Soldiers serving in China’s nationalist forces and the Japanese imperial Army left a trail of evidence through letters home, battlefield diaries, and other accounts. One Japanese reserve soldier, Amano Saburo, arrived in Shanghai on November 29, 1937. He was a member of the Sixty-Fifth Regiment, which, like other special units of the imperial Army, was hastily assembled out of an acute need for soldiers following the events at the Marco Polo Bridge. These special units were largely comprised of second- and third-tier reservists. From Shanghai, Amano Saburo marched and arrived on the outskirts of Nanjing, in Mufushan, which lies north of the walled city. He wrote the following letters home to his family:

At Shanghai, Noon, 29 November [1937]

(This postcard will get to you ahead of the earlier others.) We completed landing at noon and looked about near the wharf. Total devastation! A result of bombs, artillery, and small arms fire. There is no trace of anyone, only Chink1 patrolman, Indian traffic cops, and beyond that, the Japanese army and British automobiles.

There are shops in some places, but no customers. . . . Tomorrow we head for Chang-shu to catch up with the Morozumi Unit [Sixty- Fifth Regiment], but tonight we camp in Shanghai. The trek will take about four days on foot. This means the assault on Nanjing.2

Saburo, 12 December

I’ve completed a march right out of that poem I learned from Akiko on the way home from Higashiyama Hot Springs in Wakamatsu:

We enter endless plains

That lead to nowhere,

advancing steel helmets,

with the Rising Sun

We’ve broken past the forty ri mark [160 kilometers] since coming ashore, and entered Chen-chiang as dusk approached this evening. The Eleventh division moved in the night before. Now, there is little more than occasional machine gun fire—no real combat to speak of. . . . On the sixth, I took command of the Third Platoon in the Ninth Company (led by Sublieutenant Kinoshita), under the Third Battalion (Taira Unit), of the Sixty-fifth Regiment (Morozumi Unit). We marched four days since then, past Chiangyin city to reach Chenchiang on the tenth, today. Although I’m supposed to be a “platoon commander,” this unit is down to twenty-seven men. That gives you an idea of just how awful the fighting has been. . . .

On the fourteenth [the day after the siege of Nanjing began], the Sixty-fifth Regiment, led by Battalion commander [Maj. Gen. Yamada Senji], took over the Mufushan [elevated] batteries a little over one ri [four kilometers] northeast of Nanjing. . . . Right now, the Sixty-fifth is mopping up defeated enemy stragglers in the area. Part of it left for Nanking to take part in today’s triumphal entry celebrations, but most of us are charged with dealing with POWs. The Sixty-fifth by itself has taken a number approaching 20,000 to date. We hold them in the Chink army compound beneath the elevated batteries. Provisions are inadequate, so lots of Chink troops have gone without food or water for a week already.3

While guarding POWs at Mufushan, on the outskirts of Nanjing, Amano wrote:


A POW from the Chink army handed me this document in the hope that I could help them out. I attach it here for your reference.

To the Commanding Officer of Great Japan:

After being cut off from our [retreating] army, we turned over our arms and surrendered to the military forces of Great Japan, imploring you to adopt appropriate measures on our behalf. Three days have passed since coming here, yet we still have no ideas of how you will deal with us. Tens of thousands of pitiable men have gone hungry for over four days. We cannot survive on this rice gruel alone; soon we will die of starvation. Oh, Great Japan! Tens of thousands [of us] lie on the verge of death, yet retain hope for life. We beg you to save our lives. If you should grant this entreaty, we will submit to you with all our hearts and repay your kind blessing by enduring fire and water to serve Great Japan henceforth. Please, please, I beseech you to bestow food on us so that we may live. We join in celebrating the Empire of Great Japan! Banzai!

Most respectfully submitted, Fu Ho

Ad hoc Representative of the Surrendered Army4


Amano Saburo also documented in writing a chronology of approaching and entering Nanjing:


After departing Chiang-yin on 7 December, several days’ forced march required to reach the walled city of Chen-chiang, whose batteries overlook the Yangtze River, on 4 December. . . . No defeated enemy remnants around. Saw electric lights on for the first time since landing [at Hu-p’u-chen], probably because our offensive left the Chinks with no time to destroy generating plants. An American flag flutters about the U.S. Embassy on a low-lying hill; hatred welled up inside me.

From Chen-chiang to Nanking–

Departed from Chen-chiang at 11:00 a.m. for the assault for Nanjing. The ruins of some towns and villages en route clearly showed that retreating Chink armies ravaged all of these to their hearts’ content. Finally established assault formations to attack the Mufushan [elevated] batteries at 11:30 a.m., on 14 December. Later heard that another unit captured the Wulung batteries earlier that morning. At 8:00 a.m., as the sun rose, we encountered the enemy about one ri [four kilometers] this side of the Mufushan batteries. Suffered slight losses; killed or wounded 15,000 of the enemy and captured mounds of weapons.

Ch’uanchiao County–

Crossed the Yangtze from Hsiakwan outside Nanking; got here after a two day trek. Almost no sign of the enemy. Inhabitants seem fairly amicable toward the imperial army. Such extravagant provisions never seen before! Chickens and pigs more plentiful than vegetables, so we gorge on [plundered] meat everyday. Stone mortars are available [to pound mochi]. Also, we requisitioned sweet glutinous rice for making New Year’s mochi. Will be here on guard duty for the time being.5


Japanese scholar Ono Kenji examined in depth what Amano Saburo chronicles of the events that occurred near Mufushan in his unit, the Moruzumi Unit. It was near Mufushan where firsthand accounts of Japanese soldiers have largely been collected and we are able to learn, from the soldiers’ perspective, of the events surrounding the large-scale atrocities at Nanjing:


[O]n the fifteenth, came news that the local Sixty-fifth Regiment had taken this huge number of the enemy as prisoners of war on the 17th [of December] the Fukushima edition of the Tokyo Asahi shinbun released an exclusive “Extra” bearing the headline, “The Morozumi Unit Captures 15,000. What a Tremendous Feat! What a Grand Battlefield Achievement!” . . .

[H]aving captured this huge number of prisoners, the Sixty- fifth Regiment went on to “slaughter them all.” To the best of my knowledge, these massacres near Mufushan constitute the largest incident of mass murder in the entire Nanjing Atrocity. The prisoners were detained in 22 Chinese army barracks located to the south of Mufushan where they awaited what turned out to be their execution.6


Ono also obtained the personal battlefield diary left by Japanese soldier Lance Corporal Meguro Fukuji, which further corroborates the executions of POWs that occurred outside the walls of Nanjing. His entry reads:


16  December: Clear. Outside the walled city of Nanjing. . . .

At 4:00 p.m. we shot to death 7,000 prisoners taken by the Yamada Unit [Detachment]. The cliff on the Yangtze looked like a mountain of corpses from a time. That was an awful site.

17  December: Clear. Outside the walled city of Nanking.

We left our encampment at 9:00 a.m. to take part in the grand historic ceremonies marking our commander’s triumphant entry into the walled city of Nanking. At 5:00 p.m., we went to take up an assignment to execute about 13,000 enemy troops. Over two days, the Yamada Unit executed close to 20,000 of them. It seems that each of the units killed all the prisoners it held by gunfire.7

The remains of the house and shop belonging to these two brothers after the occupation of the city.



  • 1 : Chink is a pejorative term for someone of Chinese nationality.
  • 2 : Wakabayashi, Nanking Atrocity, 185–86.
  • 3 : Ibid., 186–87.
  • 4 : Ibid., 188.
  • 5 : Ibid., 194–95.
  • 6 : Ibid., 72.
  • 7 : Ono, Fujiwara, Akira and Honda, eds., Nankin daiguakusatus o kiroku shita kogun heishi tachi, 373–74, quoted in Wakabayashi, Nanking Atrocity, 72, 82.

Connection Questions

  1. What can you learn from Saburo’s letters that you could not have learned elsewhere? What information and details of Saburo’s letters stood out for you? Knowing what occurred in Nanjing, what can’t we find in his letters that we have to read about elsewhere? What may be the possible reasons a soldier would not write in detail of his experiences on the battlefield?
  2. What stands out from Corporal Fukuji’s diary entries from December 16 and 17, 1937? How would you describe the tone of these two entries?
  3. If you could speak to either of these soldiers, what would you ask them? What would you want to know?

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