Tokyo Damage Report

Unit 731 walking tour of Ookubo!

Back in March,  we went on a walking tour. This wasn’t a regular cherry-blossoms-and-kimonos tourist shit. This was a tour of Japanese war crimes. Dr. Menegle type stuff that went down less than a mile from Shinjuku Station.

We walked from Ookubo to Waseda university. It turns out that even though I’d lived in this neighborhood for years, I had no idea what was up! The group that does the tours has a website here. The tours happen a few times every year and cost 500 yen.

Anyway, with the help of my friend Nate (author of the Waseda Ramen blog) , and my teacher Ted, I translated the brochure that the tour-guide gave me. I am posting the translation along with the photos I took.




On July 7th, 1989, while breaking ground for the National Hygiene and Disease Prevention Research Center, (currently called the National Center for Prevention of Infectious Disease), construction workers discovered a  large number of bones, belonging to unidentified persons. The Ushigome police department had jurisdiction. They announced that, based on the numbers of skulls and femurs, it was the bones of around 35 people. The investigating pathologist’s professional opinion was: “The bones are more than 20 years old, but there is no evidence of foul play.” An official from Shinjuku ward (in which Ushigome is located) sent three official letters to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, asking for a more thorough investigation. The Ministry denied the requests, stating, “The most appropriate thing under the circumstances is cremating the bones immediately with due ceremony.”  The then-mayor of Shinjuku, Mr. Katsutada, promised to launch his own independent investigation, and arranged for the bones to be analyzed by Doctor Sakura Hajime of the Physical Anthropology department of Sapporo Technical College. Here are Dr. Sakura’s conclusions:

1.    The bones were buried more than 30/40 years and less than 100 years.
2.     Although only 62 forehead-bones were found, based on all the bones, the number of people was over 100.
3.    One quarter of the people were women, and there were also the bones of children.
4.     A random sampling of bones revealed that the bones came from a mixture of Asian ethnic groups not native to Japan.
5.    The bones showed signs of damage by human artifacts such as saws, drills, and hammers.
6.    There were indications that the bones had been cut, stabbed, and shot.
7.      The limb bones showed damage, the meaning of which was unclear.

The site where the bones were discovered was formerly a Army-medicine training school during WWII. And one part of that school was the Infectious Didease Prevention Research Room (IDPRR) with deep ties to Unit 731 (the germ-warfare unit that carried out human experiments in China during the war). Consequently, from the moment of the bones’ discovery, many researchers and specialists speculated that the bones had something to do with military war crimes.

Because the initial Ushigome police report indicated no evidence of foul play, the Shinjuku government had set aside funds to cremate the bones, but a group of concerned local people organized a “Citizen’s Lawsuit  to Stop the Cremation of the Bones” and took it to court. The suit made it all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court, where it was rejected.

However, after many more years of activity by civic groups concerned with the bones, negotiations with the Ministry for Health and Welfare, and consideration of the social climate, the Ministry granted the bones an “exemption from cremation” in  March 2002. The Ministry also established a plan for a grave and monument at the location where the bones were discovered.

Although the bones are currently interred in the monument, it is not the correct place for them to rest in peace.  To find the appropriate burial place, the “Human Bones Group”  traveled to China, and spoke with the Association of the Unit 731 Victims’ Families. They returned to Japan bearing an official petition from the victims’ families. The petition requested that Japan undertake a thorough investigation to find the names of the deceased. The Human Bones Group continued to press the Ministry of Health and Welfare to identify the deceased, because they thought that the people should be buried in their respective hometowns, with their respective ancestors.

In 1992, the then-head of the Ministry, Yamashita Norio promised to investigate. And in June 2001, the Ministry released a new report. But, the report was very limited – it did not identify the people, only that they came from mainland Asia. So the Human Bones Group continued to press for more investigation. Last year, Mr. Masuzoe (current head of the Ministry) stated, “We will, to the best of our ability, use the latest surgical innovations as well as other techniques to find the identity of each deceased person.”

Kawasaki Jiro, an ex-Minister, met with a retired nurse who had worked in the former Military Medical School where the bones were found. (She testified to him that she knew a separate burial ground where more victims’ remains were hidden.) Morimura Seiichi had written a famous (nonfiction) book called AKUMA NO HOUSHOKU (‘The Devil’s Gluttony’). In the second volume, he included a description of an infectious disease research center dumping corpses of their “specimens” in a vacant lot. The general attitude is that, in order to restore the human rights to the deceased, it is necessary to revisit the past and uncover Japan’s medical war crimes.

Today’s ‘field work’ focuses on this ‘human bones problem,’ and so I will try to guide you all to the places related to it.

Your guide,
Negishi Keiko.



Koueisha is a funeral parlor which stored the bones until they were officially interred in 2002. When the Sapporo professor (Mr. Sakura) came to Tokyo to do his forensic examination, he did it in the basement of Koueisha. The bones were kept there in cardboard boxes, but in 1996, one of the members of the Unit 731 (Chinese) Victims’ Families Association came and complained, so they were transferred to the “kiribako” boxes (a type of traditional, non-laquered, Japanese wooden box in which precious items are commonly kept).


(translator’s note: this is in Ookubo, maybe 500 meters from the funeral parlor)
Mr. Sakura used to work as the head of the National Science Museum’s anthropology research department. After he retired from there, he went to work at Sapporo Technical College.  His successor in the National Science Museum’s anthropology department was Mr. Baba. In 1999, Mr. Baba held a meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the bones. At the meeting, Mr. Baba gave a lecture, saying that new forensic techniques made it possible to potentially discover more details about the bones.

 Also, the National Science Museum, together with the adjoining Tokyo City Health and Safety Research Center, The National Health Insurance Nurse Training Center,, and the Chuo Hospital were ALL part of the Japanese Army’s R&D Facility during WWII. There were two main parts of the facility: the  Army Technical Headquarters and the Military Science Research Institute.

During the First World War, many countries invented new weapons, and in order to keep up with them, Japan founded the Technical HQ. The Technical HQ was an experimental laboratory which researched new techniques, tested the weapons, all the way from raw materials to finished apparatuses.  The Military Science Research Institute (MSRI) controlled nine research facilities all over the country. The facility in Noboritou Kawasaki (#9) is well-known for having been the site of top-secret weapon development. Incidentally, facility #6 was known as a testing ground for chemical and poison gas.


From ookubo 3-chome to Hyakunincho 4-chome, the whole area used to be called Toyamagahara. In 1874,  the entire Toyamagahara area was requisitioned by the army. In Meiji year 1889, it became a shooting range for the Imperial Guard (the Emperor’s bodyguard). After that, during the latter part of the Sino-Japanese war, it was renovated and expanded into a huge, state-of-the-art firing range, said to be the biggest in Asia. They built 7 tunnels of concrete and steel, 300 meters long each, and fired weapons down them. After GHQ (General Head Quarters, the name for MacArthur’s provisional American government in Japan) took over, they also used this firing range.

Over the years, you could say that Toyamagahara has had a lot of ups-and-downs. During the periods when various armies were not using it, it’s quite a pleasant place – a wide open field,  full of pines, oaks, and a great variety of shrubs, which is packed with regular folks enjoying themselves.

SUWA JINJA (suwa Shinto temple)



 According to the chronicles kept by the shrine priests, Suwa Jinja was founded  around the years 810-814. (that is to say,  the beginning part of the Heian Era)
Originally called Matsubara Jinja, it was dedicated to the Shinto gods Ookuninushi and Jidainushi. It was the “guardian temple” which protected the surrounding villages of Tozuka, Ookubo and Hyakunincho.

In the Edo period, the Hyakunincho Musket Troop would come to the temple to pray for success with their musket training, and pray to improve their strategy and techniques. In November of 1883,  the Imperial Guards (based in nearby Toyamagahara) inaugurated a new Shooting Range next to the temple. The Emperor himself came to the temple to pray for good luck for his Imperial Guards and their dandy new range. A “the emperor actually came here!” memorial rock was erected three years later, and you can still see it today.


(Although it’s not written in the pamphlet, the tour guide also said that this temple was dedicated to the Shinto gods Otsukunushi and Koutoushiro nushi – who were war gods, analogous to Mars, so basically it’s a war temple. She also said that during the wars with China or Russia, Emperor Meiji came to the temple to pray for victory.)


The IDPRR was founded in 1932, when parts of the Army Medical School were converted to IDPRR use. The purpose was to invent new germ warfare methods which could be further developed and put into practice on the Asian continent (i.e. against Russians or Chinese). That’s why we think that the bones discovered at that place had a deep connection to the Unit 731 activities.

People have testified that at the IDPRR, germs for germ warfare were cultivated, and the remains of the ‘logs’ (which is what the doctors called their human specimens) were dumped in wooden boxes behind the facility. (please refer to Morimura Seiichi’s book AKUMA NO HOUSHOKU (‘The Devil’s Gluttony’) for more details)
One of the people who testified is a woman named Ms. Ishii, who used to work at the Army Medical school, after the war. A doctor named Matsushita Kikumatsu personally told her, “When the occupiers (i.e. the American army) came, if they found the bones, we’d be in trouble, so we buried them here.” The ‘here’ in question refers to the whole Army medical school area. Today, the former site of the Army medical school extends all the way from Toyama Park to Hakone Yamachi Athletic Park.


At the Army medical school, doctors would study medicine as well as how to keep military bases sanitary and prevent outbreaks of disease in the first place. The Army Medical school (the first of its kind in Japan) was founded in 1888, in what was then called Koujimachi-ku, the first Army medical academy was built. Its primary focus was on teaching and researching medicine, sanitation, pathology, and clinical testing, as well as infectious disease prevention. The old Army Base Hygiene Classroom building remained after WWII, until recently it was still there; post-war, it was re-named the National Nutrition Research Center. 

The school moved to Touyama in 1929 to further research techniques for infectious disease prevention. The east-side headquarters of the NIDPRC was, in the beginning, all about vaccination and immunization research. But in August of 1932, it was requisitioned (put under the control) of the cavalry of the Imperial Guard. And then it was remodeled for use by them.  At that same time, the Tougo Unit was established by the government – and the Tougo Unit later became Unit 731.

Ishida Shinsaku (in his book, “The Japanese Army Devils”), has a chapter about how Unit 731’s commander (Ishii Shiro),came to the Army Medical School and he used severed human heads infected with BISO  (a livestock-borne disease found on mainland Asia) bacteria in a lecture there.

In November of the same year that the school moved to Touyama,  the Emperor (Hirohito) came to visit the new campus. Dr. Koizumi, the highest-ranked doctor at Army Medical school, personally guided the Emperor through the (731-affiliated) IDPRR. And later, on December 24th, he visited the Imperial Palace and respectfully asked the Emperor about starting a second research center to study the disease-communicating properties of various types of clothing. The following year, a monument commemorating the Emperor’s visit was erected next to the IDPRR. The monument remains standing to this day, right next to the monument for the victims of the IDPRR.

Incidentally,  Dr. Koizumi was, in rapid succession, promoted to Army Medical General Inspector, Chief Doctor of the Infirmary,  and Army Medical School Principal. Then, after Japan surrendered, he committed suicide.

Although the IDPRR was a large part of the even larger Army Medical School, the exact place where the bones were discovered was, during WWII, the Medical Specimen Library and Infectious Disease Pathology Building.

In February of 1992, Mr. Yamashita, the then-head of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, made an announcement to Parliament, to the effect that he promised to investigate more about the bones. In June of 2001, the resulting report was released to the public.  The report admitted that the former Japanese Army Medical school had taken part in medical experiments on people. And it recommended that the Ministry put a grave/monument to the victims, near the site where the bones were found. It also alluded to the possibility of a second investigation (into the identities of the deceased), while adding, “In any case, the bones should be buried as they are, for now, with our condolences.”

 So that’s how the monument finally got built in March 2002, right near where the bones were discovered. And once a year, the Ministry will have a “condolences ceremony” to honor the deceased.


(above, the actual location where the skeletons were originally discovered in 1989)


The area formerly occupied by the Army Medical school (keep in mind, the not-yet-found caches of human bones could be anywhere in this area today) is currently occupied by the Finance Ministry’s Wakamatsu Residence, the Toyama Sunrise Disabled People’s Welfare Center, the Shinjuku Ward Handicapped Welfare Center, in addition to the NIDPRC, which we already discussed.  Inside the Finance Ministry’s Wakamatsu Residence property is the Children’s Park. And the former nurse, Ms. Ishii, testified in 2006 that there were more bones buried under the Children’s Park. She knew about this because she was working for the Red Cross, but in 1944 she was summoned to work at the Army medical school, which buried the bones.



Below, things we saw on the walking tour, which were not written about in the pamphlet:

An ordinary-looking apartment complex.

 According to the testimony of the former nurse, these apartments have bodies underneath them. If I understood correctly, the nurse said that they were built on land owned by the Army Medical school, and the apartments were built to hide the bodies from Americans.

 Below, the Metropolitan Institute of Public Health, located right next to the National Science Museum annex discussed above.



 During the war, this place was also a secret-weapon R&D center.

Below, next to the former R&D center, a mysterious ditch.


 Ever since the war, nobody has been allowed to build a building here. It’s also never been a park. What is under the ground here that no one is allowed near?

Up the hill from the place where the bones were found, is another vacant lot:

 Again, ever since the war, nothing has ever been built here. It’s not a park, not a parking lot, not a convenience store, not an apartment. . . it’s not anything. For 50 years!

It’s got a huge sign in front, saying "NO DUMPING WASTE" in 5 languages. And yet, if you look at the center, there’s a large mound. (you can kind of see it by the curvature of the tree’s shadow).

What is buried there? The Human Bones Group asked the city to send some guys to dig and investigate, but the city has stonewalled them so far.



 Below, the Kaijou Elementary School:


The kanji  for kaijou read "sea castle." But during the war this was a training camp for the marines – 海兵 (kaihei).

After the war, MacArthur made them turn it into an elementary school, but they kept  the ‘海’ kanji  in the school name, just to thumb their nose at the Americans.

Go, history!

Below, an ordinary-looking street:


 But if you zoom in on the lower-right hand stone of the wall . . .

 Carved into it is 陸軍 (army) – this was the CORNERSTONE of an Army facility.

 Finally, they took us here:

The Gakushuuin Joshi Daigaku (Women’s College)



Before the war, the big brick building on the right housed the Imperial Guard (the building itself survived the bombings).


And on that anticlimactic note, I’m audi.

Look around you, man. History is hiding!!!!!!!




28 comments Tags: ,

28 Comments so far

  1. […] Unit 731 walking tour of Ookubo! […]

  2. TRex April 29th, 2009 6:41 am

    That’s an amazing post my man. Quite possibly the best I’ve read in the three years I’ve been visiting this site. Kudos!

  3. Japan Ministry of Defense April 30th, 2009 6:05 am


    Hello, child.

    Human bone?

    Human bone is not from human, it is from dog, I mean, chinaman.


    Apato now, not Army Medical School.

    Army Medical School is disband.

    War is over and we are sorry we are no more experiment on live chinaman.



    For, uhh… safety.

    Safety from dangerous geography.


    More topography.

    All natural.

    Mound is nature.



    “Howls at night” you say, neighbour? Just wind. Back to sleep pless, neighbour.

  4. mcalpine April 30th, 2009 7:05 am

    Sounds like you have some sort of personal vendetta or something. What are you trying to prove here?

  5. Allecto April 30th, 2009 9:43 am

    I’m more surprised that there are Japanese people giving war crimes tours than I am that the government is hiding bones in ditches. This still gives me the creeps. Excellent post!

  6. admin April 30th, 2009 3:29 pm

    @ mcalpine: you’re a pretty half-assed troll. You should have said “fanta” or something. Put some effort into it.

  7. admin April 30th, 2009 3:30 pm

    @ Japan Ministry of Defense: What did I tell you about taking English lessons from Masamania Sensei?

  8. V. April 30th, 2009 8:29 pm

    Most excellent Post. Thank you Sir. Just what floats my boat. More of this please.

  9. Keith April 30th, 2009 10:16 pm

    Great work! I live just a few stops from here and I had no idea. Thank you for the info, it’s really interesting.

  10. admin April 30th, 2009 11:02 pm

    @keith, v. : thanks!

  11. Sarah May 1st, 2009 12:25 am

    Jolly interesting! You’re right, there is so much history just built into ordinary infrastructure, and it’s only appreciable if you know how to read the signs.

  12. Mark May 1st, 2009 5:33 am

    Interesting. But in the mound pictures, those half-buried tires, and the bench at the left, seem to indicate that it is a park or play area.

  13. 23 Wolves May 1st, 2009 5:38 pm

    Thanks…here’s a gift, “on a lighter note.”

  14. kei May 2nd, 2009 1:56 am

    love your site by the way
    you live in ookubo! i live in shin ookubo!
    i am waiting for you to post more interesting places dude!

  15. admin May 2nd, 2009 2:01 am

    @Kei: Annyoung! thanks for reading!

  16. admin May 2nd, 2009 2:03 am

    @mark: “Interesting. But in the mound pictures, those half-buried tires, and the bench at the left, seem to indicate that it is a park or play area.”
    Yeah, you’re correct to notice those things – but it’s a really poor attempt at a park. Like one bench and 3 tires on a 2-acre lot. I mean, Mafia guys do a better job when they make a fake candy store that sells drugs in back.

  17. admin May 2nd, 2009 2:06 am

    @23 wolves : You should do a series of those. I’m thinking like one where he’s wearing a monocle and a Dee-Lite t-shirt.

  18. Dave February 7th, 2010 11:21 pm

    Welcome to my spooky neighborhood! When we were about to move here, the real-estate agent from our previous place warned us that this neighborhood had a lot of ghosts, due to its being the former location of Unit 731 facilities. Really, he said that.

    I’d always wondered about that weird non-park park you mention. It’s always overgrown, with a ratty old set of swings, and I’ve never seen anyone in there other than the occasional homeless man. By the way, up close, that mystery mound looks to me like a pile of construction debris.

  19. torii yasusi December 20th, 2010 8:51 am


  20. Miles February 20th, 2011 6:56 am

    The Japanese government is beginning an excavation of the site!:
    – – – – – – – – – 

    Japan to dig site linked to WWII human experiments

    TOKYO (AP) – Japan is starting to excavate the site of a former medical school that may reveal grisly secrets from World War II.
    The investigation begins Monday at the former school linked to Unit 731, a germ and biological warfare outfit during the war…

  21. François February 20th, 2011 7:07 pm

    I was about to link the same news.
    Here's another article
    Also, an article from January from Asahi
    But about the excavations starting today, just a tiny paragraph in the Mainichi
    And nothing in Asahi or Yomiuri, in Japanese nor English.
    Last thing on Unit 731 on the English Asashi is still interesting:

  22. admin February 21st, 2011 1:47 am

    @miles, francois: thanks for the link! I got an email from the folks who organized that walk, and they’re organizing another walk for april. I’ll post the details soon.

  23. Jamie February 21st, 2011 4:32 pm

    I just read about the re-excavations
    and immediately remembered this great article – looks like I'm not the only one! 

  24. […] more frequently, and, most interestingly, a first-hand account from the hard-hitting culture blog, Tokyo Damage Report, about a walking tour in Tokyo that includes Unit 731 commemoration (with […]

  25. […] takes people around and shows them where the war-crimes and medical experiments were carried out. (Translation of their pamphlet here)   Here's a translation of the email – it turns out they're DOING ANOTHER WALKING […]

  26. Mr. S. April 14th, 2011 6:10 am

    Clearly there has been directive from high up the food chain to bury this story, and then to stonewall.  It helps that the Americans installed the same people who ran the war, minus a few very public scapegoats.  A style they continue to this day.  I suppose we had to wait for the war criminals to die, and their kohai to die too.

    Thank you for this.

  27. Steve L February 7th, 2014 5:33 pm

    This story always terrifies me. The unit’s work, the cover up, the nonchalance of not hiding it up.

    The result? Even nowadays, few people know about these experiments in the western world. There aren’t many good sources so any information spread is worth it. Also see

  28. Philly Frank July 22nd, 2015 7:05 pm

    Having been exercising in this park the past month and doing neighborhood walks I’ve seen nearly every site and picture in this post. I teach IR and am terribly frustrated by the inability of the Japanese (especially), Koreans (you may never be able to placate them) and the Chinese inability to come to terms with the past and stop using it as an excuse not to cooperate more on trade and peace and security issues. This post is amazing and a good bit of homework and I hope I can get the brochures and other data and evidence before I head home soon.
    Thank you for a job well-done!

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