Why did the Japanese not get prosecuted for their war crimes in the way that the Germans did?

German and Other European offenders were tried and sentenced at Nuremberg yet it appears Japan escaped any such punishment


It’s a very convoluted answer to a simple question and there is no easy way to answer it.

A lot had to do with the Japanese psyche and the perception they had of their emperor and to perceive him in a bad light would of sent the populace over the edge. So while many of the Japanese commanders and high command were tried and sentenced it was mostly kept out of the public view of the average Japanese citizen so as to maintain peace and order and not tarnish Emperor Hirohito’s standing as a god.

Another thing that was done was WW2 was and in many cases today still not taught in Japanese schools and many of the Japanese war criminals are still treated as war heroes today although that perception is now slowly changing in Japan. Things like the Death marches of the commonwealth forces at HongKong and the Americans at Bataan are not taught nor are the mistreatment of prisoners and civilians by Japanese soldiers.

Like I said it is a complicated answer to a simple question and is difficult to answer and Emperor Hirohito was just one aspect of it.


Well, at the International Tribunal trials, Tojo, Boihara, Hirota, Itagaki, Kimura, Matsui and Muto were hanged December 23, 1948. 16 others were sentenced to life in prison, but paroled in the mid-to-late 1950s (similar to the sentencing of Germans - three of the 16 died in prison.). In various trials in areas the Japanese occupied, 920 were executed for war crimes (source: U.S. documents solve mystery of Japanese war criminal's remains)

So I would say “escaped any such punishment” is inaccurate…


The Japanese received similar trials as Nuremburg called the Tokyo Trials. They are not quite as well known and often more criticized, but they did happen and as @xfilesfc noted, many of the big boys were sentenced to death


“In Japan, the U.S. played an equally key role in concealing information about the biological warfare experiments and securing immunity from prosecution for the perpetrators. The greater force of appeals to national security and wartime exigency help to explain these different outcomes.” United States Responses to Japanese Wartime Inhuman Experimentation after World War II: National Security and Wartime Exigency - PMC


Unlike the German people who were for the most part tired and weary of war the Japanese were very much hostile to the allies and American high command recognized and understood that fact. It would not take much to set off the Japanese populace into open revolt against the occupiers.

-it is well known that most Japanese war criminals were tried and convicted and executed where it was judged but this was kept out of the Japanese civilian populace for fears of an uprising as many of those that were tried and convicted and executed were widely popular amongst the civilians and were often given a heroes burial after execution.

-the allies were vastly outnumbered by the Japanese(some estimates had it at 30 to 1) and many rules were set forth for the allied occupiers with one of the biggest being allies were not to touch or harm any Japanese civilian as the consequences would be dire for the offending party.

-Allies were NOT to offend Emperor Hirohito in any way shape or form as he was viewed as a god by the Japanese and it could set off open revolt offending their god

-Allied soldiers were openly told to learn the Japanese culture and their customs

All the above was done to keep the populace placated and help them transition from a wartime nation to a peacetime nation which was a huge undertaking

Many things were done that kept the Japanese placated but left the rest world wondering what was going on.

Politics, religion and culture played a major role in shaping post war Japan


Yes, the approach to Japan post WWII was very different compared to post WWI European countries. As an example, I met the mother of a Japanese friend a few years ago and learned that during the war she helped build the paper balloons with bombs that landed on the West Coast. They would sing songs against the American military. After the war under General MacArthur, she and the majority of Japanese were grateful to the General and US military.


There is another way to look at the Unit 731 issue than simple cynicism. Part of the deal given to Ishii and others was they would turn over their documents and research.

If they had not been enticed into doing that, the existence of Unit 731 would be a matter of debate (with the Japanese declaring it never existed, as some do even today.). The Japanese vigorously destroyed records of all sorts of misdeeds when the surrender was announced, entirely to avoid having to own up to crimes. Ishii, to save his own skin, kept his records intact. But if the US had not taken advantage of his self-interest, the term “Unit 731” would have no resonance at all.

Consider the Korean “comfort women” case; where despite overwhelming testimony, the Japanese flatly denied such a thing had ever occurred (or that the women were prostitutes - unique in the history of the profession in that they were not paid). It was not until 1992 that the government admitted such a thing had occurred at all, and spent endless time trying to minimize the numbers. The first Japanese textbook to include it in the history taught in schools was in 1997. Within seven years, it had disappeared again.

The Japanese have, since the war, made a great deal of making themselves blameless victims. In Unit 731, the only way they could be stopped is by taking the history away from them.

On a lighter note, Mort Sahl told a story of a US and Japanese negotiator talking about some trade deal, and the Japanese took umbrage over something.

Japanese negotiator: “You will pardon me, but you have never had a city destroyed.”

US negotiator: “What about Detroit?”


There was the Tokyo Trials and a tribunal in the Philippines, some Japanese Generals and leaders such as Yamashita we’re executed for war crimes. There were also later trials in the 90s. However, I think Japan was seen as the Allies “access to Asia” to counter the post-WW2 communist threat that the USSR posed.


And why didn’t anyone interject? Did the Japanese not show any resistance to making themselves blameless victims?

How exactly did Detroit destroy itself?

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No,they actively pursued it. You haven’t noticed? Hiroshima happened, Nanking did not? Massacres of prisoners did not? Murdering local Asians did not? The Japanese were bombed because of racism? No, they used it – especially when dealing with Gaijin – every chance they got (still do, on occasion.). Because Gaijin with no understanding of history buy it.

It didn’t. The joke is that Japan destroyed Detroit by putting much of it out of work by making better cars. Well, I got it, maybe it’s a generational thing.


Japan is a huge contradiction of itself that we can spend years discussing this subject. It’s routed deeply in Tradition and religion yet it since the start of the 20th century billed itself as a modern progressive country but still holds on to time honoured ceremonies that are centuries old and conflict with western ways of thinking and doing things. This was very evident after the occupation of Japan and how to move it forward from a warring state to a peacetime state.

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