TOKYO -- In a 1944 speech in Nanking, China, Prince Mikasa -- the late Emperor Hirohito's youngest brother -- condemned the Japanese military's "policy of aggression" toward the Chinese and cruelties such as using prisoners for bayonet practice, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday.
In a remarkable interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, the prince, now 78, detailed the extent of military atrocities against the Chinese and confirmed that he had condemned the aggression in a speech delivered to Japanese soldiers in China. Copies of his statements were later quashed and destroyed by military authorities.
A single remaining copy was recently discovered in the library of Parliament by a Kobe University professor.
The prince told the Yomiuri he wrote and delivered his speech "out of a desperate desire to bring the war to a close" after a one-year assignment as a staff officer with Japanese expeditionary forces in the eastern Chinese city of Nanking (now known as Nanjing).
In an assignment that shocked and revolted him, he said, he discovered that military officers used Chinese prisoners of war for bayonet practice to instill "guts" in Japanese soldiers; they gassed and shot them en masse after tying them to posts. "It was truly a horrible scene that can only be termed a massacre," he said.
He also disclosed in his newspaper interview that military officials tried to poison members of the League of Nations' Lytton Commission, assigned to investigate Japan's seizure of Manchuria in 1931, by lacing fruit with cholera germs; the plan failed.
The prince, then 27 years old, said he denounced the military near the end of the war for acting against what he believed was the emperor's strong desire for peace.
But military authorities regarded his remarks as "dangerous" and destroyed copies. Since criticism of the military then was regarded as treason, such outspoken denunciations would have been impossible for anyone but a member of the imperial family, he said.
The Mikasa speech is the first open criticism against the militaryby an imperial family member and "is of tremendous historical significance as evidence of the imperial family's basic opposition to the military even in the midst of war," Yomiuri reported. The military has long sought to legitimize its wartime behavior as having been done in the name of the emperor.
The remarks are certain to trigger controversy in a nation that remains divided on the nature of its war deeds and responsibility almost half a century after its defeat in World War II.
Just two months ago, the new justice minister, Shigeto Nagano, told a national newspaper that the "Rape of Nanking," in which the Japanese military raped, robbed and murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese in 1937, was "a fabrication."
Then-Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, who emphasized that his government was continuing its predecessor's view about Japan's wartime wrongdoing, reprimanded and then dismissed Mr. Nagano for his remarks, which he retracted.
Conservative Education Ministry officials have long ordered textbook publishers to whitewash such controversial incidents as Japan's germ warfare experiments in Manchuria and the "Rape of Nanking."