The timing couldn't have been worse.
Just weeks before Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's
Sept. 4-8 visit to China, where memories of Japan's wartime
atrocities still rankle, a group of Chinese launched a preemptive
strike against Tokyo.
More than 100 Chinese sued the Japanese government last week
for damage the Japanese Imperial Army caused with a germ-warfare
program from 1940 to 1945. Seeking both an apology and $9.4
million, 108 plaintiffs filed the first case against Japan for its
alleged germ-warfare program, known as Unit 731, which is said to
have killed tens of thousands of people.
A half-century after the end of World War II and Japan's
ignominious defeat, Tokyo continues to pay the price for its
imperialistic past. Memories of its wartime occupation of many
Asian countries linger throughout the region and shape
relationships with neighbors-turned-trade partners.
But some Japanese hope the prime minister's trip will open
the way for Tokyo to admit past wrongs, just as it expressed
remorse four years ago to Korean "comfort women," who were used as
sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
"With the world paying attention, it is a great opportunity
that a Japanese court tries its own country's germ-warfare case,"
says Keiichiro Ichinose, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
Four representatives of the plaintiffs, who say their family
members were victims of the induced plague, were present at the
They have also been invited to town meetings to tell the
Japanese audiences of their vivid recollections of what they lived
He Qisui, one of the plaintiffs, says he witnessed the
peaceful life he had built in the port city of Ningbo tumble down
after Japanese planes dropped plague-infested wheat grain on Oct.
To eradicate the plague, everything, including 137 houses,
was burned down. No house has been built in the area since. Both
Japanese and Chinese researchers say the attack claimed more than
100 lives in Ningbo alone.
Wang Jingdi, another plaintiff from Chongshan village in
Zhejiang Province, says the plague also killed his family members.
Mr. Wang started his own investigation in 1966 about what happened
in his village in 1942. By talking to older people he learned that
Japanese soldiers came to his village and spread plague-infested
grain from the air and put germs in water supplies. They also
conducted gruesome human experiments on some of the villagers, he
Researchers say that just before Japan's surrender, Unit 731
unleashed its last experiment in northeastern China, claiming tens
of thousands of lives by spreading fleas carrying bubonic plague
and setting free thousands of infected rats in 32 villages. …