Historians and governments of some countries officially hold Japanese military forces, namely the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy, responsible for killings and other crimes committed against millions of civilians and prisoners of war.
War crimes have been defined by the Nuremberg Charter as "violations of the laws or customs of war," including crimes against enemy civilians and enemy combatants. Military personnel from the Empire of Japan have been accused and/or convicted of committing many such acts during the period of Japanese imperialism from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. They have been accused of conducting a series of human rights abuses against civilians and prisoners of war (POWs) throughout East Asia and the western Pacific region. These events reached their height during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45 and the Asian and Pacific campaigns of World War II (1941-45).
In Japan, the term "Japanese war crimes" generally only refers to cases tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials, following the end of the Pacific War. However, the tribunal did not prosecute war crimes allegations involving mid-ranking officers or more junior personnel. Those were dealt with separately in other cities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Japanese law does not define those convicted in the post-1945 trials as criminals, despite the fact that Japan's governments have accepted the judgments made in the trials, and in the Treaty of San Francisco (1952). This is because the treaty does not mention the legal validity of the tribunal. Had Japan certified the legal validity of the war crimes tribunals in the San Francisco Treaty, the war crimes would have become open to appeal and overturning in Japanese courts. This would have been unacceptable in international diplomatic circles. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated the position that Japan accepted the Tokyo tribunal and its judgements as a condition for ending the war, but that its verdicts have no relation to domestic law. According to this view, those convicted of war crimes are not criminals under Japanese law. This view may have been accepted by Japanese courts.
By comparison, the Western Allies did not come into military conflict with Japan until 1941, and North Americans, Australasians, South East Asians and Europeans may consider "Japanese war crimes" to be events that occurred in 1941-45.
Japanese war crimes were not always carried out by ethnic Japanese personnel. A small minority of people in every Asian and Pacific country invaded and/or occupied by Japan collaborated with the Japanese military, or even served in it, for a wide variety of reasons, such as economic hardship, coercion, or antipathy to other imperialist powers.
Japan's sovereignty over Korea and Formosa, in the first half of the 20th century, was recognized by international agreements — the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) and the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty (1910) — and they were considered at the time to be integral parts of the Japanese Empire. However, the legality of these treaties is in question, as the native populations were not consulted, there was armed resistance to Japan's annexations, and war crimes may also be committed during civil wars.
Centuries previously, the samurai of Japan had been taught unquestioning obedience to their lords, as well as to be fearless in battle. After the Meiji Restoration and the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Emperor became the focus of military loyalty. During the so-called "Age of Empire" in the late 19th century, Japan followed the lead of other world powers in developing an empire, pursuing that objective aggressively.
As with other imperial powers, Japanese popular culture became increasingly jingoistic through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. The rise of Japanese nationalism was seen partly in the adoption of Shinto as a state religion from 1890, including its entrenchment in the education system. Shinto held the Emperor to be divine because he was deemed to be a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. This provided justification for the requirement that the emperor and his representatives be obeyed without question.
Victory in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) signified Japan's rise to the status of a major military power.
Unlike the other major powers, Japan did not sign the Geneva Convention — which stipulates the humane treatment of civilians and POWs — until after World War II. Nevertheless, an Imperial Proclamation (1894) stated that Japanese soldiers should make every effort to win the war without violating international law. According to historian Yuki Tanaka, Japanese forces during the First Sino-Japanese War, released 1,790 Chinese prisoners without harm, once they signed an agreement not to take up arms against Japan again. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), all 79,367 Russian Empire prisoners were released, and were paid for labour performed, in accordance with the Hague Convention. Similarly the behaviour of the Japanese military in World War I (1914-18) was at least as humane as that of other militaries.
As in other dictatorships, irrational brutality, hatred and fear became commonplace. Perceived failure, or insufficient devotion to the Emperor would attract punishment, frequently of the physical kind. In the military, officers would assault and beat men under their command, who would pass the beating on to lower ranks, all the way down. In POW camps, this meant prisoners received the worst beatings of all.
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate among POWs from Asian countries, held by Japan was 27.1%. The death rate of Chinese POWs was much larger because — under a directive ratified on August 5, 1937 by Emperor Hirohito — the constraints of international law on treatment of those prisoners was removed. Only 56 Chinese POWs were released after the surrender of Japan.
Allied soldiers in Pacific and Asian theatres were guilty of the same "cruelty and callous disregard for civilized norms" as Japanese soldiers, according to historian Jeff Kingston, referring to the treatment of POWs, among other issues. Kingston quoted documentary film makers Jonathan Lewis and Ben Steele, who said: "the impression of the war as a history of Japanese savagery alone has been eroded by the growing body of evidence of Allied brutality. The issue here is less whether the two sides were as bad as each other, but whether they had more in common than was ever thought at the time...
The most infamous incident during this period was the Nanking Massacre of 1937-38, when, according to the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Japanese Army massacred as many as 200,000 civilians and prisoners of war, although the accepted figure is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. Similar crime was the Changjiao massacre. In Southeast Asia, the Manila massacre, resulted in the deaths of 100,000 civilians in the Philippines and in the Sook Ching massacre, between 25,000 and 50,000 ethnic Chinese in Singapore were taken to beaches and massacred. There were numerous other massacres of civilians e.g. the Kalagong massacre.
Historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta reports that a "Three Alls Policy" (Sankō Sakusen) was implemented in China from 1942 to 1945 and was in itself responsible for the deaths of "more than 2.7 million" Chinese civilians. This scorched earth strategy, sanctioned by Hirohito himself, directed Japanese forces to "Kill All, Burn All, and Loot All."
Additionally, captured allied service personnel were massacred in various incidents, including:
Note: this is not a complete list of massacres. There were many others.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the experiments carried out by Unit 731 alone caused 3,000 deaths. Furthermore, "tens of thousands, and perhaps as many as 200,000, Chinese died of bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases...", resulting from the use of biological warfare.
One of the most notorious cases of human experimentation occurred in Japan itself. At least nine out of 12 crew members survived the crash of a U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 bomber on Kyūshū, on May 5, 1945. (This plane was Lt Marvin Watkins crew of the 29th Bomb Group of the 6th Bomb Squadron. ). The bomber's commander was sent to Tokyo for interrogation, while the other survivors were taken to the anatomy department of Kyushu University, at Fukuoka, where they were subjected to vivisection and/or killed. On March 11, 1948, 30 people including several doctors were brought to trial by the Allied war crimes tribunal. Charges of cannibalism were dropped, but 23 people were found guilty of vivisection and/or wrongful removal of body parts. Five were sentenced to death, four to life imprisonment, and the rest to shorter terms. In 1950, the military governor of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, commuted all of the death sentences and significantly reduced most of the prison terms. All of those convicted in relation to the university vivisection were free by 1958. The freeing and reducing of these convicted men was a result of a deal between Japan and the United States, as the US Military was interested in using documented research by the Japanese for their own biological weapons program.
In 2006, former IJN medical officer Akira Makino stated that he was ordered — as part of his training — to carry out vivisection on about 30 civilian prisoners in the Philippines between December 1944 and February 1945. The surgery included amputations.
According to historians Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno, Emperor Hirohito authorized by specific orders (rinsanmei) the use of chemical weapons in China. For example, during the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions, despite Article 23 of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and , article V of the Treaty in Relation to the Use of Submarines and Noxious Gases in Warfare and a resolution adopted by the League of Nations on May 14, condemning the use of poison gas by Japan.
In 2004, Yoshimi and Yuki Tanaka discovered in the Australian National archives documents showing that cyanide gas was tested on Australian and Dutch prisoners in November 1944 on Kai islands (Indonesia).
In the Philippines, a favorite technique of Japanese torturers was electrical shocks from an automobile battery, administered with clips attached to the nose and testicles of prisoners.
Perhaps the most senior officer convicted of cannibalism was Lt Gen. Yoshio Tachibana (立花芳夫,Tachibana Yoshio), who with 11 other Japanese personnel was tried in relation to the execution of U.S. Navy airmen, and the cannibalism of at least one of them, in August 1944, on Chichi Jima, in the Bonin Islands. They were beheaded on Tachibana's orders. As military and international law did not specifically deal with cannibalism, they were tried for murder and "prevention of honorable burial". Tachibana was sentenced to death.
The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between four and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.
According to historian Akira Fujiwara, Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the decision to remove the constraints of international law (Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)) on the treatment of Chinese prisoners of war in the directive of 5 August 1937. This notification also advised staff officers to stop using the term "prisoners of war". The Geneva Convention exempted POWs of sergeant rank or higher from manual labour, and stipulated that prisoners performing work should be provided with extra rations and other essentials. However, Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention at the time, and Japanese forces did not follow the convention.
In 1992, historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi published material based on his research in archives at Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies. Yoshimi claimed that there was a direct link between imperial institutions such as the Kôa-in and "comfort stations". When Yoshimi's findings were published in the Japanese news media on January 12, 1993, they caused a sensation and forced the government, represented by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Koichi, to acknowledge some of the facts that same day. On January 17, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa presented formal apologies for the suffering of the victims, during a trip in South Korea. On July 6 and August 4, the Japanese government issued two statements by which it recognized that "Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military of the day", "The Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women" and that the women were "recruited in many cases against their own will through coaxing and coercion".
The controversy was re-ignited on March 1, 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned suggestions that a U.S. House of Representatives committee would call on the Japanese Government to "apologize for and acknowledge" the role of the Japanese Imperial military in wartime sex slavery. However, Abe denied that it applied to comfort stations. "There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it. Abe's comments provoked negative reactions overseas. For example, a New York Times editorial on March 6 said:
The same day, veteran soldier Yasuji Kaneko admitted to The Washington Post that the women "cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.
On April 17, 2007, Yoshimi and another historian, Hirofumi Hayashi, announced the discovery, in the archives of the Tokyo Trials, of seven official documents suggesting that Imperial military forces, such as the Tokeitai (naval secret police), directly coerced women to work in frontline brothels in China, Indochina and Indonesia. These documents were initially made public at the war crimes trial. In one of these, a lieutenant is quoted as confessing having organized a brothel and having used it himself. Another source refers to Tokeitai members having arrested women on the streets, and after enforced medical examinations, putting them in brothels.
On 12 May 2007, journalist Taichiro Kaijimura announced the discovery of 30 Netherland government documents submitted to the Tokyo tribunal as evidence of a forced massed prostitution incident in 1944 in Magelang.
In other cases, some victims from East Timor testified they were forced when they were not old enough to have started menstruating and repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers.
A Dutch-Indonesian "comfort woman", Jan Ruff-O'Hearn (now resident in Australia), who gave evidence to the U.S. committee, said the Japanese Government had failed to take responsibility for its crimes, that it did not want to pay compensation to victims and that it wanted to rewrite history. Ruff-O'Hearn said that she had been raped "day and night" for three months by Japanese soldiers when she was 21.
To this day, only one Japanese woman published her testimony. This was done in 1971, when a former "comfort woman" forced to work for showa soldiers in Taiwan, published her memoirs under the pseudonym of Suzuko Shirota.
There are different theories on the breakdown of the comfort women's place of origin. While some sources claim that the majority of the women were from Japan, others, including Yoshimi, argue as many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, and some other countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Netherlands, and Australia were forced to engage in sexual activity.
On 26 June 2007, the U.S. House of representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution asking that Japan "should acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its military's coercion of women into sexual slavery during the war". On 30 July 2007, the House of Representatives passed the resolution, while Shinzo Abe said this decision was "regrettable".
Sterling and Peggy Seagrave, in their 2003 book Gold Warriors: America’s secret recovery of Yamashita's gold — report that secret repositories of loot from across Southeast Asia, were created by the Japanese military in the Philippines during 1942–45. They allege that the theft was organized on a massive scale, either by yakuza gangsters such as Yoshio Kodama, or by officials at the behest of Emperor Hirohito, who wanted to ensure that as many of the proceeds as possible went to the government. The Seagraves also allege that Hirohito appointed his brother, Prince Chichibu, to head a secret organisation called Kin no yuri (Golden Lily) for this purpose.
High ranking officers who were tried included Koichi Kido and Sadao Araki. Three former (unelected) prime ministers: Koki Hirota, Hideki Tojo, and Kuniaki Koiso were convicted of Class-A war crimes. Many military leaders were also convicted. Two people convicted as Class-A war criminals later served as ministers in post-war Japanese governments.
Hirohito and all members of the imperial family implicated in the war such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Asaka, Prince Takeda and Prince Higashikuni were exonerated from criminal prosecutions by MacArthur, with the help of Bonner Fellers who allowed the major criminal suspects to coordinate their stories so that the Emperor would be spared from indictment. Many historians criticize this decision. According to John Dower, "with the full support of MacArthur's headquarters, the prosecution functioned, in effect, as a defense team for the emperor and even Japanese activists who endorse the ideals of the Nuremberg and Tokyo charters, and who have labored to document and publicize the atrocities of the Showa regime "cannot defend the American decision to exonerate the emperor of war responsibility and then, in the chill of the Cold war, release and soon afterwards openly embrace accused right-winged war criminals like the later prime minister Nobusuke Kishi. For Herbert Bix, "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war.
Between 1946–51, some 5,600 Japanese personnel were prosecuted in more than 2,200 trials outside Japan. The judges presiding came from the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, France, the Soviet Union, New Zealand, India and the Philippines. Additionally, the Chinese Communists also held a number of trials for Japanese personnel. More than 4,400 Japanese personnel were convicted and about 1,000 were sentenced to death. The largest single trial was that of 93 Japanese personnel charged with the summary execution of more than 300 Allied POWs, in the Laha massacre (1942).
The most prominent ethnic Korean convicted was Lieutenant General Hong Sa Ik, who orchestrated the organization of prisoner of war camps in south east Asia. In 2006, the South Korean government "pardoned" 83 of the 148 convicted Korean war criminals.
However, the official apologies are widely viewed as inadequate or only a symbolic exchange by many of the survivors of such crimes and/or the families of dead victims. On October 2006, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed an apology for the damage caused by its colonial rule and aggression, more than 80 Japanese lawmakers from his ruling party LDP paid visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Many people aggrieved by Japanese war crimes also maintain that no apology has been issued for particular acts and/or that the Japanese government has merely expressed "regret" or "remorse". On 2 March 2007, the issue was raised again by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, in which he denied that the military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II. He stated, "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion." Before he spoke, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers also sought to revise Yohei Kono's 1993 apology to former comfort women. However, this provoked negative reaction from Asian and Western countries.
Some in Japan have asserted that what is being demanded is that the Japanese Prime Minister and/or the Emperor perform dogeza, in which an individual kneels and bows his head to the ground — a high form of apology in east Asian societies that Japan appears unwilling to do. Some point to an act by German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who knelt at a monument to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1970, as an example of a powerful and effective act of apology and reconciliation similar to dogeza, although not everyone agrees.
Citing Brandt's action as an example, John Borneman, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell, states that, "an apology represents a non-material or purely symbolic exchange whereby the wrongdoer voluntarily lowers his own status as a person." Borneman further states that once this type of apology is given, the injured party must forgive and seek reconciliation, or else the apology won't have any effect. The injured party may reject the apology for several reasons, one of which is to prevent reconciliation, because, "By keeping the memory of the wound alive, refusals prevent an affirmation of mutual humanity by instrumentalizing the power embedded in the status of a permanent victim.
Therefore, some argue that a nation's reluctance to accept the conciliatory gestures that Japan has made may be because that nation doesn't think that Japan has "lowered" itself enough to provide a sincere apology. On the other hand, others state their belief that that particular nation is choosing to reject reconciliation in pursuit of permanent "victimhood" status as a way to try to assert power over Japan.
There is a widespread perception that the Japanese government has not accepted the legal responsibility for compensation and, as a direct consequence of this denial, it has failed to compensate the individual victims of Japanese atrocities. In particular, a number of prominent human rights and women's rights organisations insist that Japan still has a moral and/or legal responsibility to compensate individual victims, especially the sex slaves conscripted by the Japanese military in occupied countries and known as comfort women.
The Japanese government officially accepted the requirement for monetary compensation to victims of war crimes, as specified by the Potsdam Declaration. The details of this compensation have been left to bilateral treaties with individual countries, except North Korea, because Japan recognises South Korea as the sole legitimate government of the Korean peninsula. In the Asian countries involved, claims to compensation were either abandoned by their respective countries, or were paid out by Japan under the specific understanding that it was to be used for individual compensation. However, in some cases such as with South Korea, the compensation was not paid out to victims by their governments, instead being used for civic projects and other works. Due to this, large number of individual victims in Asia received no compensation.
Therefore, the Japanese government's position is that the proper avenues for further claims are the governments of the respective claimants. As a result, every individual compensation claim brought to Japanese court has failed. Such was the case in regard to a British POW who was unsuccessful in an attempt to sue the Japanese government for additional money for compensation. As a result, the UK Government later paid additional compensation to all British POWs. There were complaints in Japan that the international media simply stated that the former POW was demanding compensation and failed to clarify that he was seeking further compensation, in addition to that paid previously by the Japanese government.
A small number of claims have also been brought in US courts, though these have also been rejected.
During the treaty negotiation with South Korea, the Japanese government proposed that it pay monetary compensation to individual Korean victims, in line with the payments to western POWs. The Korean government instead insisted that Japan pay money collectively to the Korean government, and that is what occurred. The South Korean government then used the funds for economic development. The content of the negotiations was not released by the Korean government until 2004, although it was public knowledge in Japan. Due to the release of the information by the Korean government, a number of claimants have stepped forward and are attempting to sue the government for individual compensation of victims.
There are those that insist that because the governments of China and Taiwan abandoned their claims for monetary compensation, then the moral and/or legal responsibility for compensation belongs with these governments. Such critics also point out that even though these governments abandoned their claims, they signed treaties that recognised the transfer of Japanese colonial assets to the respective governments. Therefore, to claim that these governments received no compensation from Japan is incorrect, and they could have compensated individual victims from the proceeds of such transfers. However, others dispute that Japanese colonial assets in large proportion were built or stolen with extortion or force in occupied countries, as was clearly the case with artworks collected (or stolen) by Nazis during WWII throughout Europe.
The Japanese government, while admitting no legal responsibility for the so-called "comfort women", set up the Asian Women's Fund in 1995, which gives money to people who claim to have been forced into prostitution during the war. Though the organisation was established by the government, legally, it has been created such that it is an independent charity. The activities of the fund have been controversial in Japan, as well as with international organisations supporting the women concerned. Some argue that such a fund is part of an ongoing refusal by the Japanese government to face up to its responsibilities, while others say that the Japanese government has long since finalised its responsibility to individual victims and is merely correcting the failures of the victims' own governments.
The reality is that without a sincere and unequivocal apology from the government of Japan, the majority of surviving Comfort Women refused to accept these funds.
Japanese overseas assets in 1945 Country/region Value (1945, ¥15=US$1) Korea 70,256,000,000 Taiwan 42,542,000,000 North East China 146,532,000,000 North China 55,437,000,000 Central South China 36,718,000,000 Others 28,014,000,000 Total ¥379,499,000,000
Accordingly, the Philippines and South Vietnam received compensation in 1956 and 1959 respectively. Burma and Indonesia were not original signatories, but they later signed bilateral treaties in accordance with clause 14 of the San Francisco Treaty.
Japanese compensation to countries occupied during 1941-45 Country Amount in Yen Amount in US$ Date of treaty Burma 72,000,000,000 200,000,000 November 5, 1955 Philippines 198,000,000,000 550,000,000 May 9, 1956 Indonesia 80,388,000,000 223,080,000 January 20, 1958 Vietnam 14,400,000,000 38,000,000 May 13, 1959 Total ¥364,348,800,000 US$1,012,080,000
Until the 1970s, such debates were considered a fringe topic in the media. In the Japanese media, the opinions of the political centre and left tend to dominate the editorials of newspapers, while the right tend to dominate magazines. Debates regarding war crimes were confined largely to the editorials of tabloid magazines where calls for the overthrow of "Imperialist America" and revived veneration of the Emperor coexisted with pornography. In 1972, to commemorate the normalisation of relationship with China, Asahi Shimbun, a major liberal newspaper, ran a series on Japanese war crimes in China including the Nanking Massacre. This opened the floodgates to debates which have continued ever since. The 1990s are generally considered to be the period in which such issues become truly mainstream, and incidents such as the Nanking Massacre, Yasukuni Shrine, comfort women, the accuracy of school history textbooks, and the validity of the Tokyo Trials were debated, even on television.
As the consensus of Japanese jurists is that Japanese forces did not technically commit violations of international law, many right wing elements in Japan have taken this to mean that war crimes trials were examples of victor's justice. They see those convicted of war crimes as , Shōwa being the name given to the rule of Hirohito. This interpretation is vigorously contested by Japanese peace groups and the political left. In the past, these groups have tended to argue that the trials hold some validity, either under the Geneva Convention (even though Japan hadn't signed it), or under an undefined concept of international law or consensus. Alternatively, they have argued that, although the trials may not have been technically valid, they were still just, somewhat in line with popular opinion in the West and in the rest of Asia.
By the early 21st century, the revived interest in Japan's imperial past had brought new interpretations from a group which has been labelled both "new right" and "new left". This group points out that many acts committed by Japanese forces, including the Nanjing Incident (they generally do not use the word "massacre"), were violations of the Japanese military code. It is suggested that had war crimes tribunals been conducted by the post-war Japanese government, in strict accordance with Japanese military law, many of those who were accused would still have been convicted and executed. Therefore, the moral and legal failures in question were the fault of the Japanese military and the government, for not executing their constitutionally-defined duty.
The new right/new left also takes the view that the Allies committed no war crimes against Japan, because Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and as a victors, the Allies had every right to demand some form of retribution, to which Japan consented in various treaties.
However, under the same logic, the new right/new left considers the killing of Chinese who were suspected of guerilla activity to be perfectly legal and valid, including some of those killed at Nanjing, for example. They also take the view that many Chinese civilian casualties resulted from the scorched earth tactics of the Chinese nationalists. Though such tactics are arguably legal, the new right/new left takes the position that some of the civilian deaths caused by these scorched earth tactics are wrongly attributed to the Japanese military.
Similarly, they take the position that those who have attempted to sue the Japanese government for compensation have no legal and/or moral case.
The new right/new left also takes a less sympathetic view of Korean claims of victimhood, because prior to annexation by Japan, Korea was a tributary of the Qing Dynasty and, according to them, the Japanese colonisation, though undoubtedly harsh, was better than the previous rule in terms of human rights and economic development.
They also argue that, the Kantōgun (also known as the Kwantung Army) was at least partly culpable. Although the Kantōgun was nominally subordinate to the Japanese high command at the time, its leadership demonstrated significant self-determination, as shown by its involvement in the plot to assassinate Zhang Zuolin in 1928, and the Manchurian Incident of 1931, which led to the foundation of Manchukuo in 1932. Moreover, at that time, it was the official policy of the Japanese high command to confine the conflict to Manchuria. But in defiance of the high command, the Kantōgun invaded China proper, under the pretext of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. However, the Japanese government not only failed to court martial the officers responsible for these incidents, but it also accepted the war against China, and many of those who were involved were even promoted. (Some of the officers involved in the Nanking Massacre were also promoted.)
Whether or not Hirohito himself bears any responsibility for such failures is a sticking point between the new right and new left. Officially, the imperial constitution, adopted under Emperor Meiji, gave full powers to the Emperor. Article 4 prescribed that "The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution" and article 11 prescribed that "The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and the Navy". For historian Akira Fujiwara, the thesis that the emperor as an organ of responsibility could not reverse cabinet decisions is a myth (shinwa) fabricated after the war. Others argue that Hirohito deliberately styled his rule in the manner of the British constitutional monarchy, and he always accepted the decisions and consenses reached by the high command. According to this position, the moral and political failure rests primarily with the Japanese High Command and the Cabinet, most of whom were later convicted at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as class-A war criminals, apart all members of the imperial family such as prince Chichibu, prince Asaka, prince Higashikuni, prince Fushimi and prince Takeda.
Non-government bodies and individuals have also undertaken their own investigations. For example, in 2005, a South Korean freelance journalist, Jung Soo-woong, located in Japan some descendants of people involved in the 1895 assassination of Empress Myeongseong (Queen Min), the last Empress of Korea. The assassination was conducted by the Dark Ocean Society, perhaps under the auspices of the Japanese government, because of the Empress's involvement in attempts to reduce Japanese influence in Korea. Jung recorded the apologies of the individuals.
As these investigations continue more evidence is discovered each day. It has been claimed that the Japanese government intentionally destroyed the reports on Korean comfort women. Some have cited Japanese inventory logs and employee sheets on the battlefield as evidence for this claim. For example, one of the names on the list was of a comfort woman who stated she was forced to be a prostitute by the Japanese. She was classified as a nurse along with at least a dozen other verified comfort women who were not nurses or secretaries. Currently, the South Korean government is looking into the hundreds of other names on these lists.
Sensitive information regarding the Japanese occupation of Korea is often difficult to obtain. Many argue that this is due to the fact that the Government of Japan has gone out of its way to cover up many incidents that would otherwise lead to severe international criticism. On their part, Koreans have often expressed their abhorrence of Human experimentations carried out by the Imperial Japanese Army where people often became fodder as human test subjects in such macabre experiments as liquid nitrogen tests or biological weapons development programs (See articles: Unit 731 and Shiro Ishii). Though some vivid and disturbing testimonies have survived, they are largely denied by the Japanese Government even to this day.