When the Axis powers went to war in 1939-1941, rumours immediately started that dark forces were used in order to sway the state of affairs in their favour. A whole library has been written on the occult pursuits of the Nazis, but what about the Land of the Rising Sun, Nazi-Germany’s co-ally in the Axis of evil? Did Imperial Japan also resort to the use of occult and parapsychological warfare during World War II? Surprisingly, not a single clue is found anywhere. In fact, this may be the very first article delving into this question.
Much has been written about Nazi occult warfare during the Second World War. Just fire up a browser and you’ll be deluged with theories, tall tales and weird stories. Much of it has grown out of several distorted components, creating an elaborate mythos with Vril saucers, the deployment of Nazi atom bombs, underground bases and secret societies running rampant. While I discount much of this, there are a few puzzling details that do suggest unorthodox methods of warfare on behalf of the Nazis – and mostly these involve the conduct of the Kriegsmarine, the navy of the Third Reich. From the swinging of the pendulum over large maps to the infrared experiments on the Island of Rügen to trace the whereabouts of the British fleet, these are the premises of bizarre methods that ultimately failed in winning the war for Nazi-Germany.
As Dutch astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper recounted in his article ‘German Astronomy During The War’, in the issue of Popular Astronomy, June 1946, on pages 277-278:
Certain German naval circles believed in the Hohlwelttheory. They considered it helpful to locate the British fleet, because the curvature of the Earth would not obstruct observation. Visual rays were not suitable because of refraction; but infrared rays had less refraction. Accordingly a party of about ten men under the scientific leadership of Dr. Heinz Fischer, an infrared expert, was sent out from Berlin to the isle of Rügen to photograph the British fleet with infrared equipment at an upward angle of some 45 degrees. Other groups, including officers of flag rank, practiced or supported “Pendelforschung”: a large map of the Atlantic was spread out horizontally, with a 1-inch toy battleship as test object. A pendulum, consisting of a cube of metal (about one cubic cm) and a short string, was swung above the battleship. If the pendulum reacted it proved the presence of a true battleship at that location.
Kuiper’s comment was retold by Willy Ley a year later, in his seminal article ‘Pseudosciences in Naziland’ that was published in the May 1947 issue of American pulp science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction. In this article, Ley also introduced his memories of a small Berlin group that would become known as the Vril Society to a larger audience.
The Third Reich maintained an active technology exchange program with the Land of the Rising Sun till the very end of the Second World War. This involved the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine, Nazi Germany’s navy, as there was no other secure way to reach faraway Japan. This technology exchange program, in reality more a one-way street whereby the Nazis shuttled their advanced technical accomplishments and blueprints to Japan, also accommodated a synchronicity in development and similar direction in certain areas. Several advanced German weapons systems were imported by Japan such as the Me262, the first jet plane that saw combat in World War II, although by the end of the war Japan had its own jet plane in development: the Nakajima Kikka, meaning Orange Blossom. Inspired by having seen the trial flights a Me262 in 1944, the Imperial Japanese Navy asked Nakajima to build a similar plane. Its first flight took place on 7 August 1945. During its initial test flight the aircraft performed well, but before it could be further tested, the war was over.
There were also several exotic areas of research running their parallel courses. Towards the end of the war Nazi-Germany had various weapons systems involving death rays in testing phase; Japan had researched, built and tested its own death ray. Another parallel trajectory is found in the murky history of Nazi-Germany’s efforts to build an atom bomb. Some researchers maintain that The Third Reich had developed an atom bomb towards the end of the war. In 2005 German author and historian Rainer Karlsch discovered a schematic diagram for such an alleged Nazi atom bomb in an undated report.
Then there is the story of German U-boat U-234. One of the biggest ever built by Nazi-Germany, it was on its way to Japan in the last days of the war. It had, when it surrendered on 14 May 1945, amongst others two crated Me262 jet fighters, some say only the blueprints of these planes, but also 560 kilos of uranium oxide packed in gold-lined cylinders. On board were two Japanese officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Hideo Tomonaga and Genzo Shoji. Unwilling to be captured, they committed suicide according to the Captain of the vessel, Johann-Heinrich Fehler (1910-1993). What the uranium was to be used for once it had reached Japan, is food for speculation, since nobody knows. The uranium oxide subsequently disappeared and it is suggested that it found its way to the Manhattan’s Project Oak Ridge diffusion plant.
But was there a Japanese nuclear weapons research program active during World War II? In 1946, American journalist David Snell claimed that Japan had built and successfully tested its own atomic weapon in Korea. As Snell wrote in The Atlanta Constitution, and the highly controversial story was quickly picked up by other American newspapers:
…Japan destroyed unfinished atomic bombs, secret papers and her atomic bomb plant only hours before the advance units of the Russian Army moved into Konan, Korea, site of the project… I learned this information from a Japanese officer…He gave names, dates, facts and figures on the Japanese atomic project, which I submitted to United States Army Intelligence in Seoul. The War Department is withholding much of the information. To protect the man who told me this story, and at the request of the Army, he is here given a pseudonym, Capt. Tsetusuo Wakabayashi.
Snell further pointed out that Japan’s search for an atomic weapon began in 1938, when German and Japanese scientists discussed the military use of atomic energy. According to Snell, the Japanese Navy began production of the atom bomb when the war was brought closer to Japan. It was planned to equip Kamikaze planes, perhaps the Kikka, with atomic warheads. The name of the allegedly successfully tested nuclear weapon was Genzai Bakudan, or, The Greatest Fighter (a possible erroneous translation, as the Fu-Go balloons were also named fusen bakudan, meaning ‘balloon bomb’). Snell’s claims were again discounted in recent years.
There are more parallels: Nazi Germany conducted gruesome experiments on humans in their concentration camps; the Japanese Units 731 and 100 did the same with their terrible bacteriological warfare tests on live humans and prisoners of war in Manchuria. Nazi Germany constructed vast underground lairs, so did Japan. Japan’s underground installations form one of those enigmas of the Second World War yet to be resolved. In his book Teito Tokyo Kakusareta Chikamono Himitsu (Imperial City Tokyo: Secret of a Hidden Underground Network), Japanese journalist Shun Akiba tells of the evidence he found of a network of tunnels and even possibly an entire underground city beneath Tokyo that nobody knows about. He discovered the existence of this large maze of tunnels by finding an old map in a secondhand bookstore. He compared this map with a recent one and found significant variations. “Tokyo is said to have 12 subways and 250 km of tunneling. I’d say that last figure is closer to 2,000 km…People are trying to hide things”, Akiba told in a rare interview since the press ignores him and his findings. Yet when his book was published a reader wrote to him stating that he had worked on a new subway using a diamond cutter on old concrete that was already in place.
Since the two Navies, that of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan worked closely together, would it not also involve the exchange, transmission or development of technology of a different kind?
This also gives us an inclination where to search for indications of the possibility of paranormal warfare waged by the land of the Rising Sun. Perhaps we should focus our interest on the Japanese Navy. In the 1920’s, Japan had greatly expanded its naval forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy had grown to become the third largest navy in the world, the first and second places going to the British Royal Navy and the United States Navy. In 1922 Imperial Japan even launched the world’s first purpose-designed aircraft carrier in the world. Its name was Hōshō, meaning ‘Phoenix in Flight’. Imperial Japan had put special emphasis on aircraft carriers, even developing a fleet of aircraft carriers second to none. When the Second World War erupted, it started the Pacific War with 10 aircraft carriers, the largest and most modern carrier fleet in the world at that time.
Japan had ambitions to create a great Pacific realm. In order to do so, the island empire of Japan needed a modern and large fleet of warships. It is well to remember that Japan built the largest battleships ever constructed with its Yamato and Musashi, and the biggest submarines of World War II, even carrying aeroplanes that could fly off from their decks. In the background though, conflict lurked. The Japanese Navy and Army did not cooperate well. The Army called the shots, even when the Navy was more technically advanced.
But what indications do we have that Japan was actively involved in paranormal research that might have aided their war effort? Again, in our searches, we stumble upon an uncanny pre-world war parallel: that of the illuminated, ultra-rightwing secret societies.
Pre-Nazi Germany for instance had harboured the ultranationalist Thule Gesellschaft, and Japan had its own, called the Society of the Black Dragon. Its members included high-ranking military officers, professional secret agents and even cabinet ministers. Current academic research notes the similarities between these two societies, although it is held that they never were in contact with each other. But Imperial Japan was the territory of more secret societies. The Dark Ocean Society and The League of Blood for instance. Formed in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Japanese nationalists, they were well connected with the Japanese secret service, which sometimes even backed them. Then there was the Sakurakai, the Cherry Blossom Society, established by young officers of the Imperial Japanese Army in September 1930. As is often the case, the shadowy underworlds of paramilitary outfits, spying, ultranationalism and occultism meet and mingle and Japan was no exception as for instance in the aforementioned League of Blood. Its founder, Inoue Shirō, had a series of mystical experiences in 1923-1924. Having become convinced that Japan needed a spiritual rebirth, he adopted the name Nissho, Called by the Sun, and used the philosophy and symbolism of Nichiren Buddhism. The League of Blood was in contact with a group of extremist officers in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Already in the 19th century, the mystical, highly religious side of Japan struck western writers and scholars, as the books by Lafcadio Hearn and Percival Lowell attest. But to fathom the status of parapsychological research in pre-Second World War Japan, we need to revisit one of the most terrifying horror films ever unleashed on the eyes of the cinema goers and fathom its source of inspiration: Ringu. Ringu, a brilliant and disturbing film features unholy experiments, vengeful forces from beyond death, and a horrible curse that procreates through videotape. And that terrible psionic ghost Sadako that crawls through your television set to burn your soul to cinders. At the base of this film stood an urban legend that made the rounds prior to the film, as its director Hideo Nakata explained:
The fact is that the video rumor about dying within one week of watching the video was already a kind of rumor, an urban legend in certain school groups, like among high school students…
But Ringu also made use of the exploits of Japan’s pre-World War II pioneer in parapsychology, the much-maligned Tomokichi Fukurai. In fact, his ideas and experiments were of such nature that prior to the late 1990’s, both he and his work were not documented in textbooks on the history of Japanese psychology. ‘Among earlier generations of Japanese psychologists, it has even been taboo for discussion…’, writes professor Miki Takasuna.
In 1910, Fukurai, a then assistant professor of psychology at Tokyo University, found himself a staunch believer in the paranormal. He was determined to prove his claims of thoughtography, the ability to imprint images from ones mind onto film and even in the minds of others. This he termed ‘nensha’, and he worked with a number of female mediums to experiment upon and prove his theories. One, Chizuko Mifune (1886-1911), was deeply religious and at times hypnotized by her brother in law. Fukurai tested her in April 1910 and declared her abilities genuine. A second test conducted by President Yamakawa Kenjiro of Tokyo University on September 1910 did demonstrate her ability to read messages in closed envelopes. But when these messages turned out to be from Fukurai, she was labelled a charlatan and hounded by the press. She committed suicide four months later in January 1910 by swallowing poison.
Another of Fukurai’s test subjects, Ikuko Nagao, was very talented, but was also labelled a fraud. Owing to these claims, which she took not lightly, she developed a fever and she too died. Fukurai went on undeterred and in 1913 he started experimenting with a woman named Sadako Takahashi. She had developed clairvoyance and nensha through a regimen of breathing and mental exercises. Later that year Fukurai published his book Toshi to Nensha, which was translated as Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. Fukurai also worked with a nensha medium named Kohichi Mita whom he had met in 1917. It is said that Mita had created a photo of the dark side of the moon by his mind-force. Mita allegedly was also able to lit a match by psychokinesis. In 1919 Fukurai resigned – other sources say he was kicked out – to continue his research.
1928 finds Fukurai attending the International Spiritualist Meeting in London. His brochure of that time is translated and published in the Netherlands. His book is translated as Clairvoyance and Thoughtography and published by publishing company Rider in 1931 in England.
His book does provide some anecdotal evidence pointing towards the involvement of the paranormal with warfare, and in one instant it involves the hypnotism of medium Chizuko Mifune, as Fukurai tells on pages 17 and 18:
Her psychic force was introduced through the hypnotism of Mr. Takeo Kiyohara, her brother-in-law, who had been engaged in the research of hypnotism in Kumamoto City since 1903. Once he hypnotized Chizuko and placed her in a state of somnambulism, and suggested to her the possibility of clairvoyance. It was at the time of the Russo-Japanese War, when the people of Kumamoto were surprised by the startling news of the sinking of the Hitachimaru, a noted steamship, attacked by the enemy. They were deeply concerned about the soldiers of the Sixth Division of Kumamoto, because they were blind to the situation of the soldiers and it was doubtful whether the later were on board the steamship or not. Thereupon Kiyohara hypnotized Chizuko and required her to ascertain the movements of the soldiers by clairvoyance. According to her answer, the soldiers started from Nagasaki, but on the way they were obliged to go back; this prevented their being on board the ship. Three days after, it was reported that hey were in the precise condition that she had indicated.
One of his mediums, Tetsuko Moritake (1878-?), would marry a ‘military man’. And on a sitting with Mita the chief-of-staff of the third Division, Katzuya Kouzu, was present. Fukurai died in 1952. Studying his biography, there is a distinct absence of data in the war years, between 1940-1945. What was Fukurai doing during those years? We do find an application of the paranormal in regards to an accident that took place at 28 December 1934, when two dozen high-boat section players were shipwrecked in Matsushima Bay. Searching bodies was extremely difficult, but they were found on the third day, as had been predicted by a medium on the third day (which sounds familiar to the account during the Russo-Japanese War).
Perhaps not surprisingly, there were more mystics or paranormally gifted persons in pre-world war Japan. There was Wasaburo Asano (1874-1937), who was a pioneer in the field of psychical research. Graduating from Tokyo University, he started his career as English teacher at the Japanese Navy School. Joining the Shinto sect Omoto (or Oomoto) he predicted a world-shift for 1921. That year saw the government suppression of the sect, which he then left. He founded the Japanese Society for Psychic Science in 1922. Asano held strong connections to influential naval officers as a result of his years at the Naval Academy. Wasaburo’s elder brother Seikyo, a high-ranking naval officer later became a Vice-Admiral. The two Asano brothers cemented a powerful link between the Omoto religious sect to which they belonged, and the Imperial Japanese Navy, from whose ranks the sect drew many members, according to the Aikido Journal.
An article published in the 25 August 1928 issue of Light provides more insight into Wasaburo Asano and the then state of affairs in regards to parapsychology in Japan:
Mr. Asano, who is a gentleman of cultured mind and great charm of manner, had many interesting things to tell concerning the spread of psychic knowledge in Japan, where there exist numbers of convinced Spiritualists, as well as scattered groups of students and enquirers, although there is only one important organization, namely, the Japanese Society for Psychic Science. This was established some six years ago, and has already a membership of over 3,000; lectures, séances and discussions take place at the society’s headquarters, and many Standard English works on psychic matters are studied; the society also publishes a monthly magazine, Sinrei-to Jinsei (“Life and Spirit”).
Japan can boast many excellent mediums – trance, apport, clairvoyant and automatic- writing – says Mr. Asano; among these are Miss Tosie Osanami, Mr. S. Uchida, Mrs. G. Nakanishi, Prof. R. Nakao of Osaka Technical College, Mr. AI. Arafuka (a business man, controlling a linen factory) and others, who give their services without fee or reward… His first contact with our subject occurred shortly after the long illness of his son, then a child of nine years, whose sickness the medical practitioners were unable to cure. Mrs. Asano took the boy to a psychic, who correctly diagnosed lung-trouble, and accurately foretold the date – November 4th – when the child would be cured. “I then began seriously to consider this subject and to try to develop psychic faculties in myself,” says Mr. Asano.
The attempt was successful, and he acquired a form of clairvoyance that enabled him to “see” the contents of sealed boxes; his wife also developed clairvoyant powers, and both Mr. and Mrs. Asano are now able to “keep in touch” when at a distance from each other.
“During the last Japanese earthquake,” said Mr. Asano, “I was in Tokyo, while my wife and family were in Kyoto, four hundred miles away. Naturally, all means of communication were suspended, yet my wife in Kyoto was able to `see’ me in Tokyo, and to assure herself of my safety.
The leader of the Omoto Shinto sect, Deguchi Onisaburo (1871-1948) predicted the Second World War, Japan’s defeat and the two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Omoto sect began by the encounter of Deguchi Nao, a housewife from the village of Ayabe and Onisaburo. She professed to have had a ‘spirit dream’ in 1892 after which she became possessed and began channelling messages. Three years later she had gathered followers, and in 1898 she met Onisaburo, then still named Ueda Kisaburō. He had studied the art of Japanese spirit possession. In 1900 Kisaburō married Nao’s fifth daughter Sumi. He then adopted the name Deguchi Onisaburō. Omoto was established based on Nao’s automatic writings (Ofudesaki) and Onisaburō’s spiritual techniques.
Another psychic, Nao Degushi (1836-1918) predicted the Russo-Japanese War. Then there is the curious case of Harumitsu Hida (1883-1956). During his training to become a physical instructor, he felt a strong energy emanating from his lower abdomen. He named this energy ‘Chuskin-ryoku’ (The Central Energy). He performed several miracles, such as levitation. Towards the end of his life he was said to have seen the world 1000 years in the future. Whatever he witnessed, he didn’t tell, but it was enough for him to decide to end his life. He died after 48 days of fasting. During the Second World War another psychic was active in Japan, Tenmei Okamoto (1897-1963). When he visited a Shinto shrine in 1944, his hand began to move which led to his trance writing of a divined message called Hitsuku-Shinji.
So why would the Japanese Imperial Navy and perhaps to a lesser extent the Japanese Imperial Army have resorted to less orthodox means to aid the war effort? As its attack on Pearl Harbor already demonstrated, the biggest missed opportunity was the destruction of the aircraft carriers of the U.S Fleet, which weren’t stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. As history has it,
Yamamoto later lamented Nagumo’s failure to seize the initiative to seek out and destroy the American carriers, absent from the harbor, or further bombard various strategically important facilities on Oahu. Nagumo had absolutely no idea where the American carriers might be, and remaining on station while his forces cast about looking for them ran the risk of his own forces being found first and attacked while his aircraft were absent searching.
This demonstrates the weak spot in Japan’s offensive capabilities: reliable reconnaissance over longer distances. Imperial Japan had built one of the largest fleets with a vast armada of aircraft carriers and the two biggest battleships built at that time. Yet, and unknown to Japan, the allies were far ahead in radar development, a war-winning advantage.
As Kent G. Budge’s Pacific War Online Encyclopedia states:
Japanese inferiority in radar technology was the result of Japan’s lack of depth in its technical base and of neglect by the military and naval leadership. One visiting German professor noted in 1938 that “Japanese universities resembled senior high and vocational schools, because what was to be studied in the university was established in advance. Under such circumstances there was little freedom within the university, nor much freedom for academic instruction”… The same professor observed that Japanese manufacturers were remarkably uniform in their methodology and use of materials, reflecting a mindset which hindered innovation. Recruiting technical personnel was difficult for the armed services, and there was one six-year period when not a single graduate of the engineering department of Tokyo Imperial University volunteered for Navy duty. The Navy began the Pacific War with a corps of technical officers, but the number graduated each year did not reach 100 until 1940. Technical officers were looked down on by line officers, and by November 1942 they were absorbed into the regular officer corps to make up the shortage of combat personnel.
Japan discovered the Pacific jet stream and launched its deadly Fu-Go balloons; but since the U.S. authorities managed to uphold a complete blackout on the results, Japan considered these Fu-Go attacks a failure.
We have now established a context for the possible use of parapsychological warfare by the Japanese Navy and Army. We have seen how Japan was, on one hand, highly mystical, its people revered emperor Hirohito as a god. At the same time Japan was on the road to high-tech weaponry although it did have its severe shortcomings, such as the development of radar. Japan, as did Nazi-Germany, had its illuminated rightwing secret societies with connections in the navy, army and the paranormal undergrounds of the time. Imperial Japan also had its fair share of mystics, mediums and psychic seers. We have also seen the various connections that existed between the paranormal research communities, its psychics and the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army. Fukurai quit or was unceremoniously booted out in 1919. But who is not to say that later in the war, as things turned decidedly sour for Imperial Japan, there was not a small group somewhere that, on behest of the Japanese Imperial Navy or Army, used its reservoir of mediums and mystics for remote viewing, as the Nazis did, to for instance locate the whereabouts of the U.S. Pacific Fleet through paranormal means?
And could the 9th Army Technical Research Laboratory have been a place that employed such a group? This was the military development laboratory that was run by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1919 to 1945. Commonly known as the Noborito laboratory, its existence was even kept secret from other army units. The laboratory focussed on unconventional warfare. The Japanese Army commenced scientific research in 1919. In 1937, it procured around 364,000 sq. meters of former farmland in Kawasaki for the testing of exotic new weaponry. At its start, the camp boasted a staff of 60, and worked on the development of the kwairiki dempa, a directed energy weapon.
Poisons, chemical and biological weapons were also on the menu. For its biological weapons research it had ties to Unit 731. The laboratory was also the birthplace of the Fu-Go balloons and they were built at the same complex. At its peak it employed 1,000 scientists and workers. As Meiji University professor Akira Yamada said in an article in the Japan Times:
“The laboratory was not only kept secret from outsiders, but was so compartmentalized that even the people who worked inside had no idea of what was being done in other sections…”
A secrecy that was not even broken by the late Shigeo Ban, a technician who worked there. He wrote a book on the laboratory in 2001, entitled Rikugun Noborito Kenkyujo no shinjitsu (The Truth About the Army Noborito Research Institute). Ban personally participated in poison tests on Chinese prisoners in Nanking in 1941 so he was more than a casual observer, and even the reviewer of the book feels he did not quite tell all.
In regards to the question whether Imperial Japan used parapsychological warfare, we have presented enough circumstantial evidence that it lays within the realms of possibility and expectation. After all, both sides in that conflict, the allies and the axis powers, resorted to every resource available to win the war. This also included the use of paranormal powers and sometimes even ritual magic, how strange and questionable this may sound. What other secret parapsychological warfare projects Imperial Japan was involved in, is a matter of conjecture. As the Second World War progressed and the Japanese forces were driven back to the mainland, its army and navy employed ever more radical and desperate means, such as the Kamikaze attacks. It is quite possible that the atmosphere of desperation also triggered even more outlandish paranormal projects. If you can burn an image onto film and even into ones mind as Fukurai’s test subjects were said to be able to do, what else could you transport? Charles Fort also asked this question, naming such an ability ‘external witchcraft’:
Can one’s mind affect the bodies of other persons and other things outside?
If so, that is what I shall call external witchcraft.
As Charles Fort further wrote in his Wild Talents (1932), depicting the gruesome outcome of the use of external witchcraft in hypothetical parapsychological warfare conditions:
Girls at the front–and they are discussing their usual not very profound subjects. The alarm–the enemy is advancing. Command to the poltergeist girls to concentrate–and under their chairs they stick their wads of chewing gum…. A regiment bursts into flames, and the soldiers are torches. Horses snort smoke from the combustion of their entrails. Reinforcements are smashed under cliffs that are teleported from the Rocky Mountains. The snatch of Niagara Falls–it pours upon the battlefield. The little poltergeist girls reach for their wads of chewing gum.–
The early history of parapsychology research in Japan begins in the late 19th century but incorporates an unaccounted for hiatus during the World War II years, after which the trail is picked up again in the few textbooks that treat the subject. What happened during the war years?