Almost three quarters of a century after their execution, more has become known about what happened to the ashes of executed Japanese war criminals. A Japanese professor found in an American archive in a report how the ashes of Prime Minister Tojo and six others were scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Until now, only limited information has been made available.
The American Major Luther Frierson wrote the report in the early days of 1949, more than a week after he had been personally involved in scattering the ashes. As with the executed Nazi Germany summit two years earlier, the Allies wanted to prevent the last resting place of war leaders from becoming a place of pilgrimage for supporters.
Frierson had attended the execution of Tojo and his associates at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo shortly after midnight on 23 December 1948, and a few hours later their bodies were burned in a crematorium in Yokohama. The axle was loaded on a plane that same day.
“ We flew to a point in the Pacific Ocean about 45 kilometers from the coast of Yokohama where I personally spread the cremation residues across a wide area,” says Frierson.
“ I never knew, it was never talked about,” says family member Hidetoshi Tojo in the Japanese media.
“ I understand that the American Army has done its best to make the remains disappear so that these men would not be idolized,” continues Tojos 48-year-old great-grandson. “If the remains have been returned to nature, its better than being left somewhere.”
General Tojo became Prime Minister of Japan just before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He was the face of Japanese warfare until a series of defeats in mid-1944 heralded his departure. He tried to kill himself when the Americans tried to arrest him a few days after the Japanese capitulation, but he survived the severe gunshot wound to his chest.
During the Tokyo Process, the Asian version of the Nuremberg Trials, Tojo was sentenced to death, as were the commanders in Burma and Singapore and the general responsible for the Nanking massacre.
Witnesses describe that Tojo walked left to the scaffold at his execution. Shortly before, he attended a Buddhist ceremony with other convicts, which ended with the battle cry banzai. At Tojos request, the American standard ration for its gall meal was replaced by typical Japanese food: rice, bean soup and fish.
Tojo left his family some trimmed nails and strands of hair for a funeral ceremony. Shortly after the execution, however, employees of Japanese crematorium revealed where the bodies had been burned, that they had secretly collected ashes left in the furnaces of the executed.
Although a spokesman for the US military denied that there was even a trace of ashes left behind, in 1955, supporters handed his widow an urn with ashes. It was placed five years later in a memorial called “Tomb for Seven Martyrs”.