda activity of the Japanese government during the wartime.

Tanaka was once mentioned in a book called Imperial Soldiers in Japan and became famous for killing “300 hateful Chinese enemies” with his “buddy sword” Sukehiro.

The Tokyo Nichi Nichi article on the killing contest. December 13, 1937.

The Tokyo Nichi Nichi article on the killing contest. December 13, 1937.

Mukai and Noda were also well known for their killing contest to cut down a hundred Chinese soldiers in combat with their swords on the way to Nanking. Their story was serially published in the Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper, where the two second lieutenants were treated as war heroes (some of the articles in English can be found at the bottom of this page).

However, as many historians point out today, the stories of hyped heroism, in which those soldiers courageously killed a number of enemies in hand-to-hand combat with swords, couldn’t be taken at face value. [172]

Indeed, when Noda came back to his hometown in Japan and made a speech at an elementary school, he told his young audience that of more than a hundred Chinese soldiers he killed, most were actually prisoners of war.

In 1971 one of the schoolchildren, Shishime Akira, wrote to a magazine of what he heard from Noda years before, a part of which quoted the second lieutenant as saying:

I killed only four or five with sword in the real combat…. After we captured an enemy trench, we’d tell them, “Ni Lai Lai.” The Chinese soldiers were stupid enough to come out the trench toward us one after another. We’d line them up and cut them down from one end to the other. [173]

As if representing the hundreds of other “great swordsmen” in the Imperial Army of Japan who severed the heads of unresisting Chinese captives, Tanaka, Mukai and Noda were all sentenced to death and executed on January 28, 1948.

Interview: Fujiwara Akira [174]

Fujiwara served in the China theater in the Army for four years. "When I saw common Chinese people resisting us, I questioned the meaning of 'Holy War," says Fujiwara. "We were supposed to help them. But in reality we made an enemy of them." Interview by author on February 25, 2000.

Fujiwara served in the China theater in the Army for four years. “When I saw common Chinese people resisting us, I questioned the meaning of ‘Holy War,” says Fujiwara. “We were supposed to help them. But in reality we made an enemy of them.” Interview by author on February 25, 2000.

Fujiwara Akira is a professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University. He has published a number of books on the Imperial Army’s wartime atrocities in Asia. He is considered one of Japan’s most prominent scholars on the Nanking Atrocities today.

“I think the Tokyo War Crimes Trial has a tremendous significance in our history in the sense that it meted out justice for Japan’s aggression for the first time. The trial collected abundant historical evidence in a relatively short period of time as well, which is a treasure house of materials for even today’s researchers….”

“Yes, it [the IMTFE] has its own limitations and problems. The United States intentionally overlooked the experiments on human guinea pigs and poisonous gas experiments done by the Japanese troops in an exchange for the scientific data. The trial did not delve into all the battles and atrocities in all of China. They only chose a couple of them as symbolic incidents, such as the Rape of Nanjing and the one in Manila. But the Imperial Army massacred far more people all over China than in Nanjing alone. The trial also granted immunity to the Emperor and Prince Asaka [the commander-in-chief of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force]. There were some aspects that were problematic….”

“I would say Matsui [the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army] was far more responsible [for the Nanking Atrocities] than Prince Asaka was. After all, Matsui was his superior officer who had been in charge of the Central China theater. Prince Asaka was appointed in December and arrived China on the 7th. Of course, there is no doubt that he should have been tried, though….”

“The problem of the Class B and C war crimes trials in China was that another civil war was going on between the Nationalists and the Communists. I guess they didn’t have much time and manpower for the trial in Nanjing. In that sense, probably the Tokyo Trial was more thorough and systematic. I am also aware of the argument that the Second Lieutenant officers [who initiated the contest to cut down 100 Chinese soldiers with their swords] tried in the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal were innocent. But the current argument lacks the context. They might not have been guilty as charged [for killing more than 100 Chinese in hand-to-hand combat] but I am almost certain that they beheaded many [Chinese prisoners of war]….”

Go back to: Table of Contents


  1. Richard H. Minear, Victor’s Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971), 6.
  2. Philip R. Piccigallo, The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979), 33 and173.
  3. Fujiwara, “‘Tokyo Saiban ni yoru Dechiage’ Setsu koso ga Dechiage [The Theory of ‘Fabrication at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial’ Is the Real Fabrication], 23-24; Kasahara, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 6-8; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 46-47; Frank Gibney, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Katsuichi Honda, The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan’s National Shame, ed. Frank Gibney, trans. Karen Sandness (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1999), xxi, n2.
  4. Hata, 48-49; Piccigallo, 165-166.
  5. The three researchers interviewed by author for this project, Daqing Yang, Ikuhiko Hata, and Akira Fujiwara said that the contest could have been mere mass murder of prisoners.
  6. Quoted in Katsuichi Honda, Nanking he no Michi [The Road to Nanjing], 162-163.
  7. Akira Fujiwara, interview by author, Tokyo, Japan, 25 February 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved

Reference: Articles on the Killing Contest

Note: The following article was quoted in Timperley’s What War Means (American title: Japanese Terror in China) in 1938. It appeared in the Japan Advertiser, an American owned and edited English-language daily paper in Tokyo, on December 7, 1937.


Sub-lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai and Sub-lieutenant Takeshi Noda, both of the Katagiri unit at Kuyung, in a friendly contest to see “which of them will first fell 100 Chinese in individual sword combat before the Japanese forces completely occupy Nanking are well in the final phase of their race, running almost neck to neck.

On Sunday when their unit was fighting outside Kuyung, the “score,” according to the Asahi, was: Sub-lieutenant Mukai, 89, and Sub-lieutenant Noda, 78.

On December 14, 1937, the same paper published another report that read:


The winner of the competition between Sub-Lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai and Sub-Lieutenant lwao [Takeshi] Noda to see who would be the first to kill 100 Chinese with his Yamato sword has not been decided, the Nichi Nichi reports from the slopes of Purple Mountain, outside Nanking.

Mukai has a score of 106 and his rival has dispatched 105 men, but the two contestants have found it impossible to determine which passed the 100 mark first. Instead of settling it with a discussion, they are going to extend the goal by 50.

Mukai’s blade was slightly damaged in the competition. He explained that this was the result of cutting a Chinese in half, helmet and all. The contest was “fun,” he declared, and he thought it a good thing that both men had gone over the 100 mark without knowing that the other had done so.

Early Saturday morning, when the Nichi Nichi man interviewed the sub-lieutenant at a point overlooking Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s tomb, another Japanese unit set fire to the slopes of Purple Mountain in an attempt to drive out the Chinese troops.

The action also smoked out Sub-Lieutenant Mukai and his unit, and the men stood idly by while bullets passed overhead. “Not a shot hits me while I am holding this sword on my shoulder,” he explained confidently.