I promised a few months back that I would explore the whole question if Chitose went to China, especially during World War Two. Unfortunately, due to a schedule that took a few twists and turns, I was unable to get to the matter until now.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of Chitose history, the story unfolds as follows. During World War 2, Chitose was stationed in China, where he had the opportunity to study with a Chinese Kung-Fu master whom he befriended. While I have been able to uncover any evidence either for or against this assertion, what I offer below is based upon the historical context of World War Two.
As is suggested by Colling (https://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Dtimes/Pages/article33.htm) Chitose served in the Imperial Japanese army as part of the medical corps during the war. Based upon conversations with senior students of Chitose most notably Kugizaki-sensei and Inomoto-sensei, they believe it is possible that Chitose served as part of the medical corp. However, both are quick to point out that they never had such an explicit conversation with Chitose as to do so would cross many cultural norms not the least of which is World War 2 and one’s activities in it are generally not discussed in Japan.
I explored some databases both in Japan and the USA; I was unable to verify if Chitose did serve in the medical corps. Confirming any such details about Chitose is difficult for three significant reasons:
Indeed the activities of the Japanese Imperial Army were, in 1999 during the 106th sitting of Congress, still being investigated with the passing of yet another Disclosure Acts ( see https://fas.org/sgp/congress/s1902.html).
However, for argument’s sake below, I outline why it was most unlikely that Chitose did receive training at the hands of a Kung-Fu master even if he was in China during World War 2. Under Point 3, I explain why it is my sincere hope that he was NOT stationed in China as a member of the medical corp. Had he been, I would have to consider my options as a practitioner of Chito Ryu, based on personal beliefs.
POINT 1: The Boxer Rebellion.
One of the biggest mistakes made by self-proclaimed karate historians is that they neglect to take into account the massive impact the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) had on martial arts both in China and Japan. According to Britannia ‘The Boxer Rebellion’s name comes from that used by foreigners for members of the Chinese secret society Yihequan (“Righteous and Harmonious Fists”): they were called “Boxers” for their boxing and calisthenic rituals. The society’s original aim was to destroy the ruling Qing dynasty and privileged Westerners in China. Anti-foreign forces who won control of the Chinese government persuaded the Boxers to end their fight against the dynasty and join them to destroy foreigners (https://www.britannica.com/event/Boxer-Rebellion).’ The boxers ascribing to esoteric Chi and Kung-Fu practices were slaughtered when their ancient martial traditions were faced with the heavily armed and professional Armies of the imperial foreign armies (including Japan).
Moreover, as Japan’s imperial Army marched triumphantly into Beijing, it was accused of stealing numerous imperial treasure from China. This assertion would continue to impact its relationship with China in the next 50 years. More importantly, within China, the practice of Kung-Fu became ridiculed as not only ineffective, but a symbolic embodiment of all that was wrong with China. One of the first acts of both the Chiang Kai Shek and latter the CCP, under Mao would be the persecution of Kung-Fu as a ‘martial art’ while its values as an embodiment of healthy citizens became the norm. In this regard, it shared a commonality with the Shin-budo movements within Japan (Zhouxiang, 2020). Indeed, this persecution would hit its apex during the Cultural Revolutions of the 1960s (Snow, 2017; Zhouxiang, 2016). Thus, we have here two forces at play. One, Kung Fu was to be used to expel not aid foreign oppressors, and two, Kung -fu was used to identify one as a Chinese national thus not something to be shared by outsiders. Of course, even if a master was met, what level of expertise would they have held which would have been of any value to the Chitose who had approx 30 years of training already.
POINT 2: Chinese/Japanese Tensions
Starting with the first Japanese incursions into Asia in the early 1900s and culminating with the outright territorial grabs in mid-1930s Japan and China’s relations had soured dramatically since the Meiji Restoration. Japan, viewed China as undeveloped and ground for its imperial desired and much needed raw materials, while China saw Japan as an up-start, wanna-be Western-styled power (Nish, 2012).
A testament to the anti-Japanese sentiment is that the Chinese Civil war between the CCP and ROC was put on hold during the Japanese occupation as both sides lay aside differences to fight against the Empire of Japan. Against such backdrop sympathisers with the Japanese were dealt with harshly, particularly in rural areas where Japanese atrocities were fule for hatred. After the conclusion of World War 2, many such sympathisers were executed by both the ROC and CPP (for an academic account of such events see https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/113/3/731/41136)
Point 3: The Japanese Medical Corp in China
Within this romantic version of Chitose, actual history is neglected. Most importantly, the genuine atrocities imposed upon Chinese at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army and in particular its medical corp are conveniently forgotten. Starting with the occupation on Manchuria the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (関東軍防疫給水部本部, Kantōgun Bōeki Kyūsuibu Honbu) was established to ostensibly purify the water of China as the Japanese troops progressed. However, upon this group under various units such as 731 and 100 were actively involved in medical experiments on Chinese nationals as well as POWs from USSR and Australia.
It must be stressed that all medical teams in China were expected to conduct such experiments (Gold, 2019). At the end of the war, with the Cold War hotting up, all members of these Units, at McArthur’s insistence, received pardons and were not subject to the trials for crimes against humanity at Tokyo. Indeed many of the leaders of these units such as Shiro Iishi and Ryoichi Naito would go on to help the USA and become prominent figures in Japan, with Naito founding the largest pharmaceutical company in Japan, Green Cross (Gold, 2019).
Knowing full well the extent of degradation these Units enabled, I can only hope that Chitose was never in China at least as a member of the medical corp. While indeed war brings out the worst in humanity, the entire history on these units activites in China need more public discourse and evaluation.
The mythical narrative that he was kind to the locals, and they embraced him would seem beyond the realms of possibility given Chinese animosity to the occupies and the medical corps utter disregard for Chinese life.
Of course, even if Chitose remained in Kyushu as a member of the medical corps, he may still not have escaped the clutches of Unit 731 who were actively involved in Fukuoka and surrounding areas where Koreas were the recipients of much experimentation. However, this was a far more secretive and smaller operation than that in China. There was a genuine concern that the Japanese public may not have reacted well had they know what the Army and medical Corps were doing in their name. However, this all remains speculation.
There may be a clue to what Chitose did, and in my next post, I explore this as I undertake what will no doubt be a controversial exploration of Chitose’s medical career.
Selected Works Cited:
Gold, H., 2019. Unit 731: Testament.
Snow, E., 2017. Red Star Over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism
The Routledge Handbook of Sport in Asia. 2020. edited by Fan Hong, Lu Zhouxiang 2020
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan