TOKYO -- Starving Japanese soldiers ate the flesh of prisoners of war and slave laborers during World War II, sometimes stripping the meat from live men, according to documents unearthed in Australia, the Kyodo News Service reported Monday.
Kyodo described the documents as 'the first official proof that elements of the former Imperial Japanese Army engaged in cannibalism.'
Toshiyuki Tanaka, a 43-year-old associate professor at Melbourne University, said he found evidence of more than 100 cases of cannibalism among documents seized by Australian armed forces as they moved into Japanese territory.
Tanaka told Kyodo that making cannibalism a crime was the army's official stance, but that in reality it was common practice and the upper ranks approved of it under certain circumstances.
The documents include sworn statements from Australian soldiers who recognized the remains of comrades who had been fully or partially eaten and the English translation of a top-secret memo stating that eating anyone except for an enemy soldier was punishable by death.
The order, issued by a Japanese general officer in New Guinea shortly before the Australians attacked, expresses concern over a breakdown in discipline in the Imperial Army and brands the cases of cannibalism 'inexcusable from the standpoint of humanity.'
The memo blames the offenses on a 'lack of thoroughness in moral training' and urges military personnel to abide by Buddhist commandments.
A statement by an Australian officer describes finding the dismembered remains of several bodies, including one 'consisting only of a head which had been scalped and a spinal column' lying beside a charred wrist and hand.
'In all cases, the condition of the remains were such that there can be no doubt that the bodies had been dismembered and portions of flesh cooked,' the statement says.
According to other accounts, Japanese soldiers ate the flesh of Australian soldiers, New Guineans and Asian slave laborers forced to work on construction projects in New Guinea, Kyodo reported.
Evidence supplied by a Pakistani soldier captured in Singapore and transported to New Guinea details a gruesome process in which hungry Japanese soldiers used prisoners as a food herd, culling, killing and eating one prisoner a day for about 100 days.
In some cases, the soldiers cut and ate the flesh from living prisoners, the account says.