Mitsubishi, Historical Revisionism and Japanese Corporate Resistance to Chinese Forced Labor Redress

Just as Nazi Germany did in Europe during World War II, Imperial Japan made extensive use of forced labor across the vast area of the Asia Pacific it once occupied. Today, however, Japan’s government and corporations are dealing with the legacy of wartime forced labor very differently than their German counterparts.


This article examines the corporate counter-offensive to reparations claims for Chinese forced labor in Japan, as presented by defense lawyers for Mitsubishi Materials Corp. in a compensation lawsuit to be decided by the Fukuoka District Court on March 29. In startling closing arguments last September, Mitsubishi issued a blanket denial of historical facts routinely recognized by other Japanese courts, while heaping criticism on the Tokyo Trials and openly questioning whether Japan ever “invaded” China at all. Mitsubishi has ominously warned that a redress award for the elderly Chinese plaintiffs, or even a court finding that forced labor occurred, would saddle Japan with a “mistaken burden of the soul” for hundreds of years.


First, a look at the German approach. The “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” Foundation was established in 2000, with $6 billion from the federal government and more than 6,500 industrial enterprises. As redress payments drew to a close last fall, about 1.6 million forced labor victims or their heirs, residing in more than 100 countries, had received individual apologies and symbolic compensation of up to $10,000 each. Altogether, 12 million people are believed to have worked for the Nazi regime involuntarily.[1]


Commemorations and truth telling through history education are related aspects of the reparations process in which Germans have manifested a strong commitment to reconciliation. The Berlin state government has purchased an eight-acre former forced labor camp and is turning it into a memorial museum set to open in summer 2006. These latest steps in a longstanding, if sometimes fitful, pattern of atonement underscore the discontinuity between wartime and postwar Germany. Mostly non-Jews from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, forced laborers were the last major class of uncompensated victims of German war crimes. Smaller numbers of persecuted ethnic, religious and sexuality minorities were also included in the German redress fund.


“In a political and in a moral sense, this chapter will never be closed,” the redress foundation’s chairman observed last October. “What is at stake here — and this is the responsibility of our generation and future generations — is to keep these very tragic events, these human rights violations firmly in the national memory.”[2]


In December 2005, for its part, the Austrian Reconciliation Fund finished paying out nearly $350 million to 132,000 workers, or their families, forced to toil for the Nazi war machine in that country. As in the German case, Austrian redress payouts were higher for “slave laborers,” whom the Nazis intended to work to death under the most horrific conditions, than for “forced laborers,” who worked under less onerous conditions and in some cases received nominal wages during the war.[3]


“Rough justice” refers to a novel legal concept employed in the late 1990s by forced labor redress activists, American class action trial lawyers, U.S. State Department officials, and European governments and corporations. Swiss and French banks and insurance companies used the same approach to settle waves of claims stemming from the looted assets of Holocaust victims. A basic consensus that a historical injustice had been committed and the political will, achieved through a combination of pressure and incentives, to rectify the wrongdoing came first. Details like determining precise numbers of slave laborers and forced laborers were hammered out only after the redress foundations were established. Rough justice aimed to compensate as many aged victims as possible, so eligibility requirements were often relaxed even when documentation was lacking.[4]


Japan’s passive legalism


Japan’s track record, by contrast, reveals a fundamentally different approach to coming to terms with the past. An intractable “civil war” over national memory of the colonization of Korea, aggressive warfare in China, and the military occupation of large areas of East Asia has left Japanese history textbooks the subject of continued passionate contestation today, both domestically and within the region. Commemorative prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted war criminals and is symbolically linked to Japan’s Greater East Asian War, together with official support for a revisionist narrative of Japan’s past, are so bitterly opposed by Chinese and Koreans that summit meetings of top leaders have become impossible. The return of cultural and private assets looted from across Asia by Japan remains far off the agenda.


Victims of Japanese war crimes have virtually never received apologies or compensation, as Tokyo contends that peace treaties and other state-level agreements extinguished all legal claims decades ago. The 1995 Asian Women’s Fund for military sexual slavery represented a partial exception. Yet most of the so-called comfort women indignantly refused the condolence money from private sources because it was decoupled from a full admission of state responsibility. State apologies, debatably, are the lone area in which Japan has sincerely attempted to atone for its war misconduct.[5] But because these have repeatedly been negated by contrary government actions, such as the Yasukuni visits and revisionist “gaffes” by senior politicians, and because they have never been accompanied by appropriate reparations to victims, the issues continue to fester.


Whereas Germany continued to investigate its own citizens for war crimes well into the current century, Japan never held any war crimes trials, opting instead to grant early release and amnesty to Japanese convicted of such charges during the Allied Occupation. Kishi Nobusuke spent three years in Sugamo Prison as a Class A war crimes suspect before going on to occupy the prime minister’s office from 1957-60, vividly illustrating the continuity between wartime and postwar Japan.[6] Kishi was the founding father of the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party and his grandson, Abe Shinzo, is considered the front runner to replace Koizumi Junichiro as prime minister later this year.


The three main programs for forced labor in Japan involved Allied prisoners of war, Koreans and Chinese. Millions of Asians are thought to have worked against their will for the empire outside of Japan, but the historical record remains underdeveloped and is not considered here.


Forced labor redress efforts by former Allied POWs highlight how the United States has helped Japan sidestep war responsibility. Thousands of Allied prisoners died en route to Japan aboard the notorious “hellships,” many of them unmarked as POW ships and shot out of the water by American submarines, while systematic mistreatment and the withholding of Red Cross shipments of food and medicine contributed to high prison camp death rates. American ex-POWs received token payments from forfeited Japanese assets soon after the war, but the U.S. State Department vigorously opposed their reparations campaign from the late 1990s. Despite playing a central role in redress activities targeting Germany, and the fact that Congress as well as state legislatures were keen to aid the former POWs’ fight, the American executive branch pushed the nation’s courts to interpret the San Francisco Peace Treaty as precluding individual claims against Japanese companies.[7] Other Allied nations, having been pressured by Washington into accepting the 1951 treaty’s lenient reparations terms, have compensated their own ex-POWs with domestic funds in recent years. It appears the United States will never do so.


In her book Unjust Enrichment, in a chapter called “Mitsubishi: Empire of Exploitation,” leading researcher Linda Goetz Holmes writes: “Mitsubishi occupies a unique place in the history of corporate Japan’s use of POW slave labor during World War II. This company built, owned, and operated at least seventeen of the merchant ‘hellships’ that transported prisoners to their assigned destinations; and this company profited from prisoner labor over a larger range of territory than any other.”[8] Mitsubishi also supplied 225 miles worth of wooden crossties for the infamous Burma-Siam Railway. Regarding a large Allied POW camp near the Unit 731 site in Manchuria, Holmes says “the impression remains that the Mitsubishi facility at Mukden was the site of the most frequent and systematic incidents of medical experimentation on American prisoners of war.”[9]


In addition, Mitsubishi has faced a slew of lawsuits in Japan, the U.S. and South Korea for its extensive domestic use of Korean forced labor (KFL). Hundreds of thousands of Korean workers, including teenage girls, were conscripted and brought to Japan through various means of coercion and deception that grew more heavy-handed as the war progressed.[10] Corporations funneled their wages into mandatory “patriotic savings accounts” while withholding deductions for pensions and health insurance, and retaining full control of the relevant passbooks. Promises to send money home to families in Korea were mostly broken.


Korean workers began demanding their unpaid wages immediately after Japan’s surrender and continue to do so today. In 1946, however, the Japanese government quietly instructed companies to deposit the wages and related monies with state agencies including the Bank of Japan. Apparently, the funds were later commingled with unpaid wage deposits for Chinese laborers, but kept separate from money that was never paid out to Korean soldiers and civilians who worked for the Japanese military. The KFL-linked funds are now held by the national bank in the amount of 215 million yen (or roughly $2 million, unadjusted for six decades of interest or inflation).[11]


Instead of informing the former Korean conscripts, Tokyo withheld vital information about the KFL deposits, their unpaid wages, in the years leading up to the Japan-South Korea normalization treaty of 1965 in order to avoid taking responsibility for this conspicuous feature of colonial rule. The Seoul government, stymied in attempts to formally advance this compensation claim on behalf of its citizens, was forced to accept the intensely unpopular “economic assistance” formula that treated the unpaid wages as property claims to be waived at the time of the treaty.


In the past year, the long-running quest for KFL redress has been transformed. Under relentless pressure from South Korea’s Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under Japanese Imperialism, which continues to dispatch investigators to former worksites across the country, the Japanese government has asked corporations, municipalities and temples to cooperate in the belated search for name rosters and the repatriation of human ashes long held in communal graves. While the South Korean government is expected to eventually compensate surviving labor conscripts itself, an act that might rightly shame the Japanese government and people, Japan’s intentions regarding the large KFL wage deposits remain unclear. A handful of out-of-court settlements over the past decade have benefited only a small number of former Korean workers. Japanese law does not allow class action lawsuits.


Record of Chinese forced labor


The reparations movement for Chinese forced labor (CFL) is a useful lens for looking more closely at how the Japanese state and corporations have interacted over the past 60 years to evade accountability for their joint wartime actions.


A previous Japan Focus article described how in 1946 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and 35 corporations secretly compiled an exhaustive record of the forced labor program at 135 worksites nationwide, essentially for self-defense purposes in anticipation of war crimes prosecutions that mostly materialized.[12] The government later suppressed the five-volume Investigative Report on Working Conditions of Chinese Laborers (better known as the Foreign Ministry Report, or FMR) in order to prevent state reparations claims from China and to obstruct the determined efforts of domestic redress activists, who sought to repatriate Chinese remains and reveal the truth about the slavery-style conditions. More than one out of six (6,830 out of 38,935) Chinese men between the ages of 11 and 78 died, according to meticulous FMR statistics. At some sites fully half of all workers perished, despite having arrived in Japan during the war’s final year.


In the compensation case now before the Fukuoka District Court, the three defendants are the state, Mitsubishi and Mitsui Mining Co. Six corporations active at 16 sites in Fukuoka Prefecture, whose Chikuho coalfields fueled the domestic war machine, received 6,090 Chinese workers altogether, second only to Hokkaido. Mitsui operated three mines involved in this case and used a nationwide total of 5,696 Chinese, which was nearly 15 percent of all workers and more than any other company. Mitsubishi ran two mines involved in this case and used a nationwide total of 2,709 Chinese, or seven percent of all workers. Eighty-seven out of the 352 workers at Mitsubishi’s Katsuta worksite died. That 25 percent death rate ranked highest in the prefecture but in only twenty-eighth place overall.


MOFA documents declassified in 2002 revealed that the administration of Prime Minister Kishi, who had played an indispensable wartime role in authorizing the CFL scheme, devised an explicit cover-up strategy and carried it out by lying to the Diet and citizens groups about the state’s possession of CFL records, while painting an untrue picture of “voluntary contract labor.” In 1993 a complete Foreign Ministry Report, and more than 100 of the individual site reports upon which the FMR was based, were given to the NHK broadcasting network by the Tokyo branch of the Overseas Chinese Association, which had received the documents via a ministry leak around 1950. This led to the state’s current position that the program had consisted of “half-forced” labor. In July 2003, MOFA apologetically announced that it had searched its own basement storeroom and found 20,000 pages worth of CFL site reports submitted by companies 57 years earlier, compounding the falsity of previous denials that it retained any such records.[13]


Corporate Japan, led by the construction and mining industry organizations, first approached the government with the idea of importing Chinese workers in 1939. As Japan’s domestic heavy labor shortage became increasingly critical, the state turned this corporate vision into administrative reality in two steps: the November 1942 “cabinet resolution” that led to the trial introduction of 1,411 laborers beginning in April 1943; and the February 1944 “vice-ministers’ resolution” that led to the full importation phase beginning in March 1944. Kishi authorized both measures, first as Minister of Commerce and Industry and later as Vice-Minister of Munitions; both portfolios included extensive oversight of forced labor operations.


After worker allocation requests were approved by the state, companies concluded contracts with the North China Industrial Labor Association, a collaborationist Chinese organization in Beijing that procured laborers with the violent help of the Imperial Japanese Army. Chinese prisoners comprised a large percentage of early Japan-bound laborers, although Japan’s Asia-wide policy was to accord POW status only to white Western soldiers. Search and destroy missions by Japanese and Chinese puppet forces included “laborer hunting,” meaning that any able-bodied male was liable to be abducted at gunpoint and shipped to Japan as war booty. Recruitment through deception was widely used, too. Forced laborers who survived the brutal ordeal say they were unaware of any contracts between Japanese companies and the China-side labor association, and very few ever received any remuneration for their harsh toil.


Indeed, there was little pretense of payment of wages until after Japan surrendered to the Allied coalition that included the Chinese Kuomintang government. By October 1946 many worksites were descending into chaos and retaliatory violence against Japanese company staff by Chinese demanding wages, food and material goods like clothing — in that order.[14] In Tagawa, site of the large Mitsui mine where some current Fukuoka plaintiffs worked, newly victorious Chinese POWs swaggered through town with armbands indicating their KMT military units. (Late in the war a major strike at Tagawa was led by “trial batch” workers who were still in Japan after more than two years, the term of the ersatz labor contract between Mitsui and the Beijing outfit. Company personnel were attacked with shovels and picks during the uprising, which ended only after hundreds of police and kempeitai entered the camp and dragged off the ringleaders.)


As the worried Japanese government urged American Occupation authorities to make repatriation of Chinese a top priority, some companies disbursed lump sums of cash to Chinese work unit leaders who often failed to properly distribute it. A plan to provide fixed amounts of “take home money,” implemented by the Japanese side with GHQ approval, soon broke down as well. Many departing workers were handed payment vouchers at dockside and told to redeem them for cash at Japanese-affiliated banks back home in China, which upon their arrival were found to be defunct.


The trail of unpaid wages for Chinese forced labor remains hard to pin down with precision, due partly to the variety of initial corporate responses but mainly by Japanese government design. During the Occupation as in the case of Korean labor, the government set up a “special deposit system” for money that companies failed to pay to Chinese workers before they left Japan. Tokyo, having never tried to notify potential recipients about the deposits, reluctantly admits that the funds are still being held by state agencies such as the Bank of Japan and regional customs offices and legal affairs bureaus. But Japan insists that poor records make the deposits difficult to match with individuals from specific countries, who in any case have lost all rights to claim the money. It has been confirmed that the Moji Customs Office alone today possesses some seven million yen in CFL-related funds, now worth perhaps seven billion yen or $70 million, a figure that excludes six decades of compound interest.[15]


In early 1946, just as remarkably, all 35 companies shared the generous total of 56 million yen, today worth around 56 billion yen or $560 million, from state coffers as indemnification for losses supposedly incurred through their use of Chinese labor.[16] Mitsui Mining received about 14 percent of the state compensation pie and Mitsubishi Materials got a five-percent slice, reflecting the basic proportions of workers used. The timing of these payments to corporations, just as authors of the Foreign Ministry Report were portraying the labor scheme in the best possible light and GHQ was moving to dismantle the zaibatsu conglomerates, suggests a cynical effort to portray industry as an economic victim even as workers were being cheated out of their pay.


Corporations thereby became “triple winners” by directly benefiting from unpaid labor during the war and receiving public money for it afterward, in a manner which tended to whitewash their collective role as the program’s instigator and exempt them from the necessity of paying their workers. While the motive of common greed cannot be discounted in evaluating the postwar evasion of CFL accountability by the state and private business interests, a deeper aim was the perpetuation of key features of the existing political and economic order.


Redress campaign ongoing


Citizen and Diet proponents of the CFL compensation fund proposal seek to focus public attention on the injustice of the present situation and the importance of moving to reconciliation. As the “zenmen kaiketsu” (comprehensive solution) proposal succinctly summarizes: the 1946 Foreign Ministry Report identifies the 38,935 Chinese who were brought to Japan; the state continues to hold large deposits that were never paid out to these workers; and corporations that used Chinese forced labor received substantial state compensation.[17]


The claim appears at least as compelling as the German and Austrian “rough justice” precedents. As less than ten percent of CFL victims are still alive today, fund backers say, national legislation should quickly be enacted to provide individual victims or heirs with an official apology and meaningful payments from the state and industry. An educational foundation for future generations would also be created.


Japanese judges in previous CFL court decisions have proven unusually sympathetic toward the Chinese plaintiffs, regularly finding that the state and corporations jointly engaged in illegal forced labor, and occasionally suggesting a legislative solution. There have been two court-mediated compensation agreements so far: Kajima Corp.’s November 2000 “relief fund” related to its former Hanaoka construction site, where 418 out of 986 workers died and an uprising took place, and a September 2004 payout involving Nippon Yakin Kogyo Co. Although the government refuses to participate in out-of-court settlement talks, a third settlement has been recommended by the Nagano District Court and may be finalized in March — if the three corporate defendants consent.


Court cases are pending in more than one dozen places from Hokkaido to Kyushu, where Mitsubishi alone is being sued in Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Miyazaki. The lawsuit involving Mitsubishi’s Miyazaki copper mine, whose death rate of 31 percent was nearly twice the national average, became possible only after MOFA released a previously unknown site report in 2003. Japanese courts usually let both the government and corporations off the hook on the grounds of state immunity and time limits for filing claims. But four major courtroom victories have given the CFL reparations movement a rare sense of momentum.


The Tokyo District Court in July 2001 ordered the state to compensate the family of Liu Lianren for the 13 years he spent in hiding after he escaped from a Hokkaido mine just before the war ended, but the Tokyo High Court overturned the ruling last June. (In an irony of history, Kishi was prime minister when Liu emerged from a snow cave in February 1958; his administration proceeded to investigate Liu for entering Japan illegally. Liu angrily demanded compensation for his abduction and forced labor, telling reporters to ask Kishi how he had come to be in the country. He turned down the government’s proffered envelope containing 100,000 yen in sympathy money and returned to China as a national hero.)


In the first case decided by the Fukuoka District Court, judges found in April 2002 that Mitsui’s conduct “can only be described as evil” and ordered the company to compensate plaintiffs. In March 2004, the Niigata District Court found both the state and the transport company Rinko Corp. liable for damages. More significantly, the Hiroshima High Court in July 2004 reversed a lower court ruling and ordered Nishimatsu Construction Co. to pay compensation.


The Fukuoka High Court, however, nullified the Mitsui compensation order in May 2004. Nonetheless, the ruling castigated the joint illegal conduct by the state and company, the “malicious destruction of evidence” and the government’s false statements to the Diet. Finding that the “slave-like forced labor was an outrageous transgression of human dignity,” the court stated: “The Chinese men, who had been living in peace and were not subject to Japanese national sovereignty, were, through the intentional use of violence and deception, separated from their families, taken to an enemy country and forced to work there.”[18] The court uncharacteristically rejected the state immunity defense, with the chief judge stressing at a post-ruling press conference that the plaintiffs’ claim was rejected only because it was filed too late.


The first Fukuoka case, the Hiroshima case, and the Liu Lianren case have been appealed to the Japan Supreme Court, where a pro-victim ruling would catapult the CFL fund proposal more squarely onto the parliamentary agenda.


Mitsubishi’s denial of forced labor


The second Chinese forced labor lawsuit at the Fukuoka District Court was filed in February 2003 by 45 plaintiffs, either former workers or their surviving family members. Final hearings were held last September 21. The state, while remaining mute on the veracity of victims’ descriptions of their wartime experiences, argues that the Japan-China Joint Declaration of 1972 waived all claim rights of Chinese citizens, that it cannot be sued for redress under the Meiji constitution that was in effect during the war, and that the claims are too old. Mitsui is also keeping a low profile, hamstrung by its previous defeat before the same court and by the appeal victory that accepted plaintiffs’ historical accounts.


Mitsubishi Materials, successor to the mining arm of the wartime zaibatsu, has in the past typically relied on treaty bars, time bars and the “different company” defense to protect it against suits. Any mistreatment of foreign laborers has been characterized as general war damage that only sovereign states can address and, implausibly, as the result of top-down state policies that corporations were powerless to resist.


But today, with escalating Northeast Asian nationalism confronting increased efforts within Japan to “beautify” (bika suru) its war conduct, the Mitsubishi defense team has crossed a Rubicon of historical revisionism by denying that any forced labor occurred at its Fukuoka coal mines. More audaciously still, the company based these denials on its own 1946 site reports and the fact that Occupation authorities never brought CFL war crimes charges against it.


Mitsubishi attacked the elderly Chinese men’s credibility by saying inconsistencies exist between their oral testimony in court and the complaint originally filed by their Japanese lawyers. The company further argued that because the lawsuit makes reference to the site reports, the documents should be accepted at face value and treated as totally reliable. The site reports, which Mitsubishi claims it no longer possesses, were compiled for exculpatory purposes and hence make no explicit reference to forced labor, malnutrition or torture. Mitsubishi says this proves such abuses never occurred.


In reality, as the “Guidelines for Controlling Imported Chinese Laborers,” issued to corporations by the Interior Ministry in April 1944, spelled out in detail, living conditions were purposely made as wretched as possible and workers were deliberately treated harshly. The goal was to maximize industrial production, and to minimize the security risks of bringing young, male enemy nationals to the home islands, by crushing their will to resist. Enforced by regular ministry inspections, the directives called for extreme camp security, inferior clothing, overcrowded sleeping quarters, primitive sanitation with no bathing facilities, limited medical care, and minimal amounts of the poorest quality food — which was to be withheld as necessary to ensure discipline.[19] (Okazaki Eijo, who was in charge of the Interior Ministry’s camp inspections, also headed the Special Higher Police. Postwar lustration kept him out of public office until 1952, but he was elected to the Diet on the maiden LDP ticket in 1955 and later served as Kishi’s deputy cabinet secretary.)


The site report for Mitsubishi’s Katsuta mine in Fukuoka claims that Chinese were fed better than Japanese, and worked eight-hour days with escorted trips out of the camp on holidays. Plaintiffs say they worked grueling 12-hour shifts with no days off ever and were constantly on the brink of starvation. Very high CFL death tolls, such as the 25 percent of workers who died at Katsuta, leave little doubt about the program’s true nature.


Here too, though, the government and corporations acted to hide the truth immediately after the war ended. Hokkaido prefectural police, in an “Important Notice for Preparing Name Rosters,” directed town offices and local physicians to falsify death certificates by omitting references to starvation, overwork, torture and suicide. One doctor reported being told by police “not to write anything on the death certificates that could cause trouble later.” The result was that innocuous-sounding fatalities due to colitis and gastrointestinal inflammation came to predominate.[20]


Mitsubishi also brazenly asserted that the lack of CFL war crimes prosecutions against the company proves its innocence. Mitsubishi lawyers observed that the Tokyo Trials, formally the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), did hand down guilty verdicts in trials involving abuse and atrocities against foreign laborers by Japanese companies.


“However,” Mitsubishi informed the court, “there was not one single prosecution involving the work sites being considered in this case. This important fact should be duly weighed. It shows that Mitsubishi Materials did not commit any illegal conduct for which it should be blamed. Indeed, acknowledgement by this court that treatment of these plaintiffs by Mitsubishi Materials involved illegal conduct would negate the survey results of the investigative team formed by the war’s winning side. It is necessary to realize that such a finding would represent an addition to the Tokyo Trials.”[21]


This depiction is flawed. Because a main goal of GHQ’s “reverse course” was to rehabilitate conglomerates like Mitsubishi and Mitsui, prosecutions by the IMTFE at Yokohama of Chinese forced labor in Class B and C cases was limited to just two out of 135 sites. Four camp staffers and two local police were convicted at the Hanaoka trial in March 1948, with sentences ranging from 20 years at hard labor to death by hanging. No hangings took place, however, and all convicts were granted early release after the Occupation ended. The second trial involved an Osaka port enterprise and was wrapped up over two days in October 1947; four guilty verdicts were handed down after charges of causing death by torture had been reduced to cruelty. The harshest sentence of 12 years went to the port’s CFL supervisor. After his early release, he returned to a management position at the port and helped suppress organized labor activity. The IMTFE never considered the CFL culpability of corporate executives and state officials, as Mitsubishi is surely aware.


NHK, as part of its 1993 documentary that exposed the Foreign Ministry Report, went to Los Angeles to interview the former Allied war crimes investigator who led the initial CFL inquiry. William Simpson told the network that GHQ’s decision to effectively drop the prosecutions “could have reflected the fact that there was a civil war in China and there was not much to be gained by the investment of effort by the United States. A judgment was made not to emphasize the shortcomings of Japanese corporate personnel at higher levels because these were people we wanted to work with in the Cold War as allies.”[22] Yet abuse of white Allied POWs in forced labor camps was vigorously prosecuted in the Class B and C trials held in Japan and other Asian countries; numerous death sentences were carried out. This racial double standard devalued the suffering of Asian victims and was a glaring defect of the IMTFE process.


Plaintiffs’ lawyers rebutted Mitsubishi’s closing arguments by stressing another reason why Japanese industry was never held to account for Chinese forced labor: the wartime system of deception and the postwar cover-up conspiracy. According to the plaintiffs, “The forced deportation and forced labor involved in this case have, from the very beginning and throughout the postwar period until today, been camouflaged by the defendants’ claim of ‘labor importation based on voluntary work contracts.’ The cases of forced labor that occurred at the defendants’ work sites were not prosecuted at the Tokyo Trials only because of their conspiracy to conceal their crimes.”[23]


This depiction gains support from the historical record, starting with the government’s immediate post-surrender instructions to corporations to burn incriminating CFL records. By November 1945, the construction industry was planning a strategy for preventing the Hanaoka investigation from spreading beyond Kajima Gumi (now Kajima Corp.). The following spring the industry group retained a Kobe lawyer who, in an early postwar example of amakudari, successfully recruited the very MOFA official then supervising final production of the FMR. “To put it bluntly, the goal was to hide the trouble at Hanaoka from GHQ,” the long-retired bureaucrat told NHK decades later. “That’s why Kajima has continued until today without any problems.”[24]


Twenty out of the 35 corporations that used Chinese forced labor are still in business, many of them on an international scale. Meanwhile, the fuller picture of how the state and industry dodged responsibility is becoming ever clearer. Additional MOFA archive documents made public in December 2003 show that the government stubbornly resisted GHQ requests for CFL records in 1947, and never handed over the vital FMR. Instead, the state once again solicited information from companies, which expressed displeasure at the renewed request and submitted only minimal material. In November 1948, the same month the IMTFE concluded its work in Japan, the government finally sent a “jeep-ful” of statistical data to GHQ, which returned the documents the following February.[25]


Time limits for fi

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