New Kyushu museum breaks taboo with POW vivisection display


A new medical history museum in Fukuoka faced the area’s dark wartime past on Saturday by using its grand opening to finally address the infamous live dissections of U.S. prisoners of war that took place at Kyushu University’s medical school.

The museum, built on the university’s campus in Higashi Ward, has a total of 63 items on display detailing over a century of the school’s history, including patient records and medical equipment. Two items refer to the vivisections, including a panel explaining the gruesome episode.

Although the Allied war crimes tribunal denied the university itself was systemically involved in the atrocity despite convicting 14 of its staff, the school had nevertheless treated the topic as a taboo and avoided mentioning it in public over the years.

But after it was suggested at a meeting of professors at the School of Medicine in March that this dark chapter be brought to light upon the museum’s opening, the university decided to add items related to the vivisections, according to the university.

In 1945, a U.S. B-29 bomber was downed near the border between Kumamoto and Oita prefectures. Eight of the airmen were vivisected by doctors of the medical school.

The doctors killed the prisoners by injecting diluted seawater into their veins, removing their lungs or livers and performing other horrific experiments on their bodies to test their limits.

A professor who performed the operations killed himself after the war. Fourteen members of the university were convicted of war crimes and were sentenced to death by hanging and life in prison, but these were later commuted in 1950 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

One of novelist Shusaku Endo’s works, “The Sea and Poison,” was based on the episode.

Human vivisections are also known to have been conducted in northern China by the infamous Unit 731, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Kyushu University’s medical school was established in 1903 as Kyoto Imperial University’s Fukuoka College of Medicine.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Thank you for your honesty, Kyushu U. I also admire your Korean Studies Center for promoting empathetic studies to both great nations.

  • A small, but important step into the right direction.

  • Jud Mag

    Was about time, took them mighty long. Apart from two 30-min NHK documentaries there is basically no knowledge circulating about these events.

  • Kochigachi

    Japan still denies Unit 731 atrocity and treatment of Korean POW and their families and yet admitting their poor treatment of American POW. No wonder Koreans still dislike Japan.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Definitely can only be seen as a positive move. Recognition of incidents such as this show a mature attitude that can provide the basis for reconciliation.

  • Critical critic

    Now if only the US would begin to own up to the atrocities it, too, has committed, we’ll be making real progress.