Narratives of the
Singapore Massacre in Postwar Japan
Negative Campaign against War Crimes Trials in the 1950s
Although the Singapore
Massacre has not generated much interest among the Japanese people in the
postwar period, there has been some discussion of what took place. In this
section, I will discuss the evolving narratives of the Singapore Massacre
in postwar Japan .
Commander Kawamura Saburo published his reminiscences in 1952, at a time
when Japan was recovering its independence.
This book contains his diaries, personal letters, and
other materials. In one letter to his family, he expressed his condolences
to the victims of Singapore and prayed for the repose of their souls. The
foreword to the book was written by Tsuji, who managed to escape
punishment after the war, and Tsuji showed no regrets and offered no
apology to the victims. Although I do not know who asked Tsuji to
contribute the foreword, I believe his text accurately reflects the
atmosphere in Japan at the time as described below.
1950s, the Japanese government, members of parliament, and private
organisations waged a nationwide campaign for the release of war criminals
held in custody at Sugamo Prison inTokyo .
Both conservatives and progressives took part in the
campaign, arguing that minor war criminals were victims of the war, not
true criminals. A Japanese government committee was in charge of
recommending the parole and release of war criminals to the Allied
Nations. The committee’s recommendations are still closed to public in
Japan , but can be read in the national archives of the UK and USA .
As an example of this
committee’s recommendations in 1952, the British government was asked to
consider parole for Onishi Satoru, who took part in the Singapore Massacre
as a Kempeitai officer and was sentenced to life imprisonment by a British
war crimes trial.
The recommendation says that the figure of 5,000
victims of the Singapore Massacre was untrue and that his war crimes trial
had been an act of reprisal. Although this recommendation was not approved
by the British government, it reflects the Japanese government’s failure
to admit that mass murder occurred in Singapore
. Among the Japanese
people, the war crimes trials were, and still are, regarded as mock trials
of little value.
Japanese Response to Accusations by Singaporeans in the 1960s
Beginning in 1962,
numerous human remains dating from the Occupation were found in various
locations around Singapore . Prolonged discussions between the Singapore
and Japanese governments relating to these deaths led to a settlement in
1967, a matter that was reported in the Japanese newspapers, but only as
minor news. For example, the Nihon Keizai
Shimbun stated that a Japanese official involved in the
negotiations as saying that no executions by shooting happened in
The Asahi Shimbun
reported that it was hardly conceivable the Japanese military committed
atrocities inIndonesia and Thailand .
Another Asahi report
criticized the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Singapore , saying it should
not stoke hatred by propagating stories of barbarity by the Japanese
military during the war.
In 2003, the Japanese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs released documents relating to the
negotiations between Singapore and Japan during this period.
Japanese government had made use of a report prepared in 1946 by an army
committee chaired by Sugita Ichiji, a staff officer with the 25th Army.
To counter the war crimes prosecutions, the report admitted that
about 5,000 people had been executed, but excused the killings on several
This figure, according
to a written opinion by an official at the Ministry of Justice who was in
charge of detained war criminals, was an exaggeration, the correct figure
might be about 800. The Asahi Shimbun
reported this number with apparent approval.
Additional figures come from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, which accepted that the Japanese military had committed mass
murder in Singapore , but some Japanese foreign ministry documents state
that the number of victims was 3,000, while others use 5,000. One
ex-foreign ministry official sent a letter to the Foreign Minister saying
that Japan should repent and apologize in all sincerity, but this attitude
was exceptional among officials.
On the negotiations
with Singapore , the Japanese government rejected demands for reparations
but agreed to make a “gesture of atonement” by providing funds in other
ways. What the Japanese government feared most was economic damage as a
result of a boycott or sabotage by the local Chinese should Singapore ’s
demands be rejected. The agreement with Singapore was signed on the same
day as a similar agreement with Malaysia . Singapore was to receive 25
million Singapore dollars as a free gift and another 25 million Singapore
dollars in credit, while Malaysia was to receive 25 million
Malaysiadollars as a free gift.
To the last, the
Japanese government refused to admit legal responsibility for the massacre
or to carry out a survey. The mass media in Japan did not examine what had
happened in Singapore and Malaya during the war. It is no exaggeration to
say that the Japanese media at that time showed no inclination whatsoever
to confront Japan ’s war crimes or war responsibility.
Publications in the 1970s
There were, however,
some honest responses in the years that followed. In 1967 Professor Ienaga
Saburo, famous for his history textbook lawsuit against the Japanese
government, published a book entitled The
Pacific War that dealt with the Singapore Massacre.
In 1970, the monthly journal
Chugoku [ China ] published a feature called, “Blood Debt: Chinese
Massacre in Singapore ”, the first extended treatment in Japan of the
The piece was mostly written by Professor Tanaka
The 1970s also saw
publication of reminiscences by some of those directly involved in the
Massacre, and by people who witnessed or heard about it, including
Nihon Kempei Seishi [The Official History
of the Japanese Kempeitai] by the Zenkoku Kenyukai Rengokai [Joint
Association of National Kempei Veterans],
Otani Keijiro, and Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei
Jiken [Secret Memoir of Singapore Overseas Chinese Purification] by
Onishi Satoru. Onishi Satoru was a Kempeitai section commander who took
part in the Massacre. In his book he admitted that the “purification” was
a serious crime against humanity, but he claimed that number of victims
was actually around 1,000.
Otani’s book severely criticizes the Japanese military,
stating that the “purification” was an act of tyranny and claiming that
the action should be criticized from a human perspective.
associations usually justify or deny that inhuman acts had taken place,
the Joint Association of National Kempei Veterans has admitted that the
massacre was an inhuman act.
A few writers who were stationed or visited Singapore
during the war have also published memoirs in which they record what they
had heard about the Singapore Massacre.
On the whole, nobody denied that the Japanese purge in
Singapore was an atrocity against humanity and historians began to pay
attention to the episode. However, it failed to catch the attention of the
Development of Research in the 1980s and 1990s
The situation changed
in 1982, when the Ministry of Education ordered the deletion of passages
relating to Japanese atrocities in Asia from school textbooks, and
instructed textbook writers to replace the term “aggression” with less
emotive terms, such as “advance”.
This decision was severely criticized both domestically
and abroad, and the issue generated interest in Japan regarding the
behavior of the Japanese military in other Asian countries during the war.
A growing number of historians began to conduct research into Japanese
atrocities, including the Nanjing Massacre.
In 1984, while the
textbook controversy continued, a bulky book called
Malayan Chinese Resistance to Japan 1937-1945:
Selected Source Materials was published in Singapore . Sections of
this volume were translated into Japanese in 1986 under the title
Nihongun Senryoka no Singapore [
Singapore under Japanese Occupation], allowing Japanese to read in their
own language the testimony of Singaporeans concerning wartime events.
The main translator was Professor Tanaka Hiroshi,
mentioned earlier as the author of a magazine feature about the Singapore
publication was a 1987 booklet by Takashima Nobuyoshi, then a high school
teacher and now a professor at Ryukyu University, entitled
Tabi Shiyo Tonan-Ajia E [Let’s travel to
Based on information Takashima collected during
repeated visits to Malaysia and Singapore beginning in the early 1980s,
the booklet discussed atrocities and provided details of the “Memorial to
the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation” and of an exhibition of
victims” mementos at the Sun Yat Sen Villa. The volume served as a
guidebook for Japanese wishing to understand wartime events or visit sites
of Japanese atrocities. In 1983 he began organising study tours to
historical sites related to Japanese Occupation and to places where
massacres occurred in Malaysia andSingapore .
In 1987, I located
official military documents in the Library of the National Institute for
Defense Studies, Defense Agency that included operational orders and
official diaries related to the massacres of Chinese in Negri Sembilan and
Malacca in 1942. Newspapers throughout Japan reported these findings, the
first time public attention had been focused on the killings in Malaya .
The document showed that troops from Hiroshima had been
involved in atrocities in Negri Sembilan and this information came as a
major shock to the people of Hiroshima , who had thought themselves as
victims of the atomic bomb and had never imagined that their fathers or
husbands had been involved in the massacres in Malaya .
In 1988, several
citizen’s groups jointly invited Chinese survivors from Malaysia to visit
Japan , and held rallies where Japanese citizens listened in to their
testimony. A book that included these statements was published in 1989.
in 1988, the Negri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall published a book in
Chinese called the Collected Materials of
Suffering of Chinese in Negeri Sembilan during the Japanese Occupation,
and the following year Professor Takashima and I published a Japanese
translation of this volume.
Another source of information was the history
textbook used inSingapore by students in lower secondary school,
Social and Economic History of Modern Singapore
2, which was translated into Japanese in 1988. The material it
contained concerning the occupation attracted the attention of Japanese
readers, particularly teachers and researchers.
As might be expected,
there was a backlash to these initiatives. It was claimed that Japanese
troops killed only guerrillas and their supporters, and that the number
was much smaller than reported. Responding to these allegations, I
published a book in 1992 entitled Kakyo
Gyakusatu: Nihongun Shihaika no Mare Hanto [Chinese Massacres: The
Malay Peninsula under Japanese Occupation]
that substantiated in detail the activities of the
Japanese military in Negri Sembilan during March 1942, when several
thousand Chinese were massacred. Since then there has been no rebuttal by
those who would not concede the massacres in Malaya apart from personal
attacks and corrections of trifling details that have no effect on the
In 1996, the Singapore
Heritage Society’s book, SYONAN: Singapore under
the Japanese, 1942-1945 was translated into Japanese.
This book introduced to Japanese readers the living
conditions and suffering of Singaporeans under the Japanese occupation in
a comprehensive way. Further information appeared in a book I published
entitled, Sabakareta Senso Hanzai: Igirisu no
Tainichi Senpan Saiban [Tried War Crimes; British War Crimes Trials
of Japanese]. This volume contains an account of the Singapore Massacre
based on British, Chinese and Japanese documents.
Jusan Kaidan wo Noboru [Walking up
Thirteen Steps of the Stairs] (Tokyo: Ato Shobo, 1952).
See Hayashi Hirofumi , BC
-kyu Senpan Saiban [Class B & C War
Crimes Trials] ( Tokyo : Iwanami Shoten, 2005), ch. 6.
FO371/105435(National Archives, UK ).
Later, he was released in 1957.
Nihon Keizai Shimbun,
3 Nov. 1966 .
20 Sept. 1967 .
18 Sept. 1963 .
These documents are open to the public at the
Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
See footnote no.14.
29 Sept. 1963 .
Hara Fujio, “Maleishia, Shingaporu no Baisho Mondai” [Reparation
Problem with Singapore and Malaysia ], Senso
Skinin Kenkyu [The Report on Japan ’s War Responsibility], No. 10,
Ienaga Saburo, Taiheiyo Senso
[The Pacific War] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1967).
Singaporu no Chugokujin Gyakusatsu Jiken” [Blood Debt: Chinese Massacre in
Singapore ], in Chugoku [ China ], vol.
76 (Mar. 1970).
Tokyo : Private Press, 1976.
Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei Jiken, pp.
Keijiro, Kempei, p. 189.
Zenkoku Kenyukai Rengokai,
Nihon Kempei Seishi, p. 979.
For example, Terasaki Hiroshi,
Senso no Yokogao [Profile of the War]
(Tokyo: Taihei Shuppan, 1974), Nakajima Kenzo,
Kaiso no Bungaku[Literature of Recollection], vol. 5 (Tokyo:
Heibonsha, 1977), Omata Yukio, Zoku Shinryaku
[Sequel: Aggression] (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1982), and so on.
Rekishigaku Kenkyukai [The Historical Science Society of Japan],
Rekishika wa naze Shinryaku ni kodawaruka
[Why Historian adhere to Aggression] (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1982).
Composed of historians and journalists, Nankin Jiken
Chosa Kenkyu Kai [The Society for the Study of Nanjin Massacre] was
established in 1984. It remains active, although the scope of research has
been extended to Japanese atrocities in China and the rest of Southeast
Tokyo : Aoki Shoten, 1986.
Iwanami Shoten, 1987.
This article was delivered by the Kyodo News Service
and came forth on newspapers on 8 Dec. 1987 .
As mentioned before, the 5th Division conducted Purge
through Purification throughout Malay Peninsular except Johor. The
headquarters of the Division in peace time was situated in Hiroshima and
soldiers were conscripted in Hiroshima and neighboring prefectures.
Senso Giseisha wo Kokoro ni Kizamukai [The Society of
Keeping War Victims in our Heart], Nihongun no
Maresia Jumin Gyakusatu [The Massacres of Malaysian Local
Population by the Japanese Military] (Osaka: Toho Shuppan, 1989).
Originally published in 1988. The Japanese translation
was as follows: Takashima Nobuyoshi & Hayashi Hirofumi (eds.),
Maraya no Nihongun [The Japanese Army in
Malaya ] (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1989).
Ishiwata Nobuo and Masuo Keizo (eds.),
Gaikoku no Kyokasho no nakano Nihon to Nihonjin
[ Japan and Japanese in a Foreign Textbook] (Tokyo: Ikkosha, 1988).
Tokyo : Suzusawa Shoten, 1992. As for arguments of
right-wingers, see Chapter 8 of this book.
example, two articles by Hata Ikuhiko in the journal
Seiron, August and Oct. 1992 and
Professor Takashima’s and my responses in the same journal on two
occasions in Sept. and Nov. 1992.
Tokyo : Gaifusha,
Tokyo : Iwanami Shoten, 1998.