The Tokyo Trial

Abstract

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo Trial or the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, was a military trial convened on April 29, 1946, to try the leaders of the Empire of Japan for joint conspiracy to start and wage war (categorized as "Class A" crimes), conventional war crimes ("Class B") and crimes against humanity ("Class C"). Eleven countries - Australia, Canada, China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States - provided judges and prosecutors for the court. The defense comprised Japanese and American lawyers.

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Twenty-eight Japanese military and political leaders were charged in the Tokyo Trial with fifty-five separate counts encompassing the waging of aggressive war, murder and conventional war crimes committed against prisoners-of-war, civilian internees and the inhabitants of occupied territories. The defendants included former prime ministers, former foreign ministers and former military commanders. In the course of the proceedings, the court ruled that 45 of the counts, including all the murder charges, were either redundant or not authorized under the IMTFE Charter.

Following months of preparation, the IMTFE convened first on April 29, 1946. The trials were held in the War Ministry office in Tokyo. On May 3 the prosecution opened its case, charging the defendants with crimes against peace, conventional war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The trial continued for more than two and a half years, hearing testimony from 419 witnesses and admitting 4,336 exhibits of evidence, including depositions and written statements from 779 other individuals.

Following the model used at the Nuremberg trials in Germany, the Allies established three broad categories. "Class A" charges, alleging crimes against peace, were to be brought against Japan's top leaders who had planned and directed the war. Class B and C charges, which could be leveled at Japanese of any rank, covered conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity, respectively. Unlike the Nuremberg trials, the charge of crimes against peace was a prerequisite to prosecution - only those individuals whose crimes included crimes against peace could be prosecuted by the Tribunal.

Sentencing

After the defense had finished its presentation on September 9, 1947 the IMT spent fifteen months reaching judgment and drafting its 1,781-page opinion. The reading of the judgment and the sentences lasted from December 4 to 12, 1948. Five of the eleven justices released separate opinions outside the court.

One defendant, Shūmei Ōkawa, was found mentally unfit for trial and the charges were dropped. Two defendants, Yōsuke Matsuoka and Osami Nagano, died of natural causes during the trial. Six defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace (Class A, Class B and Class C): General Kenji Doihara, chief of the intelligence services in Manchukuo, Kōki Hirota, prime minister (later foreign minister), General Seishirō Itagaki, war minister, General Heitarō Kimura, commander, Burma Area Army, Lieutenant General Akira Mutō, chief of staff, 14th Area Army, General Hideki Tōjō, commander, Kwantung Army (later prime minister). One defendant was sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes and crimes against humanity (Class B and Class C): General Iwane Matsui, commander, Shanghai Expeditionary Force and Central China Area Army. They were executed at Sugamo Prison in Ikebukuro on December 23, 1948. MacArthur, afraid of embarrassing and antagonizing the Japanese people, defied the wishes of President Truman and barred photography of any kind, instead bringing in four members of the Allied Council to act as official witnesses.

Sixteen defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Three (Koiso, Shiratori, and Umezu) died in prison, while the other thirteen were paroled between 1954 and 1956. Foreign minister Shigenori Tōgō was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Togo died in prison in 1949. Foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu was sentenced to 7 years. He later served as Foreign Minister and as Deputy Prime Minister of post-war Japan.

Research Guide

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on the Tokyo Trial. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject heading (keyword) International Military Tribunal for the Far East is instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

Librarian’s choice
Bibliography manually

Sources

A single volume containing the essentials: the Tribunal’s founding documents, the Indictment, and the judgments. The authors’ introduction sets out the main features of the trial, with a strong emphasis on the legal issues: the validity of the charges, the problems with “common plan or conspiracy,” and the imprecision of the rules of evidence, plus incisive appraisals of the personalities involved.

A functional index of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to enable researchers to find their way through some fifty thousand pages of subject material.

The full text of the dissentient judgment of Mr. Justice Radha Binod Pal of India in the case of the United States of America and other Allied Powers versus Araki Sadoa and Others, tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

This 124-volume series is the most important primary source on the Tokyo Tribunal, encompassing its founding documents, the Indictment, transcripts, the judgments, and appeals and reviews. It also provides supplementary documents, such as International Prosecution Section committee minutes, decisions, and memoranda. Most volumes contain Pritchard’s illuminating introductory overview, and a grid setting out the phases of the trial. The only drawback: no index (see instead Pritchard and Zaide 1981–1987).

The complete transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in twenty-two volumes. Index and Guide, I-V.

Vol. 1 (1946) - vol. 198 (1948). And: Proceedings in chambers; Motions; Motions to dismiss defendants; Judgment of Justice Pal, member of India; Opinion of Justice Röling, member to the Netherlands; Concurring opinion by Justice Delfin Jaranilla, member for the Republic of the Philippines; Separate opinion of the President William F. Webb; Dissenting judgment of the member from France Justice Henri Bernard; Index of witness: Prosecution and defense; Index of motions, arguments ... [etc.]

  • Röling, B.V.A. and C.F. Rüter (eds.), The Tokyo Judgment: the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (I.M.T.F.E), 29 april 1946 - 12 november 1948Amsterdam, APA-University Press Amsterdam, 1977.

- Vol. 1, Introduction. Judgement of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Separate opinion of the president. Dissenting opinion of the member from France. Concurring opinion of the member from the Republic of the Philippines

- Vol. 2, Judgement of the member from India. Opinion of the member from the Netherlands.

Reference works

This book contains interesting information about the various editions of the records of the Tokyo Trial, see pages xii - xiv. References about archives, online sources, published primary sources (microfilms, book formats) and secondary literature can to be found on pages 523 - 533.

Selected books and articles

Bibliographies

This work is a book-length annotated bibliography of English-language sources on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. It is also an annotated bibliography on other war crimes held in the Asia-Pacific region between 1945 and 1956. It includes entries for official sources (e.g. trial transcripts, international treaties, and national war crimes laws and documents), scholarly sources (monographs and periodicals), memoirs and papers of participants, dissertations and theses, and news magazine accounts.