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The contest to kill 100 people using a sword (百人斬り競争 hyakunin-giri kyōsō?) is a wartime account of a contest between two Japanese Army officers during the Japanese invasion of China over which of them could first kill 100 people with his sword. The two officers were later executed on war crimes charges for their involvement.[1] Since that time, the historicity of the event has been hotly contested, often by Japanese nationalists or revisionist historians seeking to invalidate the historiography of the Nanking Massacre.[2]

The issue first emerged from a series of wartime Japanese-language newspaper articles, which celebrated the "heroic" killing of Chinese by two Japanese officers, who were engaged in a competition to see who could kill the most first.[3] The issue was revived in the 1970s and sparked a larger controversy over Japanese war crimes in China, and in particular the Nanking Massacre.

The original newspaper accounts described the killings as hand-to-hand combat; historians have suggested that they were more likely just another part of the widespread mass killings of defenseless prisoners.[4][5]

Wartime accounts

In 1937, the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun and its sister newspaper the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun covered a contest between two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai (向井敏明?) and Tsuyoshi Noda (野田毅?), in which the two men were described as vying with one another to be the first to kill 100 people with a sword. The competition supposedly took place en route to Nanking, directly prior to the infamous Nanking Massacre, and was covered in four articles, from November 30 to December 13, 1937, the two last being translated in the Japan Advertiser.

Both officers supposedly surpassed their goal during the heat of battle, making it impossible to determine which officer had actually won the contest. Therefore (according to the journalists Asami Kazuo and Suzuki Jiro, writing in the Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun of December 13), they decided to begin another contest, with the aim being 150 kills.[6] The Nichi Nichi headline of the story of December 13 read "'Incredible Record' [in the Contest to] Behead 100 People—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings".

Other soldiers and historians have noted the unlikelihood of the lieutenants' alleged heroics, which entailed killing enemy after enemy in fierce hand-to-hand combat.[4] Noda himself, on returning to his hometown, admitted during a speech,

Actually, I didn't kill more than four or five people in hand-to hand combat... We'd face an enemy trench that we'd captured, and when we called out, 'Ni, Lai-Lai!' (You, come on!), the Chinese soldiers were so stupid, they'd rush toward us all at once. Then we'd line them up and cut them down, from one end of the line to the other. I was praised for having killed a hundred people, but actually, almost all of them were killed in this way. The two of us did have a contest, but afterward, I was often asked whether it was a big deal, and I said it was no big deal...[7]

The December 13, 1937 article in the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun's Contest to kill 100 people using a sword series. Mukai (left) and Noda (right)

Trial and execution

After the war, a written record of the contest found its way into the documents of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Soon after, the two soldiers were extradited to China, tried by the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, convicted of atrocities committed during the Battle of Nanking and the subsequent massacre, and on January 28, 1948, both soldiers were executed at Yuhuatai execution chamber by the Chinese government.

Postwar accounts

In Japan, the contest was lost to the obscurity of history until 1967, when Tomio Hora, a professor of history at Waseda University, published a 118-page document pertaining to the events of Nanking. The story was unreported by the Japanese press until 1971, when Japanese journalist Katsuichi Honda brought the issue to the attention of the public with a series of articles written for Asahi Shimbun, which focused on interviews with Chinese survivors of the World War II occupation and massacres.[8]

In Japan, the articles sparked fierce debate about the Nanking Massacre, with the veracity of the killing contest a particularly contentious point of debate.[9] Over the following years several authors argued the case over whether the Nanking Massacre even occurred, with viewpoints on the subject also being a predictor for whether they believed the contest was a fabrication.[10]

In a later work, Katsuichi Honda placed the account of the killing contest in the context of its effect on Imperial Japanese forces in China. In one instance, Honda notes Japanese veteran Shintaro Uno's autobiographical description of the effect on his sword of consecutively beheading nine prisoners.[11] Uno compares his experiences with those of the two lieutenants from the killing contest.[11] Although he had believed the inspirational tales of hand-to-hand combat in his youth, after his own experience in the war he came to believe the killings were more likely executions.[11] Shintaro adds,

Whatever you say, it's silly to argue about whether it happened this way or that way when the situation is clear. There were hundreds and thousands of [soldiers like Mukai and Noda], including me, during those fifty years of war between Japan and China. At any rate, it was nothing more than a commonplace occurrence during the so-called Chinese Disturbance.[11]

In 2000, Bob Wakabayashi wrote that "the killing contest itself was a fabrication", but the controversy it created "increased the Japanese people's knowledge of the Atrocity and raised their awareness of being victimizers in a war of imperialist aggression despite efforts to the contrary by conservative revisionists."[12] Joshua Fogel has stated that to accept the newspaper account "as true and accurate requires a leap of faith that no balanced historian can make."[13]

The Nanking Massacre Memorial in China includes a display on the contest among its many exhibits. A Japan Times article has suggested that its presence allows revisionists to "sow seeds of doubt" about the accuracy of the entire collection.[14]

One of the swords allegedly used in the contest is on display at the Republic of China Armed Forces Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

The contest is depicted in the 1994 film Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre, as well as the 2009 film, John Rabe.


In April 2003, the families of Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda filed a defamation suit against Katsuichi Honda, Kashiwa Shobō, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Mainichi Shimbun, requesting ¥36,000,000 (approx. US$300,000 in 2003) in compensation. On August 23, 2005, Tokyo District Court Judge Akio Doi dismissed the suit on the grounds that "[the contest] did occur, and was not fabricated by the media".[15][16] The judge stated that, although the original newspaper article included "false elements", the officers admitted that they had raced to kill 100 people and "it is difficult to say it was fiction."[15]

See also

  • Kiri sute gomen

References and bibliography

  1. Takashi Yoshida. The making of the "Rape of Nanking". 2006, page 64
  2. Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. 2000, page 82
  3. Honda 1999, pp. 131–132
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kajimoto 2000, p. Postwar Judgment: II. Nanking War Crimes Tribunal
  5. Honda 1999, p. 128
  6. Wakabayashi 2000, p. 319.
  7. Honda 1999, pp. 125–127
  8. Honda 1999, p. ix
  9. Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. 2000, page 81-2
  10. Honda 1999, pp. 126–127, footnote
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Katsuichi Honda, Frank Gibney. The Nanjing massacre: a Japanese journalist confronts Japan's national shame. 1999, page 128-132
  12. Wakabayashi 2000, p. 307.
  13. Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, The Nanking Atrocity 1937-1938 (Berghahn Books, 2007), pp. 280
  14. Kingston 2008, p. 9.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hogg, Chris (2005-08-23). "Victory for Japan's war critics". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  16. Heneroty 2005

Further reading

In English
In Japanese

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