Gyokusai  (Honorable Defeat) or Gyakusatsu  (Massacre): Japanese accounts of the Battle of Manila

Ricardo Trota Jose
Department of History
University of the Philippines



Few Japanese are aware of the horrors of that occurred during the 1945 Battle of Manila. This is partly because little has been written about it in the mainstream Japanese media. When, in August 2007, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), aired a long special documentary on the battle, many Japanese learned for the first time of the atrocities committed in the battle. While the documentary had its flaws (such as trying to pin much of the blame on the Americans rather than the Japanese, relying heavily on interviews without double checking the information and other items), it was a significant event in at least bringing the battle to mainstream Japanese consciousness. And it was the first time that Japanese survivors were interviewed on camera, even though they held back much.

 The battle of Manila is not seriously tackled in Japanese textbooks, and some Japanese students who come to Manila are suddenly confronted by the enormity of the battle when they meet elderly Filipinos or see the memorials. Worse, some of the published works discuss the battle in an antiseptic, detached military point of view without mentioning the civilian casualties. The published official histories of the Japanese Army and Navy, for example, deal with strategic and tactical issues, the difficulties encountered by the Japanese forces and the changing lines of command. There are two volumes of the Senshi Sosho (War History Series), published in 1972 (one for the Army, one for the Navy), which include sections on the battle, but there is nothing on the civilian deaths, either as a result of deliberate massacre or as victims of the crossfire. A very detailed monograph exclusively on the battle published by the Japanese Self Defense Force War History Section in 1982 similarly has no mention of the civilians and the atrocities committed on them. At least two civilian survivors of the battle wrote short narratives of the battle, focusing mainly on the sacrifices faced by the Japanese in the face of overwhelming American power and surrounded by a hostile population. One popular writer, Noboru Kojima, published a book in 1969 on the Manila Naval Defense Force, based on some serious research: he was able to interview some of the surviving Japanese officers and men of the naval force and also the widow of Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, who was still alive at that time. But his bibliography and acknowledgements do not include a single work of a Filipino survivor of the battle, nor did he interview any victim. He does admit that the truth of the battle of Manila will never be known, because of the darkness surrounding the events of February 1945, the severity of the experience and the unwillingness of persons to remember those days.

 A few Japanese survivors did write about their experiences, although some of these were published posthumously. One of the two senior Japanese Navy officers to survive the battle, Lt Commander Koichi Kayashima, wrote a lengthy narrative of his personal experiences a few years after the war, which was published only in 1995. This memoir was published in a special issue of Maru Magazine, a rightist publication which focuses on military affairs and particularly Japanese exploits during the Second World War. This particular issue was entitled “Gyokusai,” a word peculiar to the Japanese martial tradition.

Gyokusai in Japanese literally meant “crushed jewels”, but figuratively it meant “death for honor” or dying honorably in battle in the face of impossible odds. Glorious annihilation – fighting to the last man - is another way of translating this term. Instances of Gyokusai include the bloody battles of Tarawa, Attu, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Civilians were also present in the battles of Saipan and Okinawa, and thousands perished in the fighting – many at the instigation or order of the Japanese Army.

 It is, however, surprising to see Manila as being classified as a case of glorious annihilation. As early as late February 1945, Ambassador Shozo Murata, in Baguio at the time, mentioned the annihilation of the Manila Naval Defense Force as being a case of gyokusai.  Using this term conveniently sidesteps the deliberate killing of unarmed civilian noncombatants and the destruction of their homes.

Another Japanese word more accurately describes what happened in Manila in February 1945: gyakusatsu or massacre. The Rape of Nanking in 1937 has been aptly described as a massacre, although the rightists have long since denied that it happened on a large scale. The killings of civilians in Manila, Los Baños, Lipa, Tanuan and elsewhere in the Philippines in early 1945 also are considered massacres, although very few Japanese writers outrightly refer to these incidents as such.




Most of the published works which mention the Battle of Manila stick to the gyokusai frame and focus on the hardships faced by the Japanese forces – primarily the Manila Naval Defense Force and units attached to it. One of the first to appear was a memoir by Lt. Gen. Akira Muto, Gen. Yamashita’s chief of staff. Muto wrote his memoirs while in Sugamo Prison, awaiting trial as a Class A War Criminal. Muto was in the Japanese Army’s General Headquarters in 1937 and was accused of playing a role in the Rape of Nanking, pushing Japan to sign the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy and otherwise settgin Japan on the road to war. Given the gravity of the offenses charged against him, what happened in the Philippines was a much lesser evil, it seems, which is why he wrote what he called “The Truth of the Philippine Campaign” in 1947. It was published in book form in 1952, after Muto had been executed for war crimes, and has been reprinted.

Various other articles are persona accounts by survivors. Already mentioned is Comdr. Kayashima’s memoir, printed in 1995. Lt. Comdr. Shizuhiko Mineo, a naval officer with the Southern Force of the Manila Naval Defense Force, also wrote a memoir which was published (again by Maru Magazine) in 1986. The Southern Force, which defended Nichols Field and Fort McKinley, was later ordered to Infanta, Quezon, where civilians were massacred. Mineo, in fact, was charged as a war criminal and found guilty.

 There are a few articles written by journalists who were present in the battle, but again focused on the difficulties faced by the Japanese fighting men – in particular the male civilians who were conscripted in late October 1944. Many of these, including long-term pre-war residents of Manila and correspondents, were killed in the fighting. They had no choice but to fight since their officers or noncommissioned officers could kill them if they tried to surrender. One of these is Isamu Kobayashi’s “Manila Street Fighting” (printed in 1951; reprinted in 1985 as “Manila’s Last Day”). Kobayashi was a newsman with Mainichi Shimbun who was conscripted into the Japanese Department of Information in Manila during the occupation. 




Only a handful or publications deal with the gyakusatsu – massacre – view of the battle. Only one writer has come to grips squarely with the atrocities issue – Walang Hiya (1990) by Jintaro Ishida. He confronted Japanese veterans directly – he ambushed them at home confronting them with their past – and also interviewed many Filipino victims. Ishida was a member of the Japanese Navy but was conscripted very late in the war and served in the home front. Feeling a sense of anguish of Japanese war crimes, he sought justice for victims of Japan’s militarism by publishing about the atrocities. This was a dangerous task for a writer in Japan, given the power of the right wing politicians and groups (some of whom are yakuza types), as well as the political clout of the Bereaved Families Association. He chose to use a pseudonym partly for safety, but was very much home in his visits to the Philippines. One of his books has been translated into English (The Remains of War: Apology and Forgiveness, 2001) but this deals with atrocities in Laguna and Batangas), but Walang Hiya remains only in Japanese. With a section on Manila, Lipa, Laguna and Infanta, the book caused much controversy among Japanese veterans.

Two other works, although not on the Battle of Manila, deserve mention. One, a researched account by writer Etsuro Kawamura, deals with the Infanta Massacre (Massacre by the Sacred Army, 1991) which occurred after the Battle of Manila. Ironically, the unit which committed the atrocities was the Southern Force of the Manila Naval Defense Force, remnants of which were ordered to Infanta after the Americans took Nichols Airfield (now Villamor Air Base and a part of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) and Fort Bonifacio. Captain Takasue Furuse, its commander, was the senior survivor of the Manila Naval Defense Force, and was tried as a war criminal for the atrocities in Infanta. He pled guilty and spent time in prison. Although he survived, he did not write his own memoirs.

A Japanese veteran, Takashi Tomokiyo, wrote about the massacres he saw in Batangas. His book, Madness – the Truth of the Slaughter of Luzon Residents (1983, with several reprints) was, like Walang Hiya, controversial and led to Tomokiyo’s being ostracized by his fellow veterans.

 As writer Noboru Kojima noted, the Japanese side of the Battle of Manila would never be complete. Virtually all the officers in Manila proper were killed in action or committed suicide, and strict orders were given to burn or destroy documents.

 There were, however, some Japanese who survived the battle. Some were captured involuntarily, while trying to rejoin Japanese forces outside Manila, while others surrendered. Most of them never spoke out after the war, but some records allow us to gain at least partial insights into the thinking of the Japanese who fought in Manila. The 2007 NHK documentary was able to locate a few Japanese participants of the battle, but they held back and did not admit to committing atrocities themselves.


Postwar statements and reports


Some of the key Japanese officers who survived the Philippine fighting were asked to write statements about specific aspects of their experiences. The senior surviving Japanese naval officers in the Philippines, Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi (commander of the Southwest Area Fleet and highest Japanese Navy officer in the Philippines – Rear Admiral Iwabuchi’s immediate superior), and Capt. Furuse (commander of the South Force, Manila Naval Defense Force), did not write any statement or report, but Lt. Comdr. Koichi Kayashima did. Commander Kayashima was the Manila Naval Defense Force’s staff officer in charge of operations and worked closely with Admiral Iwabuchi. He survived because he was sent to Montalban to contact Adm. Iwabuchi’s operational superior, Lt. Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama. Kayashima was able to get back to Fort McKinley but no further. Unable to rejoin Adm. Iwabuchi, Kayashima was attached to Capt. Furuse’s Southern Force and joined it in its move to Infanta. Excerpts from Kayashima’s statement are given below.

Although Adm. Okochi did not write anything, his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Arima, was asked by US occupation forces to write a statement. He covered part of the battle as he – from headquarters – saw it.

Adm. Okochi did, however, testify in the trial against Gen. Yamashita: he testified for the prosecution, highlighting the fact that all the naval troops in Manila had been placed under Japanese Army operational control. Adm. Okochi and the Japanese Navy, he thus testified, had nothing to do with its ground operations – and ergo, were innocent of the atrocities. Yamashita’s defense lawyers were able to get him to grudgingly admit that the navy did have orders which superseded the Army orders, which were issued before the Manila Naval Defense Force was placed under Army control. Okochi did not elaborate on the naval orders except to say that these concerned the destruction of naval facilities and resources the US could use. He was not asked for details, or the source of these orders.

 The statements and memoirs – as well as more extensive histories written by former Japanese officers – were written after the Yamashita trial and well after Gen. Yamashita’s execution. Gen. Muto’s memoir is self serving and inaccurate in many places – perhaps deliberately, to whitewash the case against him. For example, he states that orders were given to free prisoners of war in Cabanatuan and to release the internees in Santo Tomas. Neither was done; US Rangers had to stage a surprise raid and catch Japanese guards by surprise in Cabanatuan. Japanese guards in UST even held internees in one building hostage for almost 24 hours before they agreed to leave, provided they were escorted back to their own lines.

 Gen Muto also testified in the Yamashita trial, but this time as a defense witness. While in prison in Muntinglupa, he met with other accused war criminals. Lt. Toshimi Kumai, accused of murdering a civilian in Panay, remembered that Muto specifically met with them. Being former chief of staff of Army headquarters in the Philippines, he commanded a lot of respect. Muto told the Panay war criminal suspects:

“The war had not ended in the real sense of the word. The US is trying to kill as many Japanese officers and soldiers as possible. In war, the important thing is to cause as few Japanese victims as possible. In the trials as well, what we should do is not to name any others. You are all honorable kamikaze fighters. You should fight the trial with the spirit of a kamikaze. In addition, the US forces want to say that the top commanders of the Japanese Army ordered the killing of non-combatants. You should never say, for the sake of the Japanese Army, that anyone who graduated from the Imperial Military Academy had ever ordered the killing of non-combatants.”

As a result, high-ranking officers in their respective trials always repeated that they knew nothing about massacres and had nothing to do with them. Their subordinate officers and men thus paid the price, although many were found lying and were found guilty.

 Thus, information in the trial transcripts and post-war statements of Japanese officers can be viewed with skepticism. Comdr. Kayashima’s and Adm. Arima’s statement were both written in 1949, when both men had time to ponder their respective stories. It was easy to pin the blame on General Yamashita and Admiral Iwabuchi, who were both dead.

 A further reason for particularly doubting Muto’s and Arima’s accounts was the fact that Muto and Arima frequently consulted with each other in Baguio and in the mountains of northern Luzon. After the surrender and during the war crimes trials in Manila, Muto and Arima were placed together in prison camp. Not surprisingly, Arima vouched for everything that Muto said. 

 Interesting revelations are made when one inspects the background of some of these officers. Gen. Muto was tried for inciting Japan to go to war. But he was also tried for his role in the Rape of Nanking, which he was fully aware of. Admiral Okochi, on the other hand, was commander of the Special Naval Landing Force in Shanghai at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. This Special Naval Landing Force carried out amphibious landings to isolate Chinese forces in Shanghai and was in the frontline in the street fighting there. Overshadowed by the Rape of Nanking a month after the Battle of Shanghai, the cost in civilian lives and destroyed buildings was itself enormous. He was never tried for atrocities in Shanghai or in the Philippines.

 Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, commander of the Manila Naval Defense Force, was a career navy officer who rose up the ranks, commanding destroyers, cruisers and finally the battleship Kirishima. His career was skewed when the Kirishima was sunk in 1942 in the Guadalcanal campaign. Iwabuchi was dishonored by surviving the sinking of his ship at a time when the Japanese Navy literally called for a captain to go down with his ship. He was assigned as personnel officer in Tsuchiura Naval Base in Japan.

 Interestingly, Admiral Okochi, who was also in the south Pacific at that time, was brought back to Japan and later assigned to the same Tsuchiura naval base that Iwabuchi was in.

 At least one of the Japanese sailors in Manila had actually fought in the Battle of Shanghai as a member of the Special Naval Landing Force.

 Since most of the members of the Manila Naval Defense Force were killed in battle or committed suicide – the four naval battalions in Manila suffered from 71 to 92 % battle deaths (battalions outside the city proper suffered only 40-50%) – oral or written testimony after the battle are extremely sparse. (Adm. Iwabuchi committed suicide on February 26, inside the Agriculture and Commerce building. He was promoted posthumously to Vice Admiral. Col Katsuzo Noguchi, senior Japanese Army commander in Manila who held the area north of the Pasig until military stores and key buildings were demolished, was killed on February 25). As seen above, of these few reports, not all can be taken at face value.


Documents taken on the field of battle


There are two other sources to help recount the Japanese side of the battle.  One are the interrogations of prisoners of war who either surrendered or were captured in the course of the fighting. US Army interrogators, however, were particularly interested in tactical and strategic information of value to fighting the battle and winning the war. Thus, no questions were asked concerning the massacres of civilians.

Prisoners of war either surrendered voluntarily – several after hearing loudspeaker broadcasts promising safe treatment. Several others seriously considered surrendering but were afraid their officers would shoot them when they tried. Most of those who surrendered were recent recruits, usually civilians and pre-war Manila residents who had been in uniform for only three months before the battle. They usually proved willing to provide information, although since they had only limited experience, could not give much.

 Many of those captured were spotted by guerrillas while trying to escape the city to rejoin forces in the mountains. Some were captured when they were wounded (a few were interrogated while still undergoing medical treatment). Some tried to swim across the Pasig, others tried to get to Malabon by raft, while still others sought to infiltrate American lines on land, at night. A few were captured wearing civilian clothes, ostensibly to escape the guerrillas. Almost all still wanted to fight. Again, the new recruits were quick to share information they had; the seasoned combat veterans were reluctant to give details and maintained their sense of security. Thus, the quality of these interrogations varies, but all yield interesting bits of information. At least one prisoner of war did mention atrocities he heard about, but no one volunteered that he was personally responsible for killing civilians. In one case, a Japanese soldier in Antipolo told of guiding Filipinos to safety after he heard of an order to kill them.

 Despite orders to destroy documents, a number of revealing orders and diaries were recovered by the Americans on the battlefield. Some indicate that the killings were ordered. As late as February 21, orders were still being issued – either mimeographed or carbon copied – and distributed. But since many more were lost – including documents in the higher headquarters and in Japan – the full picture will not be known.

 From these documents, we find that the Japanese forces in Manila were truly mixed: mostly navy, but with a significant army force. The navy men included trained and experienced special naval landing force (the Japanese equivalent of the US Marines) veterans, survivors of the battleship Musashi, cruisers Mogami and Nachi and other ships, and hospital patients released for battle.

 Captured documents and actual weapons, confirmed by prisoner of war interrogations, reveal that the Manila Naval Defense Force had at its disposal several 120 mm. dual-purpose naval guns – useful for both antiaircraft and ground warfare. (Two of these, incidentally, grace the front of the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Headquarters building in Camp Aguinaldo. Another sits where it was originally placed in Intramuros, facing the Rizal Monument). This durable gun was used on most Pacific islands and was the basic secondary armament of Japanese ships from battleships to carriers to cruisers. A mix of other artillery pieces of different calibers – some army and some navy – provided the force with very powerful artillery. The force had several 200mm rockets – frightening particularly at the receiving end because of their size and the racket they made in flight. These rockets were first used by the Japanese in the Battle of Manila. Each battalion had mortars; each platoon had grenades, anti-tank mines and rifles – many of which were captured American Springfields and Enfields. In addition, mines – including ceramic mines which could not be detected by mine detectors – were planted in major roads and intersections. Apart from conventional mines, the Japanese used aerial bombs and depth charges rigged as land mines. But not all the men could be armed with rifles, and some were given sharpened bamboo poles and swords made from automobile leaf springs.

 The Japanese expected a long siege – key positions such as the Finance Building (used as headquarters by the army) had up to six months supply of food. Ammunition was less plentiful, and the men were urged to make each shot count.

 Many US accounts of the battle criticize the Japanese as having lacked flexibility, unable to maneuver properly or stage concerted attacks. But original mission of the Manila Naval Defense Force – as shown by a captured order – was to “Hold Manila City and surrounding essential areas. “ Headquarters was to direct all operations, while each sector was to engage in defense and commando warfare within the respective sectors. (Manila Naval Defense Force Operations Order No.  17, 21 January 1945). Recipients of the orders were told to “complete their combat preparations by the end of January.”