Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sourcing Misinformation from Japan's Rightwing

Denying cannibalism by Japanese troops is popular trope used by Japan's Rightwingers to discredit the book and film Unbroken. The net-uyoku have accused the author of Unbroken of spreading a lie about Japanese having a “custom” of cannibalism. They proudly declare that Japan has no "food culture" of cannibalism, thus it is simply untrue that Imperial Japanese soldiers and sailors consumed POWs out of hunger or triumph. This denial is at the heart of the online petition to ban the movie in Japan. However, neither the book nor the movie depict acts of cannibalism.

Unbroken is a biography of Olympian and former American POW of Japan Louis Zamperini. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, tries to capture in one paragraph (p 315), the litany of abuses heaped upon those captured by the Japanese. One clause in one sentence refers to "eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism." Nowhere else is this mentioned.

The book has not been translated into Japanese nor has the film been shown in Japan. Thus, what is the source of this misperception?

It seems that it can be traced to an one-word mistranslation in a book review of Unbroken in Wedge, a conservative magazine published by a subsidiary of JR Central [see below]. The honorary chairman of JR Central is Yoshiyuki Kasai and the then-adviser to the magazine was Tomohiko Taniguchi. Kasai is a confidante of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Taniguchi is in charge of the government's international public relations. 

Neither man has moved to clear up this misunderstanding. Both are deeply concerned with Japan's global public image. The result is that the campaign  against Unbroken is intensifying and in December a book was published embellishing the false notion that Unbroken is part of a campaign to dishonor Japan. This view is part of a greater ideology that the war crimes trials were based of falsified information and the product of victor's justice.

Unfortunately, reports of cannibalism are true. Officers were prosecuted in war crimes trials and hanged. Imperial Japan's excessive abuse of its military and civilian prisoners is also true.

The following, for scholarly understanding and analysis, is a provisional, annotated translation of the Wedge article that propagated the campaign against Unbroken.

Very Popular Book In U.S.A. Stirs-up Anti-Japan Feelings
-- Japanese Military's Abuse of POWs, Why Bring It Up Now?

Wedge Magazine, February 20, 2011
By Soichiro MORIKAWA -- Journalist who has experience of living in New York during the time of IT Bubble
Link: 反日感情をあおる本が米国で大人気

* * * * * * * * * *
COLUMN: What best-seller books are being read in America? Learn about trends/signs of the times. You think you know, but may not really know, the true state of affairs in America -- and this is essential for thinking about Japan.
* * * * * * * * * *

"UNBROKEN", by Laura Hillenbrand, published by Random House. $27.00

A non-fiction book which describes the true story, in great detail, how a Japanese soldier abused a U.S. POW during World War II. It is unmistakably a book which will certainly heighten anti-Japanese feelings in America, and is being widely-read in the U.S. It is a special category book listed in the New York Times weekly non-fiction bestseller list, and has ranked in the top-five for thirteen-straight weeks. Most recently it dropped to number two, but for six weeks before that it was at the top of the list.


Louis Zamperini, is currently a healthy 93-year-old American man of Italian ancestry. The book follows/describes the misfortunes he experienced during his lifetime -- in particular how he had to deal with inhumane treatment as a POW held by the Imperial Japanese military.

As a young 19-year-old middle-distance runner, he raced in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as part of the U.S.A.'s team. He did not win a medal, but his hard-running style drew the attention of Adolf Hitler, who was watching from the stands -- and there is an anecdote that later on,

Hitler shook Zamperini's hand.

Thereafter, Zamperini continued to train as a runner, hoping to compete in teh 1940 Olympics, which were schedule to be held in Tokyo -- but due to the Japan-China War, those games were postponed, and he joined the U.S. Army Air Force. However, bad luck later struck when his aircraft developed engine trouble and it crashed. He eventually drifted ashore on Kwajalein Island, located in the Marshall Islands, about 3,900 KM southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii.

That was when Zamperini became a POW of the Japanese military, in a place which was called "Execution Island." Zamperini was not executed, once the Japanese military realized he was an Olympic athlete, and he was sent bakc to the mainland Japan.

After that, we had to survive being a POW, who was moved from place-to-place in camps at Ofuna, Omori, and Naoetsu, and eventually returned alive to America in August 1945. The book describes, in a cool/factual style, the numerous cases/examples of maltreatment Zamperini received while in the POW camps -- and, conversely, this really causes the image of the cruel Japanese soldiers to vividly emerge.

In particular, the most involved/powerful descriptions of abuse and cruelty are those which cover the actions of Japanese Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who came to be called "The Bird." The book calls Watanabe a sadist, who seemed to derive sexual pleasure feelings from punishing/tormenting the POWs. For example, the following is one example of innumerable POW-abuse scenes which
are written in the book:


"The Bird swung the belt backward, with the buckle on the loose end, and then whipped it around himself and forward, as if he were performing a hammer throw. The buckle rammed into Louie’s left temple and ear. Louie felt as if he had been shot in the head. Though he had resolved never to let the Bird knock him down, the power of blow, and the explosive pain that followed, overawed everything in him. His legs seemed to liquefy, and he went down. The room spun." (page 251)

Corporal Watanabe, aka "The Bird", made Zamperini his personal enemy, and almost every day he would beat Zamperini, and would also prevent him from receiving adequate amounts of food. The book also states that Japanese soldiers would seize food from International Red Cross relief packages, and prevent distribution of such food to the POWs.

The book further describes, using statistical information, to show that Japan's treatment of POWs was clearly much worse and cruel than Nazi Germany.

"In its rampage over the east, Japan had brought atrocity and death on a scale that staggers the imagination. In the midst of it were the prisoners of war. Japan held some 132,000 POWs from America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, and Australia. Of those, nearly 36,000 died, more than one in every four. Americans fared particularly badly; of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935? more than 37 percent?died. By comparison, only 1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died." (pages 314-315)

POWs were subjected to especially cruel treatment, supposedly, as described in the following passage...

"Thousands of other POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments, or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism. And as a result of being fed grossly inadequate and befouled food and water, thousands more died of starvation and easily preventable diseases." (page 315)

** TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Here Mr. Morikawa (mis)translated the phrase "ritual acts of cannibalism" as hito-kui fushu de-- he used the word fushu for :ritual", but, fushu's meaning is customary, or common practice -- which does not really match the nuance of ritual.**

The book then tries to explain why the Japanese military's abuse of POWs occurred so routinely/commonly. As is shown in the following quote, the cause can be seen from one aspect of the Japanese military's unique "culture": "In the Japanese military of that era, corporal punishment was routine practice. “Iron must be beaten while it’s hot; soldiers must be beaten while they’re fresh” was a saying among servicemen. “No strong soldiers,” went another, “are made without beatings.” For all Japanese soldiers, especially low-ranking ones, beating was inescapable, often a daily event." (page 194)

Since Japanese soldiers themselves routinely experienced being beaten, their resentment/anger was thereafter directed at the POWs.

This writer, Morikawa, at the time of reading this section of the book, recalled reading the war novel: "The Human Condition", by Junpei Gomikawa, which described the irrational/unreasonable aspects of the army, and I found myself nodding in agreement with what was written about the reality/true nature of the Japanese military in UNBROKEN.


However, I cannot accept the logic deployed by the book that: since POWs were abused/treated cruelly, therefore, the large-scale bombings of Tokyo and other cities, and the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unavoidable.

For example, the book tells of a newly-released POW, right after the end of the war, travelling by train through central Hiroshima after the dropping of the a-bomb, and looking at the scene he said:

“Nothing! It was beautiful.”

The American POW felt it was due to the A-bombings that he was able to meet/reach the end of the war, where he were released from captivity. So this is the deep emotion he had when he saw devastated nothingness of the central explosion area -- and to him it looked beautiful. The book records the ex-POW's comment using the following expression:

“I know it’s not right to say it was beautiful, because it really wasn’t. But I believed the end probably justified the means.” (p320)


The typical thinking/logic of America's conservative class can be seen in the assertion that the A-bombings were unavoidable actions, which were required to end the war. While UNBROKEN goes into great detail explaining the abuse of POWs by Japanese soldiers, it does not mention at all that hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by the A-bombings. The following passage from the book is written as if to say that, from the start, the Japanese government was really responsible for the victims of the A-bombings:

"That same night, B-29s showered leaflets over thirty-five Japanese cities, warning civilians of coming bombings and urging them to evacuate. The Japanese government ordered civilians to turn the leaflets in to authorities, forbade them from sharing the warnings with others, and arrested anyone with leaflets in their possession. Among the cities listed on the leaflets were Hiroshima and Nagasaki." (page 297)

To be honest, this writer, Morikawa, had no previous knowledge about the issue of how Japan handled/treated POWs during the Second World War. So, I had numerous confused/bewildered thoughts as I read UNBROKEN. I also have no ability to judge/verify the statistical information which was cited in the book.

Furthermore, what I cannot understand is why this book was published at this time -- and, beyond that, that fact of how it has become a top best-seller.

Japanese should take notice/be aware that such a book is selling well in America. I think it would be wise for Japan's MOFA to read and analyze the contents of UNBROKEN, and then develop a countermeasures plan as part of a diplomatic strategy to improve the image of Japan.

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