Bring­ing jus­tice to the vic­tims of Unit 731

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO XU

Editor’s note: On Tues­day, the memo­rial day mark­ing the Nan­jing Mas­sacre, which started in De­cem­ber 1937, China Daily looks at the work of Ja­panese lawyers, aca­demics and jour­nal­ists who are seek­ing re­dress for war crimes com­mit­ted by their na­tion’s army dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion of China.

‘One hun­dred and one Chi­nese were used dur­ing the ex­per­i­ments, cor­rect?” “No, no, not that many …” That was part of a con­ver­sa­tion that took place in 1981 be­tween Shiro Kasa­hara, a re­spected mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist from the Ki­tasato Uni­ver­sity Hospi­tal and Re­search Unit in Ja­pan, and Fuyuko Nishisato, a Ja­panese jour­nal­ist act­ing as a trans­la­tor for a re­porter from In­de­pen­dent Tele­vi­sion News in the United King­dom.

The “ex­per­i­ments” in­volved hu­man vivi­sec­tion and were con­ducted more than seven decades ago when Kasa­hara was a mem­ber of Unit 731, the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army’s covert bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare re­search and de­vel­op­ment di­vi­sion. The unit was based at Ping­fang on the out­skirts of Harbin, Hei­long jiang province, in North­east China, which was part of a Ja­panese pup­pet state known as Manchukuo, in the area of Manchuria, be­tween 1932 and 1945.

The num­ber 101 was men­tioned be­cause it was the to­tal num­ber of sub­jects that ap­peared in sev­eral med­i­cal pa­pers about epi­demic hem­or­rhagic fever writ­ten by Kasa­hara and his col­leagues in the 1940s. The dis­ease, which is trans­mit­ted by ticks, was ram­pant among Ja­panese sol­diers at the time, so they de­cided to use hu­man guinea pigs in their at­tempts to find a rem­edy.

“In the late 1930s and early ’ 40s, an es­ti­mated 3,000 peo­ple, mostly men who had re­sisted the Ja­panese, were cap­tured by the Kem­peitai, the Ja­panese army’s ver­sion of the Gestapo. They were sent to Unit 731’s sprawl­ing com­pound in Ping­fang, where they be­came hu­man guinea pigs in the re­search and de­vel­op­ment of bi­o­log­i­cal weapons. Many were sub­jected to vivi­sec­tion,” Nishisato said. “Re­luc­tant to en­ter into any dis­cus­sion about Manchuria, Kasa­hara was very de­fen­sive about the hu­man ex­per­i­ments.”

Fuyuko Nishisato, the re­searcher, has of­ten been con­fronted with wartime atroc­i­ties and those who com­mit­ted them. “In 1981, we saw the publi­ca­tion of The Devil’s Glut­tony by Ja­panese au­thor Sei­ichi Morimura, a his­tor­i­cal novel that ex­posed the crimes com­mit­ted by Unit 731. The world was shocked and re­acted by send­ing re­porters to Ja­pan. I was hired by a Bri­tish tele­vi­sion com­pany to do re­search and co­or­di­na­tion for their doc­u­men­tary film unit,” she re­called. “That was the be­gin­ning of three-and-half decades of re­search into Ja­pan’s wartime crimes, dur­ing which I worked on a num­ber of doc­u­men­taries for ma­jor me­dia out­lets in­clud­ing the BBC, NBC and the His­tory Chan­nel.”

That re­search led her to Ping­fang, where many peo­ple per­ished, and other parts of Harbin, Hei­long jiang province, where vic­tims’ fam­i­lies still live.

“Many fam­i­lies had no idea about the where­abouts of their loved ones un­til the 1990s, when cru­cial Kem­peitai ‘spe­cial trans­fer’ files were dis­closed by the pro­vin­cial archives in Hei­long jiang and Jilin— files that the de­feated Ja­panese army had no time to de­stroy com­pletely back in 1945,” said Nishisato, whose book Be­hind Bay­o­nets and Barbed Wire: The Se­crets of Ja­panese Army Unit 731 will be pub­lished in English and Chi­nese in March.

“Dur­ing a trip in 2003, I met a woman called Zhu Yufen whose fa­ther and un­cle were ar­rested by the Kem­peitai and dis­ap­peared be­fore she was born. Photos of her un­cle were later dis­cov­ered at­tached to the files. Since not one photo of Zhu’s fa­ther was left, she al­ways car­ried her un­cle’s photo be­cause peo­ple who knew them as young men told her that they looked very much alike,” she said.

“Another woman I met, whose fa­ther was in­volved in the un­der­ground re­sis­tance and was later cap­tured and killed in Ping­fang, was very tense when she saw me and the other Ja­panese in our group. She cried as she told her story, and re­fused to have lunch with us.”

‘Doubt and dis­trust’

For Kei­ichiro Ichi­nose, a Ja­panese lawyer, “doubt and dis­trust” were the emo­tions he read in the eyes of the peo­ple who sur­rounded him dur­ing his first visit to Chong­shan, a vil­lage in Zhe­jiang province, in 1997.

“In the early 1940s, the Ja­panese launched large-scale germ war­fare in many parts of the prov­inces of Jiangxi and Zhe­jiang. Chong­shan lost onethird of its pop­u­la­tion — about 400 peo­ple — to bubonic plague after the bac­te­ria was spread by the Ja­panese,” he said. “The sto­ries are painfully sim­i­lar — peo­ple sud­denly de­vel­oped a high fever, strug­gled for hours or days, died mis­er­ably and then were buried, of­ten hastily and se­cretly. Be­hind every tightly closed door was a suf­fer­ing, help­less soul. The whole pic­ture was hellish.”

As a teenager six decades ago, Ichi­nose lis­tened to the sto­ries re­counted by his fa­ther, a Ja­panese army con­script who fought in China be­tween 1942 and 1945. “He wanted me to know ‘the most im­pres­sive’ part of his life. And he did so while we were in the bath,” he said.

Ichi­nose has vis­ited China nearly 100 times since 1995 to gather ev­i­dence and col­lect tes­ti­monies for court cases in which vic­tims and their fam­i­lies sued the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment for com­pen­sa­tion for the use of germ war­fare and in­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing dur­ing the in­va­sion of China.

Wang Xuan, a Chi­nese re­searcher and ac­tivist whose in­volve­ment in the law­suits spans sev­eral decades, has stood be­side Ichi­nose in court and in Chong­shan. As a flu­ent speaker of Ja­panese she has trans­lated for him dur­ing his meet­ings with vic­tims.

“I have to say that at the be­gin­ning, Ichi­nose, like many of the Ja­panese lawyers who came to China to meet plain­tiffs, was com­pletely un­aware of the men­tal im­pact his very pres­ence had on the vil­lagers. They (the Ja­panese) were just not al­ways sen­si­tive to the fact that they were ‘the de­scen­dants of the in­vaders’,” Wang said, mak­ing quote marks in the air.

“Con­se­quently, they some­times ex­uded a sense of sel­f­righ­teous­ness, cou­pled with the air of men who be­longed to the highly ed­u­cated so­cial elite. All this was daunt­ing for their in­ter­vie­wees; poor, bit­ter and il­lit­er­ate, and vic­tim­ized by the war all their lives,” she added. “A lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ex­pla­na­tion was re­quired be­fore the lay­ers of mem­ory could be peeled away to re­veal in de­tail what had hap­pened more than seven decades ago.”

Wang, who of­ten slept on the desk in Ichi­nose’s of­fice while in Ja­pan for court hear­ings, ap­plauded her friend’s per­se­ver­ance: “He is thor­ough and tire­less in his re­search, and as a lawyer, he has set an ex­am­ple for Chi­nese aca­demics who, re­gret­fully, have never fully an­a­lyzed all the wartime records avail­able to them.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, about 5,000 Ja­panese peo­ple are ac­tively en­gaged in un­earthing their coun­try’s wartime his­tory and seek­ing re­dress for vic­tims across Asia. “They in­clude lawyers, aca­demics, jour­nal­ists and teach­ers. Al­most all of them are do­ing it free of charge,” she said. “Their com­mit­ment goaded me for­ward.”

As head of the plain­tiffs’ group be­tween 1997 and 2007, Wang was at the cen­ter of a com­pen­sa­tion case that went all the way from a Tokyo district court to Ja­pan’s Supreme Court. At its largest, the lawyers’ group for the plain­tiffs num­bered 224, all of them Ja­panese, with Ichi­nose as a core mem­ber. The group was led by Kho­ken Tsuchiya, a one­time chair­man of the Ja­panese Bar As­so­ci­a­tion.


“As far as I know, Tsuchiya was the first Ja­panese to say ‘No need to thank us’ to the vic­tims,” Wang re­called. “His hu­mil­ity was deeply rooted.”

In De­cem­ber 1943, with de­feat for Ja­pan loom­ing, 20-year-old Tsuchiya left high school and joined the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Navy.

After re­ceiv­ing train­ing in Lyushun, a port in North­east China, he was dis­patched to Chichi­jima, or “Fa­ther”, Is­land, 1,200 me­ters south of main­land Tokyo, where he en­dured hunger and con­stant US bomb­ing un­til Aug 15, 1945, when Ja­pan for­mally an­nounced its sur­ren­der.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy The Spirit of Lawyers, pub­lished in Ja­panese in 2008, the year be­fore he died, Tsuchiya de­scribed the death of a fel­low sol­dier. “A bul­let shot through his mouth, punch­ing holes in his head and hel­met. His eye­balls popped out as blood spurted from his mouth … a chill rose from the bot­tom of my heart.”

Another in­ci­dent that stayed with him was the ex­e­cu­tion of a US prisoner of war, 22-year-old Sec­ond Lieu­tenant War­ren Earl Vaughn, by a fel­low sol­dier and kendo prac­ti­tioner. Days be­fore the ex­e­cu­tion, Tsuchiya found time to talk with the marine, who was only a year older than him­self, and on the night of Vaughn’s death, he in­ter­vened when two rav­en­ous sol­diers at­tempted to dig up the body and eat it. “I told them that he had died bravely, so they must let him rest in peace. The next day, I re­ported the in­ci­dent to my su­pe­rior, whose re­ac­tion was: ‘Why stop them?’ ” Tsuchiya re­called in his book.

“I grew up in an era when con­science was tram­pled. My own youth was wasted, while many more were cut short,” he wrote. “Look­ing back, I re­al­ize that si­lence in the face of evil is a sin.”

Be­tween 1997 and his death at age 86, Tsuchiya, who was highly re­garded by his peers, de­voted him­self to ex­pos­ing Ja­pan’s wartime crimes. His mis­sion took him from Ja­pan to China, where he in­ter­viewed wit­nesses, and to the US and Canada, where he spoke to au­di­ences about the evils of war.

Wang fre­quently ac­com­pa­nied him. “He would of­fer to carry my heavy suit­cases, some­thing un­usual among Ja­panese men. He was al­ways a steady, fa­therly fig­ure,” she said. “While in China, he blended eas­ily with the lo­cals, eat­ing and drink­ing at their homes. Yet he was al­ways such a force in court; con­cise, pow­er­ful and ir­refutable.”

Ac­cord­ing to Nishisato, Tsuchiya was not the only former Ja­panese com­bat­ant who came to hate the war they had once avidly fought for their coun­try.

“In 1981, I in­ter­viewed Sueo Aki­moto, a serol­o­gist who had worked at Unit 731 in Ping­fang. He told me that Shiro Ishii — the unit’s com­man­der and head of the Lab­o­ra­tory of Epi­demic Pre­ven­tion at the Army Med­i­cal Col­lege in Tokyo — con­vinced him that he could do ‘re­search’ in China. Aki­moto later dis­cov­ered the truth, but was un­able to leave ‘the Fac­tory of Death’,” she said.

“When he re­turned to Ja­pan at the end of the war, he was so ashamed that he chose not to go back into med­i­cal ser­vice, but to teach X-ray scan­ning tech­niques un­til his re­tire- ment.”

Not ev­ery­one felt guilty, or would ad­mit to feel­ing so. Kasa­hara, the mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist who per­formed ex­per­i­ments on hu­mans and be­came a re­spected fig­ure in his field after the war, re­mained un­re­pen­tant.

“Be­lieve it or not, dur­ing wartime, many Ja­panese med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als felt priv­i­leged to be able to go to Ping­fang and use hu­man be­ings in the lab­o­ra­tory,” Nishisato said.

“They would fill in forms stat­ing how many sub­jects they wanted to use the next day. The hu­man guineas pigs were re­ferred to as maruta, or “logs”, in Ja­panese.

“Be­tween them, they pro­duced a cou­ple of dozen med­i­cal pa­pers, in which the hu­man guinea pigs were re­ferred to as ‘Manchurian apes’. Post­war, many re­ceived doc­tor­ates based on their ‘find­ings’ in Ping­fang,” she added. “I in­ter­viewed a few Chi­nese who did un­skilled work in the vicin­ity of Unit 731’s fa­cil­i­ties. They said they sensed that some­thing un­speak­able must be go­ing on, but they didn’t know ex­actly what it was. Of course they didn’t know — it was beyond their wildest imag­in­ings! How­ever, the en­tire Ja­panese med­i­cal world, more or less, knew dur­ing the war.”

Look­ing back, I re­al­ize that si­lence in the face of evil is a sin. Kho­ken Tsuchiya, a Ja­panese lawyer. As a young man (left), Tsuchiya served in Ja­pan’s Im­pe­rial Navy dur­ing World War II The hu­man guineas pigs were re­ferred to as maruta, or “logs”, in Ja­panese. Fuyuko Nishisato, Ja­panese re­porter and germ war­fare ex­pert

A sense of de­nial

Ichi­nose is aware of how per­sis­tent that sense of de­nial can be. His late fa­ther’s right fore­arm and right hip car­ried scars from the war. “When I was lit­tle, I was mes­mer­ized by them. Later, as I grew up, I asked my fa­ther: did you ever kill any Chi­nese?” he said. “Through­out his life, my fa­ther, who had stud­ied medieval art his­tory un­der a lead­ing pro­fes­sor be­fore he joined the army, never an­swered that ques­tion.”

Cur­rently, Ichi­nose is rep­re­sent­ing 180 vic­tims and their fam­i­lies who are de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion from Ja­pan for the in­dis­crim­i­nate bomb­ing of Chongqing, China’s wartime cap­i­tal.

“I don’t have un­re­al­is­tic hopes,” the lawyer said can­didly, point­ing to fa­vor­able ver­dicts given in other cases and, most fa­mously, the case he fought be­tween 1997 and 2007, along with Wang and Tsuchiya. The de­mand for com­pen­sa­tion was re­jected, but the court ac­cepted all the facts, from germ war­fare to ex­per­i­ments con­ducted on hu­mans.

“That was a tri­umph. Peo­ple in peace­ful times must be made fully aware of the cru­elty of war,” Ichi­nose said.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Tsuchiya ad­mit­ted that he was just one step away from com­mit­ting a war crime: “The job of be­head­ing the US lieu­tenant was orig­i­nally handed to me. Al­though I hated it, I was in no po­si­tion to refuse. How­ever, the day be­fore the sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion, I was in­formed by my su­pe­rior, who was slightly apolo­getic, that another per­son had rec­om­mended him­self.”

When the war ended, the ex­e­cu­tioner begged his peers not to give him away to US in­ter­roga­tors. Ini­tially, he es­caped de­tec­tion and re­turned to his home­town, later en­rolling at a uni­ver­sity in Tokyo.

How­ever, in the spring of 1946, news came that the US au­thor­i­ties had dis­cov­ered the truth and were look­ing for him. He re­turned home from Tokyo that night and killed him­self, ac­cord­ing to Tsuchiya’s book.

“I was cheated into be­liev­ing that I was fight­ing a war of honor, only to re­al­ize that there was no honor in be­ing an ag­gres­sor — only shame and pain. I could have died a dis­grace­ful and un­wor­thy death; now, I will live for jus­tice un­til I die,” the lawyer wrote.


Ja­panese lawyer Kei­ichiro Ichi­nose (right) at the Quzhou Germ War­fare Vic­tims Memo­rial Mu­seum in Zhe­jiang in Oc­to­ber as he takes a photo of a list of those who died as a re­sult of Ja­pan’s bi­o­log­i­cal weapons


The ru­ins of the site of Unit 731 in Ping­fang, Harbin.


With Wang Xuan (right) as his in­ter­preter, Ichi­nose (left) col­lects tes­ti­mony from vic­tims of germ war­fare in Zhe­jiang province.

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