What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

What Japanese Journalists Witnessed

Executions After Executions

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Persons executed by Japanese soldiers in Ku Ling Temple. Photo taken by an American missionary, Ernest Forster.

Due to the Imperial Army’s media censorship, though there were over 100 Japanese journalists in Nanking when the city was captured, those journalists did not dare to write anything “unfavorable” about their countrymen. [41]

Knowing that any atrocity story wouldn’t make news in Japan, the journalists instead described how “valorous” the Imperial troops were in combat inside and outside the walled city.

Accordingly the newspaper articles during and after the siege of Nanking were full of tales of the Japanese soldier’s heroic exploits. [42]

After the war, however, some of the journalists confided what they had witnessed. A special correspondent for Tokyo Asahi, Imai Masatake, for instance, reported only about the “majestic and soul-stirring” ceremony of the triumphal entry of General Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, and his troops into the city on December 17, 1937. But two days before the victory parade, he revealed in 1956, he witnessed a mass execution of 400 to 500 Chinese men near Tokyo Asahi’s Nanking office.

That evening Imai and his colleague also saw a “long, long” procession of hundreds or even thousands of Chinese people being led to the banks of the Yangtze near Xiaguan (Hsiakwan) riverfront. Convinced that all of them were going to be killed, they tried to follow the procession but were stopped by a sentry. Imai recalled a conversation he had with his partner while hearing the sound of bullets ricocheting nearby. A part of the article he wrote for a magazine years later read:

“While we saw what they were doing near the bureau, there was a car passing through,” said Nakamura.

“Yeah, I saw some foreigners on it.”

“I guess they were from China’s Red Swastika Society. This news will leak out to Geneva for sure.”

“I wish I could write about it.”

“Someday we will, but not for the time being. But we sure saw it.”

“Let’s go take a look again, with our own eyes.”

With that, two of us got up. The sound of gunfire had ceased by then. [43]

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Chinese prisoners of war being led by Japanese troops.

Although the reporter apparently mistook the Red Swastika Society for an organization somehow related to the Red Cross, they guessed right about the news circulating around the world.

Another Tokyo Asahi reporter, Adachi Kazuo, also saw a mass murder near the paper’s branch office with his colleague, Moriyama Yoshio. “The ‘plain-clothes soldiers’ were shot to death one after another, right in front of their wives and children, who were weeping and screaming,” wrote Adachi in 1975 in a memorial on Moriyama’s death.

“Our hearts were trembling with anger and grief while people in Japan were probably rejoicing over the collapse of Nanking.” Adachi also quoted Moriyama as saying at the scene, “With this, Japan has lost the right to win the war.” [44]

A correspondent for Tokyo Nichi Nichi, Suzuki Jiro, encountered a few execution scenes and later wrote:

“When I went back to the Zhongshan Gate, I saw, for the first time, an unearthly, brutal massacre. On top of the wall, about 25 meters [85 feet] high, the prisoners of war were rounded up in a line. They were being stabbed by bayonets and shoved away off the wall. A number of Japanese soldiers polished their bayonets, shouted to themselves once [to raise their morale], and thrust their bayonets in the chest or back of the POWs.

I saw about ten stragglers bound by wire to a big tree…. One of them [Japanese soldiers] stood up in front of them [Chinese captives], shouted, “You killed our buddies!” and raised the pickax, then swung it down to the head of a powerless prisoner of war.” [45]

Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Shanghai bureau chief of Domei News Agency, interviewed his ex-colleagues, Arai Masayoshi, Maeda Yuji and Fukazawa Kanzo, who spent a few days as correspondents in Nanking after the capture of the city. According to his book, all of the interviewees told Matsumoto that they saw a number of charred bodies around Xiaguan area, probably between 2,000 and 3,000 dead bodies, on the 16th and 17th.

"I believe only what I saw," says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju

“I believe only what I saw,” says a former Tokyo Nichi Nichi photographer, Sato Shinju.

Maeda personally saw new recruits executing Chinese POWs with bayonets. After having seen 12 or 13 of them being “stabbed to death,” he retched and left the place. Maeda also heard that the Japanese troops were carrying out extensive mopping-up operations on the 14th and 15th. But he also remembered that the streets were becoming normal around the 20th.

Matsumoto noted that his interviewees all pointed out the difficulty at the time of distinguishing “massacre” and “extension of combat.” His interviewees dismissed the so-called “Great Massacre” of hundreds of thousands of people. Instead, the three journalists gave him an estimate of the civilian death toll at ten or twenty thousand. [46]

A Domei newsreel cameraman, Asai Tatsuzo, stated a similar notion when interviewed for a magazine article, “I thought executing plain-clothes soldiers and stragglers was what the war was all about.” [47]

Sato Shinju, a photographer for Tokyo Nichi Nichi newspaper, saw a mass execution of about 200 Chinese soldiers but also dismisses the “massacre of 200,000 or 300,000 civilians.” “I believe only what I saw,” says Sato in an interview for this documentary. “Surely I witnessed a mass murder once, but I also saw some makeshift food stands and street vendors in the Safety Zone. There might have been some atrocities, but I can’t believe such a high death toll.” [48]

Living Soldiers: What A Japanese Novelist Observed

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

A Japanese soldier on sentry duty. March 1938.

Probably the most contemporary account of Imperial troops’ atrocities given by a Japanese national at the time was a fictional novel titled Ikiteiru Heitai or Living Soldiers, written in February 1938.

The author, Ishikawa Tatsuzo, later said that he was frustrated by the “conventionally identical news articles” from the China theater and had been wanting to see the war with his own eyes when afforded an opportunity to become a special correspondent for a magazine, Chuo Koron, in December 1937. Ishikawa left Tokyo on the Christmas day and arrived in Nanking on January 5, 1938, three weeks after the city was taken over by the Japanese troops.

During his eight days of field research in Nanking, Ishikawa got acquainted with the soldiers from the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the 16th Division. Soon Ishikawa came up with a story featuring a fictional platoon whose march toward Nanking was clearly based on the unit.

Unlike many heroic characters appearing in general wartime stories and news articles in Japan, in Ishikawa’s Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] the main characters such as Privates Hirao and Kondo, Sergeant Kasahara, and Second Lieutenant Kurata, were absorbed in the reality of war. They engaged in whimsical killings, looting, rape, and arson throughout their march. [49] The following passage is one of those fickle acts his characters often commit in the story:

Hirao grabbed her by the collar and pulled her up, but she didn’t let go of the dead body of her mother until one of the soldiers twisted her arm and pulled the body away. The soldiers hauled the girl outside, her legs dragging on the ground.

Hirao screamed like a madman, raised his bayonet and stabbed the girl in the chest three times. The other soldiers also took their daggers and began stabbing her head, abdomen, and other parts indiscriminately.

She was dead within ten seconds. When she collapsed like a futon [pile of bedclothes] onto the dark ground, the warm smell of fresh blood wafted up to the flushed faces of the excited soldiers.

In the trench Second Lieutenant Kurata was aware of what was going on but did not say a word. When the excited soldiers came back to the trench spitting, Sergeant Kasahara was sitting cross-legged on the bottom of the trench smoking. He muttered with a detectable smile on his lips, “What a waste, indeed!” [50]

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

Japanese soldiers who quartered in the Pacific Ocean restaurant in Nanking. March 17, 1938.

The story was published in Chuo Koron March issue on February 17, 1938. And the very next day, the Ministry of Interior prohibited the sale of the magazine on the grounds that Ishikawa’s story “deliberately slandered the Imperial Army troops in the holy war” and was thus “improper in view of the state of affairs.” In August Ishikawa and his editor were indicted.

“People regard the soldiers at the front as someone like god and think there will be a heaven after they occupy the land,” testified Ishikawa in court. “People think Chinese civilians are cooperating with us to create the land of Perfect Bliss, but war is nothing like that at all. I believed it was of absolute necessity to let people know what war truly means, realize the situation is an emergency and prepare for what we are dealing with.”

In April 1939 Ishikawa was sentenced to four months in confinement suspended for three years. After being obscure for years, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] finally saw the light of day again a few months after Japan lost the Pacific War in 1945. [51]

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  1. Shinichi Kusamori, “Fukyoka Shashin Ron: Houkoku no Shashin 2 [An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2],” in Mainichi Shinbun Hizou Fukyoka Shashin 2 [Stashed Photographs in Mainichi Newspaper: the Disapproved 2], (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun, 1999), 177-178.
  2. Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 15-18.
  3. Masatake Imai, “Nanking Shinai no Tairyo Satsujin [Mass Murders in the City of Nanjing],” in Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso [Showa History Told by Witnesses 5: Sino-Japanese War], 48-58.
  4. Quoted in Honda, 239.
  5. Quoted in Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 117.
  6. Matsumoto, 251-252.
  7. Masaaki Tanaka, Nanking Jiken no Sokatsu: Gyakusatsu Hitei 15 no Ronkyo [The Nanjing Incident Overview: Fifteen Reasons To Deny the Massacre] (Tokyo: Kenkosha, 1987), 232.
  8. Shinju Sato, interview by author, Fujisawa (Kanagawa Prefecture), Japan, 28 February 2000.
  9. Kazutoshi Hando, “Ikiteiru Heitai no Jidai [The Age of ‘Living Soldiers’],” in Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Ikiteiru Heitai [Living Soldiers] (Reprint, Tokyo: Chuko Bunko, 1999), 204; Hata, Nanking Jiken [The Nanjing Incident], 19-21.
  10. Ishikawa, 85-86.
  11. Hando, 201-208.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Japanese Soldiers' Diaries

Japanese Soldiers’ Diaries

Prisoners of War at Mufu Mountain

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

Charred bodies on the Yangtze bank. Photo taken by Murase.

A correspondent for Asahi Newspaper reported that on December 13 and 14, 1937, the Morozumi Unit (the 65th Infantry Regiment of the Yamada Detachment in the 13th Division) took prisoners of 14,777 Chinese soldiers in the vicinity of the artillery fort of Wulong Mountain and Mufu Mountain that lay at the south bank of the Yangtze River.

However, there had been no further follow-up report since then and for decades it was unknown what had become of those prisoners of war.

In Japan one theory told that half of them were released, a quarter of them escaped and the rest started a riot and consequently got killed.

Another theory told that all of the captives were dragged to the banks of the Yangtze and executed.

In the late 1980s, as stated earlier, a chemical factory worker in Japan, Ono Kenji, investigated the incident by interviewing 200 or so war veterans and gathering 24 wartime diaries and other historical materials. [75]

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono collected 24 wartime diaries in the course of his investigation.

Ono’s research made it clear that the 15,000 captives and additional 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners taken after the 14th were all massacred by military order.

The mass executions of those POWs are possibly the largest in the Nanking Atrocities. They were conducted in two days on the banks of the Yangtze near Mufu Mountain.

The dead bodies were quickly covered with gasoline and burnt. And many corpses were later thrown into the Yangtze River.

Following are some quotes from the confessions Ono videotaped and the diaries he collected.

Upon his and his interviewees’ request, they are all assigned pseudonyms.

Private Kurosu Tadanobu (Pseudonym):

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

Japanese troops throwing bodies into the Yangtze River. Photo taken by Murase.

[Interview on the videotape] I joined the Army two days after I got the draft paper. I was determined to fight, but couldn’t possibly tell my wife that I would most likely die. So I simply told her to keep our house intact. Those drafted for the first time were delighted to serve their country and the Emperor, but I knew that going to the front meant facing death. When I got on the train, I kept thinking that it was the last time to see my brothers and others. I couldn’t help crying. [76]

[His diary on November 25, 1937] Upon arriving the quarters we killed two big pigs. And now we are eating them. War is such fun. Those who like drinking could drink as much as they want. The weather has been, finally, pleasant for the last few days and so is our mind. [77]

[His diary on December 16] We took about 5,000 prisoners of war, some of those we captured a couple of days ago, to the bank of the Yangtze and mowed them down by machine guns. Then we stabbed them with bayonets to our satisfaction. I probably bayoneted 30-odd hateful Chinese soldiers. Climbing up the heap of dead bodies and bayoneting them gave me a courage, which made me feel I could even vanquish ogres. I stabbed them with all my might while hearing them groan. There were some old ones and kids. I killed them all. I even borrowed a sword and severed a head. It was the most unusual experience I’ve ever had. [78]

[Interview on the videotape] The next day there was another call [for an execution] but I wasn’t assigned for it. I did it only once. I believe we killed all the prisoners of war our unit captured. I heard that we had some 20,000 in total… Before I crossed the river [to go to another front in China], I was shocked to see a long stretch of hundreds of charred bodies on the banks. Then I was sure we killed tens of thousands…. It [the Nanjing Massacre] is true, indeed. It is not a lie…. To be honest, I wanted the war to end in Nanking. I really wanted to come back [to Japan]. [79]

Private Kawata Senji (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I heard they [the captives] were conscripted soldiers. I saw various prisoners, from younger ones to really old ones…. There were 20,000 of them. We took them out to the bank of the Yangtze River and machine-gunned them. It took us two nights to finish it off. We threw the bodies into the river later on, but the stream was so slow that many of them didn’t float right away.

[Interview on the videotape] At the time I didn’t think it was wrong. I was ordered to do so. After the war this story [of the mass executions by the Yamada Detachment] came up occasionally. Then I started asking myself, “Did I do something wrong?” [80]

Second Lieutenant Endo Takaaki (Pseudonym):

[His diary on Dec. 16] The prisoners of war amounted to 17,025. In the evening received military order, took out one third of them to the banks and the 1st Battalion shot them. [81]

[His diary on Dec. 17] At night sent out five soldiers for the execution of the 10,000-odd remaining prisoners. [82]

Second Lieutenant Takayanagi Shinichi (Pseudonym):

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today's Nanking.

A cenotaph to those massacred near Mufu Mountain. These kinds of memorials can be found at major execution sites in today’s Nanking.

[Interview on the videotape] We tied them [the captives] up and began dragging them [to the execution site] in the morning…. It took all day to get them there. Then at night we machine-gunned them all…. There was corpse after corpse. Had it been in the daylight, I don’t think I could have faced the scene straight. I went back there to dispose of the bodies the next day. They were all charred and smelled awful. Even now I remember the smell.

[Interview on the videotape] The order to ‘do it’ came through all the way from the top…. Those high-rankings don’t know what it was like. They just order and never come to the scene…. I don’t know how they could talk about it. They haven’t even seen it. We, noncommissioned officers and men, were the ones who actually carried it out…. I wonder who on earth are those people to claim that such a miserable incident was “fabrication”…. Well, those “professional Army officers” were always behind the scene. [83]

Sergeant Kawashima Noriyasu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I had experienced so much combat before Nanking. Compared with those, the Battle of Nanking was nothing. The Chinese soldiers were gone out of sight pretty quickly…. They [prisoners of war] were not all soldiers. I don’t remember clearly but I might have seen a few women, even…. Of course it was an order from above [to execute all the captives]. It wasn’t like five or ten captives…. I was not in a position to know the whole picture, but it was an official order. [84]

Private Hayashi Junzo (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] I made the pedestals to mount the machine guns. It was about one meter [3 feet 4 inches] high…. I did it [killed the prisoners] on the second day at the foot of Mufu Mountain…. I fired some 200 bullets in about ten minutes and that was it. I was allowed to go back and was lucky enough not to be assigned to dispose of the dead bodies. [85]

Private Taniguchi Toshimitsu (Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] Many groups of 100 or 200 Chinese soldiers came from here and there to surrender while hanging out a white cloth or something of that kind. I didn’t count them by myself, but I heard we had about 18,000 to 20,000…. I am sure that other units, like the 6th Division, have done the same…. I don’t think it could be 300,000. I guess it was probably about 80,000 to 100,000.

[Interview on the videotape] Well, in retrospect we were crazy. When I was taking them [to the execution site], I knew I was going to kill them. But I didn’t feel any guilt. Of course I can’t imagine doing it now. [86]

Noncommissioned officer Yamazaki Kohei (Exact title not to be revealed / Pseudonym):

[Interview on the videotape] There were many prisoners of war who survived the machine-gunning. So we bayoneted those who were moving…. Some screamed like mad men when I stabbed them. It was so loud. Their voices haunted me for a week since then…. I heard that there were a few female prisoners of war. But I don’t think there was any elderly or children. They were all soldiers…. We just did what our superiors told us to do…. We burnt the bodies and they stank so badly…. I didn’t think much about it [the cruelty] at the time. I just thought war was like that. [87]

Interview: Ono Kenji [88]

"If you read his [Mr. Kurosu's] diary, you know it is something that you can't easily talk about," says Ono. Interview by author on March 11, 2000.

“If you read his [Mr. Kurosu’s] diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about,” says Ono.

“I think those former soldiers used to have racial hatred toward Chinese. Many war veterans I interviewed still unconsciously use the word, Chankoro [derogatory term in Japanese literally meaning, “Chinese brat”], or something of that kind. But at the same time, many of those who committed the massacre have been tormented by their consciences for more than 50 years….”

“I became really close to Mr. Kurosu (pseudonym) through my research. I visited his house quite often and talked a lot. He seemed deeply repentant…. I was really surprised and couldn’t say a word when he gave me his wartime diary, which, he’d been telling me, he ditched before he landed in Japan. It was one and a half years after we met and made friends! Then I realized how hard it was for him to come to terms with the past. If you read his diary, you know it is something that you can’t easily talk about….”

“These [former soldiers’] diaries are candidly describing how normal, average persons had developed their animosity through combat and how they became mentally anesthetized through slaughtering captives and looting houses on the way to Nanjing. Once those cruel acts became their daily lives, they no longer had inhibitions….”

“After all, they were following orders from the Army. Most of those who massacred Chinese were noncommissioned officers and common soldiers. For them the orders were absolute…. Of course I feel compassion for the victims. But now I know the perpetrators were also psychologically scarred….”

“A veteran told me that he couldn’t forget the face of one prisoner he killed in Shanghai. He executed thousands of POWs on the banks of the Yangtze River later on, but those victims were already faceless for him. But the one he killed in Shanghai for the first time, he still dreams of the face once in a while. I think it really tells something about the psychological state of the soldiers in the Yamada Detachment in Nanjing.”

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  1. Ono, “Gyakusatsu ka Kaihou ka: Yamada Shitai Horyo Yaku Niman no Yukue” [Massacre or Discharge? Fate of the About 20,000 Prisoners of War Captured by the Yamada Detachment],” 140-156.
  2. Tadanobu Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Kenji Ono, 4 June 1994.
  3. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 346.
  4. Ibid., 350-351.
  5. Kurosu (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 4 June 1994.
  6. Senji Kawata (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 12 June 1994.
  7. Ono, Nanking Daigyakusatsu o Kirokushita Kogun Heishitach [Imperial Army Soldiers Who Recorded the Nanjing Massacre], 219.
  8. Ibid., 220.
  9. Shinichi Takayanagi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  10. Noriyasu Kawashima (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 21 August 1994.
  11. Junzo Hayashi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 26 June 1994.
  12. Toshimitsu Taniguchi (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 5 June 1994.
  13. Kohei Yamazaki (pseudonym), interview by Ono, 11 June 1994.
  14. Kenji Ono, interview by author, Iwaki (Fukushima Prefecture), Japan, 11 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.

Rape and Pillage

Rape and Pillage

Policy to Take No Prisoners

"Pregnant with her first child, this 19-year-old woman was bayoneted when she sought to resist raping at the hands of a Japanese soldier. When admitted to a refugee hospital, she was found to have no less than 23 wounds," noted an American Missionary, John Magee, in his film, China Invaded.

“Pregnant with her first child, this 19-year-old woman was bayoneted when she sought to resist raping at the hands of a Japanese soldier. When admitted to a refugee hospital, she was found to have no less than 23 wounds,” noted an American Missionary, John Magee, in his film, China Invaded.

“Women were the main victims, indeed…. We would pick some sunny place, like around a storehouse for example, then make a screen by hanging up branches with leaves,” answered Private Tadokoro Kozo of the 114th Division when interviewed by the Pacific War Research Group in 1971. “We would get a ticket called Sekken [Red Ticket], which had the company commander’s stamp on, to wait for our turn with our loincloth off.”

“One day I was assigned a leader to kidnap women. When we showed up, all the women frantically ran off. It was hard to chase and catch them because we couldn’t kill them yet.”

“There wasn’t any soldier who didn’t rape. After things were done, usually we killed them. We’d let the women go, they’d run off, and we’d shoot them from the back. We didn’t want to leave any trouble behind. If the gendarmes found out, we would be tried by court-martial. So, although we didn’t really want to kill them, we did it – though, in fact, there was hardly any gendarme in Nanjing. I served in Nanjing for about two months.” [89]

Unlike the relentless mopping-up operations and the executions of the POWs that were in some cases recorded as a part of official military operations, the cases of rape naturally did not leave any documented evidence.

As observed by the foreigners in the Safety Zone, however, without doubt many Japanese soldiers abducted Chinese women, sexually assaulted them and in many cases, in order to leave no evidence, they killed the victims after the acts.

A poster to advertise Ianjo, or official brothels, on the North Chung Shan Road. "Chinese Beauties" "Designated by the Base Camp Authorities" "House of restful consolation" "At the No. 4 Hall for Japan-China friendship" "600 meters ahead from here along the bank of the stream"

A poster to advertise Ianjo, or official brothels, on the North Chung Shan Road. “Chinese Beauties” “Designated by the Base Camp Authorities” “House of restful consolation” “At the No. 4 Hall for Japan-China friendship” “600 meters ahead from here along the bank of the stream”

Although many former soldiers of the Imperial Army came forward to admit butchering Chinese captives and civilians in Nanking, many fewer veterans were willing to talk about their perpetration of rapes.

In China many survivors of rapes began telling of their painful past in the last two decades, but probably a lot of rape victims have already passed away in the last 60 years, if not killed right after being molested.

Theses conditions altogether make it rather hard today to grasp the scale of the violations of women committed by Japanese troops.

However, the establishment of Ianjo, or official brothels (literally, “house of restful consolation,”) in as early as late December 1937 by the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and the 10th Army, clearly indicates how desperate the Japanese government was to keep its troops away from raping and spreading venereal diseases among themselves.

Today more than ten such institutions were known to have operated under the Japanese government in Nanking although the idea seemed to have had little effect in stopping the rape criminals for the first several weeks. [90]


On the day the Japanese troops entered Nanjing, the wholesale looting that was initiated by the retreating Chinese troops significantly escalated to the level of what Tillman Durdin of the New York Times called “plundering of the entire city.”

Once gaining a control of a district, the Japanese soldiers broke into shops, houses and other buildings and took away anything they wanted. The commander of the 16th Division, Lieutenant General Nakajima Kesago, wrote in his diary on Dec. 19:

When we enter, the houses have generally been rummaged in by the Chinese troops, and many things are gone. Nevertheless, the army soldiers rush to break in and loot, whether it is their assigned district or not. This tendency is especially true about the houses in suburban areas. After all, those impudent gain the most….

Although the plate stated “Division Headquarters,” when I went into the building, every room had been ransacked including the government chairman’s office. They [Japanese soldiers] took away everything, even the old displays….

Supervising the privates wouldn’t be of much help since, to my surprise, even high-ranking officers are candidly being thieves. [91]

A scene from the U.S. propaganda documentary, Frank Capra's The Battle of China (1944).

A scene from the U.S. propaganda documentary, Frank Capra’s The Battle of China (1944).

Nakajima himself was not at all the exception. Apparently he did not have any guilt about looting Chinese property. On January 23, 1938, when asked about the furniture in the Nationalist Government Building by Matsui Iwane, the commander-in-chief of the Central China Area Army, Nakajima replied, “What is the matter of taking furniture when we are taking over a country and taking away people’s lives? No one is going to be pleased even though we leave it there.” [92]

Nakajima was later found stealing Chiang Kai-shek’s treasures such as rugs and paintings and sending them to Kyoto in 23 boxes when he was serving as the commander of the 4th Army in Manchuria. [93]

As typified by Nakajima’s attitude toward plundering, even commissioned officers joined the lower ranking soldiers to ransack every building in Nanking. No one tried to abide by the international law on wartime requisition, according to which one had to pay in military currency or leave a kind of promissory note when commandeering any article that could be later exchanged into real currency.

Most soldiers just looted things and robbed people without a word. As observed by foreign journalists and missionaries, many times the Japanese troops shot the Chinese who tried to stop the plundering or resisted while being robbed. Some soldiers left the notes supplied by the Army, but as an accounting officer of the 9th Division recalled, those notes were written with no faith, having such false names as “Commander of the Retreating Unit, Chiang Kai-shek,” or simply stating, “Idiot!” [94]

As a consequence, when the Chinese refugees who survived the most intensive reign of terror for weeks finally went back home, there was absolutely nothing left for them to start over their normal lives again.

It is recorded that as early as the beginning of January 1938, the Japanese Army encouraged Chinese people to start business, trade money and produce food as a way to restore order in the city, but they had no stock to begin with, no money to spend, and no livestock or grain to grow. [95]

Interview: Wang Weixing [96]

"We should put our emotional feelings aside when discussing the Nanjing Massacre between the two nations," says Wang Weixing. Interview by author on March 30, 2000.

“We should put our emotional feelings aside when discussing the Nanjing Massacre between the two nations,” says Wang Weixing.

Wang Weixing is a historian at the Jiangsu Academy of Social Sciences. He is also a member of the Research Center of Nanjing Massacre by the Japanese Aggressors located in Nanjing Normal University. He has recently published an essay on the psychological backgrounds of the Japanese troops in Nanking.

“There are four aspects we should always look at to understand why Japanese soldiers went on the rampage in Nanjing.”

“First, they were vindictive towards Chinese because of the large number of casualties in Shanghai and other places in China. They carried out reprisals against even ordinary citizens. For instance, one diary of a former soldier tells us that he avenged his brother’s death in Northern China by killing many Chinese.”

“Second, they had to give absolute obedience. To Japanese soldiers it was a holy war. They were fighting for the Emperor. So they did whatever they were told to do. Considering that the massacres took place in many parts of the city during the same period of time by different groups or units of the Japanese troops, there must have been an order from the higher echelon of the Japanese Army.”

“Third, as a national policy, Japan was trying to be on a par with Europe and openly contemptuous of Asian countries. Their chauvinism as the Yamato race took a great role in their attitudes toward Chinese. They probably thought they could do whatever they want because they are superior to Chinese.”

“Lastly, it was an unexpectedly long war for Japanese soldiers. Japan took it for granted that the war in Shanghai would end soon. But in fact the war was long and drawn out. That made many soldiers mentally unstable. They were fierce, homesick, anxious and worn out. The only comfort and joy they could find was to murder prisoners of war and to rape women. It may sound strange but in a sense those criminal acts became their amusement….”

“But it should be noted that although killing prisoners of war was an order, the way to kill them depended solely on individual soldiers. I am against the idea to emphasize the insanity of the Japanese troops by pointing out grotesque ways of murder such as eating up internal organs, etc. There is no evidence to prove such things happened, at least not in Nanjing.”

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  1. Taiheiyou Senso Kenkyukai, “Nanking Gyakusatsu de Tairitsu suru Shougenshatachi [Conflicting eye-witness accounts of the Nanjing Massacre],” in Mokugekisha ga Kataru Showashi 5: Nichi Chu Senso [Showa History Told by Witnesses 5: Sino-Japanese War], 75-76.
  2. Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Jugun Ianfu [Comfort Women], (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1995), 22-25; Fumiko Kawata, “Nanking Senryo Chokugo ni Hajimatta Ianjo Setchi [The Establishment of Consolation Houses Started Right After the Capture of Nanjing],” Kinyobi 8.9 (10 March 2000): 39-41.
  3. Nanking Senshi Shiryoshu I [Historical Records of the Battle of Nanjing I] (Tokyo: Kaiko, 1989), 226.
  4. Ibid., 247-248.
  5. Yutaka Yoshida, Tenno no Guntai to Nanking Jiken [The Emperor’s Military and the Nanjing Incident], 153.
  6. Fujiwara, Nanking no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in Nanjing], 110.
  7. See for example, James McCallum’s letter to his family on January 6 in American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938, 42.
  8. Wang Weixing, interview by author, Nanjing, China, 30 March 2000.

©2000 Masato Kajimoto. All Rights Reserved.