Horrific Japanese Crimes In WWII That History Forgot

The atrocities committed by the Japanese military during WWII are so brutal that it is almost impossible to comprehend them. In some ways, it may be better to forget this terrible history, yet to do so would dishonor those who suffered and perished. A look at the worst of Japan's crimes in WW2 also helps us understand today's world a little better, especially the animosity Korea and China still have for Japan. Moreover, it is important that we learn and remember the horrible crimes in our recent history so that we can make sure they never happen again.

WARNING: This list contains extremely disturbing content.

Photo: Public Domain

  • The Nanking Massacre
    Photo: Sweeper tamonten / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The scale and savagery of the Rape of Nanking defy explanation. All one can do is recite the facts. In 1937, at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War - the conflict between Japan and China that would eventually become the Pacific branch of WWII - the Japanese invaded Nanking, the capital city of Nationalist China. The atrocities began in late 1937 and ended in early 1938. As many as 300,000 Chinese civilian lives were lost, and as many as 80,000 Chinese women were subjected to forced relations with soldiers.

    It was the first of many similar massacres, though none took place on the same scale as that at Nanking.

  • Comfort Women

    Comfort Women
    Photo: Titmuss A D / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Over the course of the Sino-Japanese conflict and WWII, the Japanese army forced as many as 200,000 women into prostitution. Called “comfort women," these predominantly Korean women were sent throughout East Asia to work in brothels catering to the Japanese military. The brothels operated long hours and women were rarely granted time off, meaning they endured forced relations repeatedly every day for years.

    In 2015, the prime minister of Japan officially apologized for the practice and agreed to pay a sum of 1 billion yen, or about $9 million, to the 46 surviving comfort women.

  • Death By Railway

    Death By Railway
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    During their occupation of Southeast Asian territories, the Japanese decided to build a railroad connecting Thailand and Burma. The railroad would run through incredibly dense jungle, and was to be built largely by hand, without assistance from large industrial tools.

    The Japanese gathered 60,000 POWs and 200,000 enslaved local laborers and forced them to work day and night through monsoons and sweltering heat. Laborers were given nothing but rice to eat, and those who were injured were left to perish. Dangers included dengue fever, cholera, tropical ulcers, and an extreme vitamin B deficiency that led to paralysis.


  • Unit 731

    Unit 731
    Photo: Unidentified / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Unit 731 was a top-secret Japanese military unit responsible for medical and chemical weapons research that defies belief. Among other things, the unit field-tested so-called “plague bombs” by dropping disease-infected devices over cities to see whether they would cause outbreaks. They did, and as many as 3,000 Chinese civilians (if not more) perished from these diseases.

    At Japan's notorious base in Pingfang, China, doctors put people in pressure chambers to see how much pressure the human body could withstand before exploding. They also infected civilians with diseases and then dissected them to examine the effects of the disease. Other atrocities include leaving POWs outside to freeze until they perished in order to investigate potential cures for frostbite, and amputating subjects' limbs to learn about blood loss.

  • A Contest To Slay 100 People With A Saber

    A Contest To Slay 100 People With A Saber
    Photo: Shinju Sato / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    On the way to Nanking, two Japanese army officers entered into a friendly competition with one another: Who would be the first to slay 100 people with a saber during the conflict? The bloodshed began on the road, as the Japanese army advanced to Nanking, and continued through the destruction of the city.

    The contest was covered by a Japanese newspaper - here's a translation of one particularly chilling paragraph: "Noda: 'Hey, I got 105. What about you?' Mukai: 'I got 106!' ...Both men laughed. Because they didn’t know who had reached 100 kills first, in the end someone said, 'Well then, since it’s a drawn game, what if we start again, this time going for 150 kills?'"

  • The Bataan Death March

    The Bataan Death March
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The atrocities in Baatan, Phillipines, began in 1942, when the region was surrendered to Japan. The Japanese, unprepared for the huge number of POWs, ordered all 75,000 of them to march through the jungle, a march that became known as the Bataan Death March.

    Japanese soldiers, who saw surrender as a sign of weakness, beat the captives ceaselessly. Some fell behind due to lack of water, the heat of the jungle, or exhaustion. The stragglers were beheaded or simply left to perish. An estimated 2,500 Filipinos and 500 Americans perished on the march. About 26,000 more Filipinos succumbed to disease or starvation in the prison camp.