Until recently, the location of the remains of the Japanese prime minister executed during the war, Hideki Tojo, was one of the biggest mysteries of World War II in the nation he once led.
Now, a Japanese university professor has revealed declassified American military documents that look like have the answer.
Documents show that Tojo’s ashes, one of the masterminds of the attack to Pearl Harbor, they were scattered from a US Army plane over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 kilometers east of Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, south of Tokyo.
It was a mission full of tension and very secret, in which US officials apparently went to extreme lengths to keep Tojo’s remains, and those of six others executed with him, away from ultranationalists who sought to glorify them as martyrs.
All seven were executed by war crimes just before Christmas 1948, three years after Japan’s defeat.
Hideki Tojo. Photo: AP
The discovery puts a partial closure to a painful chapter of Japanese history that still repeats itself today, as conservative Japanese politicians try to whiten history, which causes friction with the victims of the war, especially with China and South Korea.
After years of verifying and verifying the details, and evaluating the importance of what was found, the Nihon University professor Hiroaki Takazawa made public last week, the clues about the location of the remains. He found the declassified documents in 2018 in the National Archives of the United States in Washington.
It is believed to be the first time that official documents showing handling the remains of the seven criminals war, according to the National Institute of Defense Studies of Japan and the Japan Center for Historical Records of Asia.
Hidetoshi Tojo, the leader’s great-grandson, told The Associated Press that the absence of the remains has long been a humiliation for the families grieving, but is relieved that the information has come to light.
“If his remains were at least scattered in Japanese territorial waters … I think he still had some luck,” Tojo said. “I want to invite my friends and lay flowers to pay tribute”, if more details are known about the location of the remains.
Hideki Tojo, prime minister for much of World War II, is a complicated figure, revered by some conservatives as a patriot, but loathed by many in the West for prolonging the war, which only ended after the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
About a month after August 15, 1945, when then-Emperor Hirohito announced the defeat of Japan To a stunned nation, Tojo shot himself, in a failed suicide attempt as he was about to be arrested in his modest Tokyo home.
Takazawa, a Nihon University professor specializing in court-martial issues, found the documents during an investigation in US archives of other war crimes trials.
The documents, he said, are valuable because they officially detail hitherto little known facts about what happened and provide an approximate location of the place where the ashes were scattered.
“If his remains were at least scattered in Japanese territorial waters … I think he still had some luck.”
Great-grandson of the former premier
He plans to continue investigating other executions. More than 4,000 people were convicted of war crimes in other international courts, and some 920 of them were executed.
Tojo and the other six who they were hanged They were among 28 Japanese wartime leaders tried for war crimes at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East from 1946-1948. Twenty-five were sentenced, 16 of them to life imprisonment and two to shorter sentences. Two others died during the trial and one case was dropped.
In one of the newly released documents – dated December 23, 1948 and stamped “secret” – US Army Major Luther Frierson wrote: “I certify that I received the remains, supervised the cremation, and personally scattered the ashes of the following war criminals executed, at sea from an Eighth Army liaison plane. “
Tojo and six other Japanese were hanged. Photo: AP
The entire operation was tense, and US officials were extremely careful not to let not a single speck of ashes, ostensibly to prevent them from being stolen by Tojo’s ultra-nationalist admirers, Takazawa said.
“In addition to their attempt to prevent the remains from being glorified, I believe the US military was determined not to let the remains return to Japanese territory … as one last humiliation“Takazawa said.
Documents state that when cremation was completed, the ovens were “cleaned of the remains in its entirety”.
“Special precautions were taken to prevent even the smallest debris particles from being missed,” Frierson wrote.
Hideki Tojo at home minutes before shooting himself in front of the press. Photo: AP
The operation proceeded as follows.
At 2:10 a.m. on December 23, 1948, the coffins carrying the bodies of Tojo and the other six were loaded onto a 2.5-ton truck and they were removed from prison After fingerprinting them for verification, Frierson wrote in a document dated January 4, 1949.
About an hour and a half later, the retinue, guarded by trucks loaded with armed soldiers to protect the bodies, arrived at a US Army grave-searching platoon in Yokohama to one last check.
The truck left the area at 7:25 a.m. and 30 minutes later, it arrived at a Yokohama crematorium. The coffins were unloaded from the truck and placed directly “in the ovens” in 10 minutes, while the soldiers guarded the area.
The remains were then transported under guard to a nearby airstrip and loaded onto a plane that Frierson boarded. “We are heading to a point about 30 miles above the Pacific Ocean, east of Yokohama, where I personally scattered the remains cremated in a wide area. “
Today, even without the ashes, grieving families and conservative Japanese lawmakers, such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, regularly pay tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where executed war criminals are enshrined along with 2.5 million war dead, considered “holy spirits” in the Shinto religion. In Yasukuni there are no mortal remains.
The defendants during the war crimes trial. Photo: AP
After the seven executed war criminals were enshrined there in 1978, Yasukuni became a point of conflict between Japan and its neighbors China and South Korea, who see the consecration as proof of the Japan’s lack of remorse for his aggression in times of war. Yasukuni also enshrines five other convicted wartime leaders and hundreds of other war criminals.
Hidetoshi Tojo said that his great-grandfather was constantly made a taboo in postwar Japan, never glorified.
“Everything about my great-grandfather was sealed, including his speeches. Taking this into account, I believe that not preserving the remains was part of the occupation policy, “he said.” I hope to see more revelations about the unknown facts of the past. “
The author is a journalist for the Associated Press