NHK’s Finest Hour: Japan’s Official Record of Chinese Forced Labor

May 3, 1960:


“We have heard that in March of Showa 21 [1946], the directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MOFA] compiled such an investigative record. However, it was thought that if the documents were used for war crimes prosecutions they would cause trouble to a great many people. Therefore, all of the documents were burned and MOFA does not now possess even a portion of the documents.”


–Diet remarks by the chief of MOFA’s Asia Bureau during questioning by the Lower House Special Committee on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The decision to deceive parliament about records describing Chinese forced labor in Japan had been reached six weeks earlier, on March 17, and the false story would be repeated on multiple occasions. Kishi Nobusuke, prime minister at the time, had served as the wartime czar of forced labor operations and been imprisoned as a Class A war crimes suspect from 1945-48.[1]


May 11, 1993:


“We have been hearing that MOFA compiled an investigative report in March of Showa 21 [1946]. Since that report does not now exist, however, we cannot say anything with certainty. … Regarding the existence of documents like that, MOFA has employed various means and done all it can. However, we have answered in the Diet in the past that such documents no longer remain, and the present situation has not changed. We are sorry to keep repeating ourselves, but I must state once more that the records are not here.”


–Diet remarks by the chief of the regional policy section of MOFA’s Asia Bureau, during questioning by the Upper House Welfare Committee.[2]


May 17, 1993:


NHK is Japan’s influential public broadcasting network. NHK’s nightly TV program, “Close Up Gendai,” introduces the Japanese public to the five-volume, 646-page Foreign Ministry Report and related documents about Chinese forced labor (CFL). The records confirm that 38,935 Chinese males between the ages of 11 and 78 were brought to Japan against their will in 1943-45. They performed harsh, unpaid physical labor at 135 mines, docks and construction sites from Kyushu to Hokkaido. The overall fatality rate was 17.5 percent, more than one in six, but at some sites half of all workers perished.


August 14, 1993:


An hour-long NHK Special called “The Phantom Foreign Ministry Report: The Record of Chinese Forced Labor” is broadcast on national television. The network interviewed dozens of people in Japan, China and the United States, while conducting the first research using primary CFL records. These included the Foreign Ministry Report, Site Reports and previously unknown Investigator Reports. NHK Publishing produced a 244-page book with the same title in 1994.[3]


July 18, 2003:


“We knew that these reports were kept in the basement storeroom, but we were not able to confirm that they were the reports submitted by individual companies. We deeply regret not making thorough investigations.”


–Public statement by MOFA’s China and Mongolia Division, following discovery of more than 100 Site Reports detailing all aspects of Chinese forced labor. The reports were submitted to MOFA in 1946 by the 35 Japanese corporations that used Chinese workers. Two dozen companies remain in business today.[4]


August 26, 2003:


“Regarding the matter of so-called Chinese forced labor, it is extremely regrettable that amid abnormal wartime conditions many Chinese people came to Japan in a half-forcible manner and endured many hardships due to severe work.”


–Written statement to the Diet by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro [5]



These days, NHK’s programming schedule is long on nature programs and favorable coverage of the imperial family. The problem of Japanese abducted by North Korea also gets plenty of air time, while shows highlighting Japan’s atomic victimization have become an August ritual. The reputation of NHK as the media entity least likely to challenge the nation’s conservative government was cemented last year, amid revelations that the p

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