the Glen Edwards diaries

Colonel Tsuji of Malaya (continued)

Tsuji by this time had managed to move 33rd Army headquarters 80 miles into China, to Mangshih. As a Japanese biographer related the story in 1953, he put on a remarkable banquet to which he invited several war correspondents. An air raid destroyed the bridge leading to Mangshih, so they were unable to attend, but afterward they were told that Tsuji and some other staff officers had eaten the liver of an enemy pilot. In this version, the pilot was British. The same story was told by a Japanese army officer, Major Mitsuo Abe of the 49th Division who was actually present at the macabre meal; according to him, the pilot was an American lieutenant named Parker. In this version, the banquet was spontaneous. Parker was shot down in a raid, questioned by Abe and Tsuji, and refused to give any useful information. Another air-raid killed two Japanese soldiers and persuaded the officers that they must pull back from Mangshih. There was a clamor for Parker's execution, both for revenge and for the practical consideration that there was scarcely enough transport for the Japanese staff, without taking the American along. The two officers supposedly refused to have him executed. Instead, Parker was killed while they were at dinner, "while trying to escape." It was then and there, in this version, that the pilot's liver was brought in.

As the war correspondents heard the story, the liver was cut up and roasted on skewers. "The more we consume," Tsuji proclaimed, "the more we shall be inspired by a hostile spirit towards the enemy." Some officers merely toyed with their portions, some ate a bit and spit it out. Tsuji called them cowards and ate until his own portion was finished. This was some time in August.

By September, holding South Burma had become the main priority. Honda accordingly gave away one of his divisions to the 15th Army, which was hard-pressed by the British pressing into Burma from the west. Yamamoto was furious, and predictably blamed the quixotic gesture upon Tsuji: "He's up to his old tricks again--trying to get publicity." Tsuji celebrated his birthday on Oct 11 "in the front lines" in North Burma, picking "bracken sprouts" for dinner in "our headquarters in the bamboo groves of Monyeu." (possibly Mong Yu on the Burma-China border)

The collapse in Burma

Not long after, on October 16, Stilwell launched his last offensive, with British and Chinese divisions pressing the much- weakened 33rd Army in a giant pincers. To prevent being cut off, he had to pull back into Burma, under cover of a desperate stand at Bhamo, where Tsuji served as liaison officer, as usual in the front trench. The 33rd Army fought well and long, not withdrawing to Lashio until January 30. From that moment, there could be no further obstacle to American supply route from India to China; the Allies had succeeded in a major objective of the Burma, and the Japanese had failed.

On Feb 11, Honda and Tsuji went to a conference called by Burma Area Army, accompanied in Tusji's case by a medal for the gallantry he had displayed in Operation Dan. Obnoxious as always, he tried to refuse it, until Honda told him: "If you don't wish to accept the award for yourself, consider it for the whole 33rd Army staff." On that basis, Tsuji took the medal. By his own account, Tsuji was badly wounded in the Burma campaign, and this may have been the occasion for the medal.

Again Honda gave away one of his divisions, the 18th, for which Yamamoto again blamed Tsuji, but with the consolation this time that Tsuji was to go with it to 15th Army. By April, however, Yamamoto had been wounded and evacuated and Tsuji was back at Honda's side. The headquarters group was trapped in a temple at Pyinmana when the town was overrun by 161 Indian Brigade; they were joined by some private soldiers, to whom Tsuji hissed: "Keep still and be quiet--I'll kill anyone who moves." After dark, they slipped out. Tsuji took time to post a greeting on a tree outside the temple: "Last night was located here General Honda and the headquarters of the 33rd Army. If you push a little harder you may catch us. Goodbye." The group escaped to the north, guessing that the Indian troops would be watching the road to the south; then turned east until they reached the railroad, which they used to bypass the town. On his own authority, Tsuji got hold of a radio and told Burma Area Army that what remained of the 33rd Army could concentrate east of Toungoo by April 27-28 and suggested that the 15th Army cover them while they hurried down the Sittang River to reinforce 28th Army in South Burma. Honda's staff was furious; the troops were dead on their feet. "I know that crossing the Sittang River [toward Rangoon] will be dangerous," Tsuji told them. "But unless we do our duty than all the forces in Burma will be lost. Personally I do not think that the Allies have reached the estuary, but if they have we must throw them out. Do you seriously think we can slink away to Moulmein [and Thailand] and live 28th Army to its fate? If any of you haven't got the guts to come, then go and hide in the mountains with 15th Army. I will go--even if I am alone." Honda agreed that this was the proper course.

On 25 Aug, 10 days after the end of the war, Honda surrendered to General Sir Montagu Stopford of the British 12th Army. The headquarters staff was put in Rangoon Jail, and Honda eventually was put in command of all Japanese prisoners in Burma, enjoying good relations with the British. Things went harder with his staff, especially Major Abe and Colonel Tsuji. A Captain Lily of the U.S. Army Military Police turned up to investigate the incident of cannibalism in China, and the two officers feared that they would be charged with Lieutenant Parker's murder. They escaped to Thailand, with Abe posing as an enlisted man.

Underground in Bangkok

Tsuji's own account is radically different. In Underground Escape, published in 1952, he claimed that in June 1945 he was transferred to Thailand. "With my right arm in a sling and with dragging heels, I bid farewell to my comrades and soon found myself in Bangkok." He had, by his own account, been wounded seven times and carried "more than 30 odd pieces of shrapnel, both large and small" in his body.

His assignment in Bangkok, he said, was to quell a likely uprising of the 150,000-man Thai army and police force, which were being held in check with a lazy and spoiled garrison of 10,000 Japanese. He went by truck from Bilin to Moulmein, accompanied by "Lance Corporal Kubo," his orderly for the past six months. (Wherever Tsuji traveled, he seemed to find a "pure- hearted" youngster who wept upon parting from him. Whether this was a literary cliche or a reference to homosexual liaisons, I can't decide.) With his "half-useless hands and feet," he was lifted into the plane and flown to Don Maung, where he met "Commander Nakamura" (Aketo, says B), his former instructor at the Military Academy, and "Staff Officer Konishi," a classmate there. On June 8 he attended the month early-morning rites at the Shinto Daigi (Loyalty) Shrine, celebrating the December 8 breakout in 1941. He was offended by the sight of "comfort women," there and at the nightly parties. In his puritan fashion, he set about to clean them up.

Met Major Att Chalenshilba, once his student at the Military Academy. Thai garrison raised to army status under Lt Gen Hanatani, former division commander in the 15th Army in Burma. Divisions moved in from Indochina and China.

August 12 flew to Saigon, hoping to fly to Tokyo and persuade the high command to prepare for a long-range war in exile. He was brushed off, so he returned to Bangkok. Here he was asked by "Deputy Chief of Staff Hamada" of the Thai area army: "Japan must suffer for the next ten or twenty years. If possible, I'd like you to go underground in China and open up a new way for the future of Asia." Did this have anything to do with his being sought by British authorities? "Although I had not heard of my being designated as a war crimes suspect, I was fully read to meet such a fate." Says a band of seven young "special attack" (kamikaze) officers were in Thailand, disguised as priests while spying for the Japanese authorities; they "insisted on joining me."

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At 3 a.m. on August 17: "I bowed toward the north-east and deeply apologized to the Emperor. I then took off my uniform which I had worn with pride for 30 years and changed to my yellow robe. I felt that the great ship, `the Army,' had sunk, and I, a solitary survivor, was throwing myself into the giant waves of a bottomless sea." He went to an ossuary where the bones of Japanese soldiers were kept, on the grounds of bombed-out Ryab Temple. He took the identity of Aoki Norinobu, to be tutored by a 60 yr old Buddhist of the Nichiren sect. "Young Kubo" was with him; his orderly or one of the seven? They had a year's supply of miso, rice, dehydrated vegetables, canned goods, and dried fish.

On Aug 20 he reported for an ID card, taking off his glasses to change his appearance. He met "Ishida" a classmate at the Military Academy and a spy in Thailand for some years. He and his seven disciples were all approved as Buddhist students. The oldest he sent to Mahatat Temple, keeping the youngest with him for a time, Fukuzawa Takashi, though later sending him as well.

Here the two possible trails out of Burma come together: whether he escaped from jail in Rangoon, or had spent the past three months in Bangkok, On Sept 15, a British advance party arrived in Bangkok, with the occupation complete at the end of the month. Tsuji heard that they intended to intern priests on Oct. 29. Also heard, from Japanese soldiers removing remains from ossuary, that the British were looking for Tsuji. He decides to go underground in China. Here as earlier he shows his fascination with the British prime minister: "If Churchill were in my place, he would undoubtedly have done what I did."

Through French Indochina

Tsuji contacted agents of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government, working for the Military Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, run by Tai Li, charged with anti-Japanese and anti- Communist subversion in parts China not occupied by the Nationalists. Tsuji calls them the Blue Shirts, though that term is more often applied to a paramilitary organization analagous to Hitler's Brown Shirts. Their offices, he says, were on Surion Avenue, next door to a British officers' club.

He used notes to converse with them, taking advantage of the fact that Japan used Chinese characters as the basis of its written language. Says he told them his real name, his military history, his activites in the East Asia Federation, and his acquaintance real or imaginary with Tai Li himself. He left notes saying hs was committing suicide by drowning himself in the Menam River, addressed to the Thai police, the monks at the ossuary, and his disciples at the temple. Overnight on Oct 28-29 he slipped out of the ossuary, and after hiding in the fields until morning, took a rickshaw to Chinese hq. He was hidden in a "safe house" in the outskirts of Bangkok. (1.5 million Chinese in Thai.)

Disguised as a Chinese merchant in white jacket, black trousers, white pith helmet, and colored glasses, he boarded a train on Nov 1 with two escorts, one of whom was disguised as a Thai military policeman. Overnight in Kohraht; to Ubon next day, thence by a charcoal-burning bus to the Thai-Indochina border on Nov 3 "the auspicious birthday" of the Emperor Meiji, creator of modern Imperial Japan. Slipped past British sentries and crossed the Mekong River in a dugout canoe. Thence to Vientiene (?) by bus, oxcart, and pedicab. Northern Indochina occupied by the Chinese; they looted, raped, and extorted money, which behavior he blames for the success of the Viet Minh communists in organizing this part of Indochina. He contacts local MBIS office, tells them he was in Nanjing 20 years. Sees occasonal Japanese soldiers in employee of Chinese.

Given an escort of four soldiers and set off down the Mekong on Nov 10, trading as they went, tying up at hamlets overnight, seeing occasional French roadblocks now. At Sahanaket, registered as a Chinese doctor. Again sees Japanese soldiers, free to move about. Left by automobile for Hanoi Nov 23. Sees Viet Minh platoon led by Chinese communist; sees Japanese conscripted by Chinese as drivers and technicians, along with Japanese military horses and even dogs.

Reached Hanoi Nov 29 and reported to Chinese hq.

Vietnam was in chaos, with an indigenous Communist government under Ho Chi Minh contending for power against the returning French. Thousands of Japanese soldiers were still in northern Vietnam, preferring desertion over a return to the homeland in disgrace; they served as instructors and weapons experts for Ho's Viet Minh army. (For more on this, see Did Japanese soldiers fight with the Viet Minh? on this website.) Possibly Tsuji joined this mercenary force, though he claims not: Found Japanese working for Chinese in Hanoi, and heard reports of Japanese working also with the Viet Minh; says he himself was recruited (by a Chinese) but declined. Noted that the Chinese in Vietnam, like the British in Thailand, were so rapacious than the people longed for the Japanese to return.

By now he is wearing Chinese robes. Mentions staff officers Iwakuni (whom he knew from their days together at military prep school) and Commander Dobashi. Dec 25 went to Japanese army liaison office, where recognized by Major Suga, former student of his at Supreme Hq Nanjing. Met staff officer Misawa; moved in with them Dec 29 under name of Uesugi Masanobu, an army priest with the honorary rank of major. (He was called upon to administer the rites to the dead after a cholera epidemic.) Got the usual fond orderly to take care of him. 40-50 officers and soldiers there, some being held as war crimes suspects. Sato: instructor at Military College and aide-de-camp to Gen Terauchi. Also names Sakai and Kashiwara. Three months in Hanoi. T129-138.

Left Hanoi on March 9 in a four-engined plane with "a giant American pilot," flying up the Red River Valley along the route of the old "Michelin" railroad, along which he'd once planned an invasion of China, to Kunming, just a few hundred miles from where he had begun his remarkable odessey. His name now is Shih Kung-yu. Astonished to see the variety and quantity of American goods on sale. On March 19 flew on to Chongqing in a B-29(!) Landed on the island airport in the river. Bought Russian military magazines in the bookstores. Chongqing then closing down as government and industry returned to Nanjing.

Working for Chiang Kai-shek

Says his hopes were dashed when General Tai Li was killed in an airplane crash. Tsuji eulogized him as "clean and honest"; says his men were called Blue Shirts because he wore a cheap blue worker's garment, and they emulated him: most American writers take a somewhat different view of this man. Tsuji's position now "midway between that of a prisoner and a guest." Despite this setback, he goes to work at the Military Control Bureau's propaganda department and even obtains "a fine loveable young soldier" as his orderly. all quotes: Speaks a mixture of Russian and Chinese. Hears that Dr Miao Pin shot May 21 despite the fact that Tai Li supposed knew about his work, so a double agent in Wang's govt?

Suffered a bout with cholera, wrote an appeal in his own blood, and on May 7 was visited by "a sinister looking man" who proved to be Maj Gen Mao Jen-huang, who discussed his letter to CKS. He translated a Japanese document on the Chinese communists and generally became a lecturer on this subject. Says he asked Mao to make it seem that he was arrested while hiding in Hanoi! Was that indeed the way it happened?

Sent to Nanjing Jul 1 under new alias Wu Chieh-nan. Flew over Hankou and east along the Yangzi, which he had last seen two years before. He found Nanjing much changed: "The Japanese stores along Chungshaw East Road had been returned to their former owners." He is put to work for the National Defense Deparmtent Section [ntelligence] Comprehensive Study Group. On Aug 4 moved to former Japanese Supreme Hq! Met another Japanese, "a pure hearted youth" deciphering Chinese communist codes. Also an interpreter with his family. "Many thousand" Japanese PWs sent to Chongqing, where a third died of malnutrition (during the war, I guess).

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Wrote another report on likelihood of WWIII, a manual on cold- weather operations, a basic training manual, a manual on "strategic uses of topography," and lectured on WWIII to Defense Dept officers. Spent six months translating Japanese manual of 1924 about fighting Soviet Union in Siberia.

"As long as the Chinese Nationalists felt that a man was useful to them, they detained and used him." Notes that a Major Kanda sent home toward end of 1946 because he was sick. A visitor from Manchuria told him that 100,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were held there.

Refers to his outfit as Third Research Group, aka The Bamboo Shelter. It was, he says, "a miserable intelligence unit." They call him Mr Tsuji. Greatly upset when he missed dinner and went off on his own to eat. He and Lt Gen Tsuchida only Japanese officers, but joined in May 1947 by another general and two colonels hired from Japan. In July 1947 asked to be returned to Japan; refused on the grounds that the British were still looking for him. "Our treatment was equivalent to detention."

Received a letter from his son, followed by a later one from his wife, detailing their hardships during the war and now in defeat.

War crimes trials going on in Nanjing. Three generals and several lesser officers executed for their part in the 1937 Rape of Nanjing. A general he identifies as Isoya (and Bergamini as Isagai Rensuke), who'd mentored Lt Tsuji 20 years before, c/o 7th Infantry Regt 9th Division serving a life sentence for the same crime. Tsuji visited him, emaciated and in dirty quilted garments of a Chinese soldier, in prison, and took credit for having him transferred to better quarters in Shanghai.

In Oct 1947 began work translating a multi-volume Japanese manual on Soviet war potential. Submitted resignation Feb 1948 and in April granted two months' leave. May 15 bade goodbye to his orderly, who of course wept bitter tears, and to Col Okawa and his men and took the train to Shanghai. Most Japanese now gone home, except for technicians and convicted war criminals, which in Shanghai included Gen Okamura (B. says first name Yasuji) former commander of Jap Exped Forces in China, sick with TB. May 16 board ship w/ 150 Jap civilians and 50-60 war crimes suspects being returned to Japan for trial. Same pier at which he'd landed 16 years earlier. Stopped in Taiwan, where another 300 Japs boarded: war crimes suspects, professors, detained technicians, merchants, and artisans, with most of the voluntary repatriates alarmed by the Feb massacre of Taiwanese and Japanese by the Nationalist Chinese. Tsuji recognized several of the military men, including Gen Fukuyama, a classmate at the Army University, and Kodoya Hiroshi whom he'd known in at Supreme Hq in Nanjing; he played "go' with both men, but they did not recognize him.

Landed at Sasebo May 26, 1948. He kissed the earth: "Though the country was defeated, the hills and the streams were still left, together with the Emperor."

Elected to Diet 1952 "and twice thereafter"; wrote numerous books & articles. In UNDERGROUND ESCAPE, published in 1952, he ranked the fighting qualities of all the armies he had opposed. The Japanese of course were highest, with one Japanese soldier the equivalent of 10 Chinese--the army he rated second, given equivalance in equipment and training. Following in order were 3) Russians, 4) Ghurkas in British service, 5) Americans, 6) Australians, 7) Indians in British service, 8) British, 9) Filipinos, 10) Burmese, 11) Thai, 12) Vietnamese, and 13) French.

Even after he returned to public life in Japan, writing several books about the war, "he still lived mysteriously, travelling on secret missions, and in April, 1961, he went to Vietnam," as a British military historian told the story in 1968. "Since this date he has not reappeared but information reaching the author from Japan indicates that he is back in uniform and serving as an Operations Staff officer under Vo Nguyen Giap. When one considers the ruthless and brilliance of the North Vietnamese operations, the hand of Masanobu Tsuji can be seen clearly."

[I posed the question of Japanese advisors to the Vietnamese to a Vietnamese professor at Harvard. She was very skeptical, given the hatreds left over from the Japanese occupation.]

Click here to order Tsuji's Japan's Greatest Victory from

Sources for the information above

Herbert Bix: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (NY: Harpercollins, 2000)

Saburo Hayashi: Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War [Taiheiyo Senso Rikusen Gaishi 1951) (Quantico: Marine Corps Assoc., 1959)

Sterling Seagrave: The Soong Dynasty NY: Harper, 1985

Neil Sheehan: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (NY: Random House 1988)

Arthur Swimson Four Samurai: A Quartet of Japanese Generals (London: Hutchinson 1968)

John Toland: The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 NY: Bantam, 1971. Toland interviewed Chitose Tsuji, "widow of Colonel Masanobu Tsuji." Among his sources are Tsuji "Guadalcanal" (sic) Tamba-shi, Nara: Yotokusha, 1950. Also Singapore St Martin's 1960.

Masanobu Tsjui Underground Escape (Tokyo: Booth & Fukuda 1952) (with marginalia by Bergamini)

Horie Yoshitaka: Tsuji Masanobu 1980

Comments by readers of this page

From: kangshen@
Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 15:05:36 +1000
Subject: Tsuji Masanobu

Hi, I just read your wonderful short essay of Tsuji Masanobu. I note in part of it you mention that the KMT (Guo Min Dang) kept many Imperial Soldiers on station for a period after the war. Regretably, I don't have the reference, but an article appeared (I think 1979) in the "Journal of Asian History", about the Japanese nationalist philosopher Kitta Ikki, which mentioned in part that as late as October 1946, there were large disciplined formations of Japanese troops, under their own officers, and with air support, still operating in southern China against communist forces. I suppose they were eventually repatriated - but who knows? Tsuji was a close freind of Kitta, and several post war nationalist leaders, notably Pak Chung Hee and Sukarno, claimed inspiration from him. -- Dave, Australia

From: omura mineharu
Subject: about masanobu tsuji
Date: Sun, 7 Jun 1998 21:46:05 +0900

I am Mineharu Omura of Kyodo news ,Japan .I work in Kyoto branch. I went to Laos this februery on buisness ,and happened to know that Tsuji Masanobu alledgedly was missing in Laos .Nobody knows his where-about. Althoug he is over 90 years old, if he is still alive ,I would like to know how he was died or killed . In Japan "he is already dead" legally because he had been missing for 7 years.... It is difficult to know about this case.

Incident at Muc Wa

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