Keichi Endo and the Kempeitai: the story of a Japanese PoW

Amongst the collections at the National Archives in Kew are a set of Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) identity cards dating from the end of WWII. After the Japanese surrender, thousands of captives were detained whilst evidence was collated for their trials.

By studying these intriguing documents, we cannot only help families trace their long lost relatives but also gain an insight into the career of an ordinary soldier in the Imperial Army during WWII. For an example, we shall examine the case of Keichi Endo.

Who Was He?

Keichi Endo was, according to British records, a Military Police Sergeant in Batavia (Dutch Jakarta). After the Japanese surrender, he had been arrested and sent to Bang Kwang Prison in Thailand before being transferred on 7th December 1945 to Changi Prison in Singapore, having made a stopover in Saigon.

The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation
The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation

What Was He Accused Of?

Endo was arrested under suspicion of unlawfully executing two Australian PoWs and two Dutch nationals. He was to be tried by an Australian war crimes commission.

Service Record

Endo had been conscripted early on in WWII, joining the 74th Infantry Regiment on the 1st December 1941. The 74th was part of the 19th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army which had its garrison in North Hamgyong, part of Japanese Korea (now North Korea), on the border with the Soviet Union.

Endo would have been responsible for securitising the Japanese border with the Soviet Union and subduing any resistance posed by the native Koreans, who had been under Japanese occupation since 1910.

In May 1942, Endo was sent back to Tokyo to attend a training course for the Military Police. The Japanese Military Police was the notorious Kempeitai. Formed in the late 19th century, the Kempeitai took on a variety of often secretive roles to ensure peace, both within Japan and subsequently the territories it had conquered.

Chinese PoWs in the hands of the "Japanese Gestapo", the Kempeitai
Chinese PoWs in the hands of the “Japanese Gestapo”, the Kempeitai

Counterinsurgency and surveillance were particularly important tasks for the Kempeitai and it had developed a fearsome reputation in Korea (where it had had a presence since 1907) for its brutal methods of extracting information and subduing dissent.

Mr Endo’s role was thus both secretive and, potentially, lethal, and he returned to Korea in July 1942 after just a couple of months of training. The 74th Regiment would soon be transferred to the 30th Division and Endo was transferred to Java in in February 1943, by now part of the Japanese Empire. Here, he would establish himself at the Kempeitai headquarters in Batavia.

The British describe his role in Batavia as “Dealing with Jap. military offenders” yet it is likely that Endo’s concerns were more directed towards the Dutch and Indonesian settlers, in addition to Allied prisoners, than they were to his own kin.

In May 1943, Endo was transferred to a place named Pogol (this appears to be the present-day city of Bogor) to undertake clerical duties. Whether his actions in the field had brought him into disrepute or whether he was now adjudged senior enough to take on an organisational role is unclear.

However, what we do know is that on the 5th May 1943, two Australian PoWs and two Dutch civilians were executed in Bogor and Endo was suspected of being the guilty party. So much for clerical duties.

Endo's arrest card shows the accusations against him
Endo’s arrest card shows the accusations against him

His possible complicity in this horrible act seemingly did not displease Endo’s superiors. Promoted to Corporal in December 1943, he would see out the rest of the war in the Bogor Kempeitai division, even becoming a Sergeant on the 1st August 1945, a mere two weeks before the Japanese surrender.


No details of Endo’s trial are available except for a note that he was acquitted for lack of evidence on the 30th September 1946, over a year after his initial incarceration.

Whether Endo was guilty we will probably never know, yet these important documents (brief though they may be) offer a fascinating portrait of the path of an individual soldier through the carnage of the world’s greatest battle.


Another Coal on the Historical Fire: the challenge of Japan-Korea Relations

Japan and South Korea have strained relations. History makes this inevitable. Whether it be resentment over Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century, school textbook revisionism involving different interpretations of each country’s wartime role, or the scandal over ‘comfort women’, an unresolved issue always remains lying submerged just beneath the surface, threatening any stability in bilateral relations.

Therefore, the release of a document from 1953 in which a senior Japanese diplomat declared that normalising relations with South Korea was “impossible” due to the “arrogance” of the Koreans is unlikely to sooth contemporary sentiment between the two nations, coming shortly after Mayor Hashimoto’s defence of the use of Korean ‘comfort women’ during WWII.

The comments by Kanichiro Kubota serve to illustrate why a formal bilateral agreement to normalise relations between Japan and South Korea only materialised in 1965. Mr Kubota went on to claim that Japanese occupation of Korea served many beneficial purposes, that the South Koreans were “servile to the powerful and high-handed to the weak”, and that the overthrow of the government of Syngman Rhee was essential to regional progress.

Chief negotiator in normalising relations with South Korea, Kubota (l) had the opposite affect
Chief negotiator in normalising relations with South Korea, Kubota (l) had the opposite affect

Given their strained past, and the continuing flashpoints over historical interpretation, it is unsurprising that many Koreans believe that some of the sentiments expressed by Mr Kubota over half-a-century ago are shared by the current Japanese population and, in particular, its political leadership.

Indeed, even some within Japan believe this. Fumitoshi Yoshizawa, a Korean expert at Niigata University claims:

Tokyo never parted with the basic thought underlying Kubota’s comment…Japanese politicians have continued to make similar comments in recent years, drawing fire each time both within Japan and from abroad.

This is the crux of the matter; subsequent post-WWII Japanese politicians have been unable to convince their South Korean counterparts that they accept the wrongs wrought by their imperial predecessors and they have not pursued a consistent policy of sincere reservation for past Japanese actions.

South Koreans regularly protest Japan's questionable interpretation of its wartime actions
South Koreans regularly protest Japan’s questionable interpretation of its wartime actions

It is a burden on the modern Japanese politician, and every Japanese citizen for that matter, that they should be in a position where they have to apologise for the wrongdoings of their forebears. However, the inability to confront Japan’s shameful past has meant South Korea (and China) has refused to bury the historical hatchet, particularly when there are frequent reminders of Japan’s dubious acceptance of its wartime guilt.

To accuse the Koreans of being “arrogant” was a particularly appalling comment given by Mr Kubota. Imperial Japan, like Nazi Germany, saw itself as the master race of its region and any foreigner was designated a sub-human, such was the contempt in which they were held. The refusal of Japanese politicians, especially those of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), to offer a comprehensive apology, leads many observers to believe that a degree of this arrogance remains.

Whatever unfairness we may attribute to the situation of modern Japanese politicians having to apologise for the past, it is a necessity for the future well-being of East Asian relations that they do so. South Korea and Japan need one another. They are important trading partners, share a concern over North Korea’s nuclear intentions and both watch China’s increasing regional dominance warily.

Yet without setting aside the differences of the past, which continue to manifest themselves in one form or another in the present day, serious cooperation will be neglected and the tentative relationship between both nations will persist.

Japan's occupation of Korea (1910-1945) will take some forgetting
Japan’s occupation of Korea (1910-1945) will take some forgetting

North Korea’s Nuclear Belligerence: the historical vulnerability of an enigmatic pariah

North Korea’s third nuclear test has provoked the expected condemnation from the international community. With sanctions against Kim Jong-Un’s state already pretty severe, the usual dilemma of what punishment to impose on the North Koreans without resorting to military might is confounding leading statesmen.

As mentioned before on this blog, there is likely to follow a period of diplomatic brinksmanship before the North Koreans extract an alleviation of certain sanctions in exchange for a promise to dismantle its nuclear programme. Talks and posturing will rumble on, maybe even with the return of the Six-Party Talks, before the next nuclear test is undertaken and the process is repeated.

North Korea’s leader has cause to feel vulnerable. His state is isolated, shorn of allies, internationally castigated. Yet it also suffers from a historical vulnerability that has always plagued the Korean Peninsula.

Strategically located between China, Japan and Russia, Korea has historically been highly sought after. With excellent sea access, and the resulting trading benefits that brings, in addition to particularly fertile farmland, it has been desired and conquered by countless foreign warriors.

The Korean Peninsula is located in a strategically-important position
The Korean Peninsula is located in a strategically-important position

As early as the second century BC, Korea was invaded by the Han Dynasty of China, which established a series of vassal kingdoms across the peninsula. In the thirteenth century, the Mongols invaded, forcing the Goryeo Dynasty into a defensive treaty to maintain a degree of independence. Even the long-lasting Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) suffered frequent invasions from Manchuria and, in the sixteenth century, Japan, each time surviving in a weakened condition.

The Japanese landing at Busan, 1592. The invasion was a failure, but over 260,000 Koreans died at Japanese hands
The Japanese landing at Busan, 1592. The invasion was a failure, but over 260,000 Koreans died at Japanese hands

By the late 19th century, the economic and industrially-stagnating Korean Peninsula became the target of China, Russia and, once again, Japan. The imperial might of the Japanese won out and by 1910 Korea was under foreign occupation, a pitiful state which would remain until 1945 and the Japanese defeat in WWII.

After WWII, with the great powers once again manoeuvring for influence in the Far East as  part of a new Cold War, Korea became a battleground once again. Between 1950 and 1953, the Soviet-backed North, with help from China, fought the American-backed South into a bloody stalemate. The separate paths of the two Koreas since then is well documented.

Given such a history, in which Korea has been lusted after and fought over by regional and world powers alike, often to the detriment of the local populace, you could forgive its leaders for being hesitant in their foreign policy. Of course, the South Koreans sought to banish their sense of vulnerability through economic development, capitalist expansion and rising living standards. South Korea’s position as the world’s 15th largest economy is testament to the success of its developmental path.

The North Koreans, on the other hand, have adopted a fierce nationalism in which the country’s status as an international pariah, condemned by history, is frequently used to justify the militaristic trumpeting, nuclear threats and vicious propaganda that has come to symbolise the country. Such methods, North Korea’s leaders argue, are a necessity in the face of a world historically hostile to its people.

North Korea adopts an "Us against Them" mentality in its propaganda pieces
North Korea adopts an “Us against Them” mentality in its propaganda pieces

Whether the development of a miniaturised nuclear warhead to fit onto an intercontinental ballistic missile will satisfy the North Koreans that their country is at last safe from foreign “imperialism”, it is hard to say. What is obvious, however, is that its Kim Jong-Un and his people who will decide the future of North Korea; not the foreign powers that have historically done so.