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The Curious Case of the Schoolhouse Skeletons

The Curious Case of the Schoolhouse Skeletons sounds like the plot of a long-lost episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. Speaking of which, why didn’t Scoob and the gang ever investigate why their show’s title ends in an exclamation point and not in a question mark? Hanna and Barbera aren’t likely to divulge that secret any time soon, but tell Shaggy and Scooby to open the windows and get all of the bong smoke out of the van because a real life caper involving mysterious schoolhouse skeletons has popped up in the land of the rising sun. Get your passports ready, gang – we’re heading to Japan!

Spooky space kook

Maybe it’s old Henry Bascombe dressed up as that Spooky Space Kook again.

The Japan News reports that skeletal human remains have been found at multiple schools in Kyushu, the southwesternmost Japanese main island. At ten separate schools in four different prefectures, investigators have turned up anything ranging from human skulls, arm bones, to leg bones. While human remains on school grounds might sound gruesome, it turns out the bones were there for educational purposes. What else? Many schools around the world use models of the human body for teaching anatomy and physiology, and historically, after all, the only source for these models was the genuine article: real dead people. In this case, it’s believed many of these specimens were “obtained sometime in the early Showa era (1926-1989)” and have indeed been used exclusively for educational purposes.

Triptych of Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre, c. 1844, Utagawa Kuniyoshi

In 2016, a human skull was found in the Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan, prompting the local government to cremate and bury the skull after its identity could not be ascertained. In 2018, three other skulls were found, but their origins likewise remain unknown. Those cases prompted a wider investigation throughout the country, which turned up these most recent specimens. No legal issues are expected to arise from these new discoveries as long as the bones are found to have been “properly obtained” – or left unidentified and cremated. 

I don’t want to speculate too freely here, but given the timeline for those skulls and Japan’s embarrassing and reprehensible wartime history with unethical and horrific human experimentation, these skulls just might have a few spooky ghosts in them after all – ones the Japanese government certainly wouldn’t want Shaggy and the gang to unmask. Zoinks!

As it turns out, there are quite a few missing bodies resulting from Japan’s wartime human experimentation. Thousands of Chinese, Allied, and Russian prisoners of war were sent to Unit 731 and other camps to be used as unwilling test subjects for these sadistic and unethical experiments. What happened to the remains of those who perished as a result of those experiments? According to The Guardian, former members of Japan’s notorious Unit 731 have come forward in recent years to describe hiding body parts in mass graves in Tokyo as the war came to an end:

In 2006, Toyo Ishii, a former nurse, said she had helped bury the remains of victims of Japan’s biological warfare programme at a site in Tokyo, as US forces moved into the Japanese capital at the end of the second word war. Ishii said she and her colleagues had been ordered to bury numerous corpses, bones and body parts following Japan’s surrender in August 1945.

What happened to the other body parts which weren’t hastily buried to hide them from Allied troops? It’s quite possible some of these ended up at medical facilities and later passed on to schools. The Japanese Ministry of Education might be able to rewrite history textbooks, but it seems it can’t hide the literal skeletons in its schoolhouse closets. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling Allies. Consider this one solved, gang (maybe). Back to the Mystery Machine!