Documentary Sheds Light on Kanawaga’s Secret WWII Facility

(Left) Nobuo Igarashi and (Right) Enji Ota, former workers of the Noborito Laboratory had spoken about their wartime experiences working in the clandestine facility.
(Left) Nobuo Igarashi and (Right) Enji Ota, former workers of the Noborito Laboratory had spoken about their wartime experiences working in the clandestine facility.

Noborito laboratory’s history had been shrouded with mystery for years in part because most of the documents pertaining to the Japanese secret weapons facility had been destroyed at the end of WWII. But a new documentary, Army Noborito Laboratory,  sparked interests for the weapons laboratory long-demolished.

The said film, shown last August in Tokyo, had allowed former workers and even current citizens of Japan to have a glimpse of how Japan worked covertly during WWII.

In the Eyes of the Workers

Most of the lab’s workers had kept mum about their times working in the said facility for years until some were convinced to share their stories for the said documentary. And because of the raw, gripping accounts the Army Noborito Laboratory revealed, it had became very popular, an unusual feat for a movie of its kind, it is scheduled to be shown to other parts of Japan as well.

“I remained silent because of my sense of guilt. I’ve come to think, however, I must tell young people that we must not go to war again.”” 85-year-old Enji Ota spoke out. He was among the 40 former workers who disclosed their memories during that era for the film.

Ota worked in the laboratory in 1943 as an apprentice engineer. He was involved in the “balloon bomb” project.

Balloon bombs were one of Noborito laboratory’s exotic inventions – free-floating hydrogen balloons that carried bombs with them. The purpose behind these devices was to take advantage of the jet streams above the Pacific Ocean and relying on them so that the bombs would be carried all the way into US mainland.

Within WWII’s last two years, there were around 9,000 balloon bombs launched from Japan’s eastern prefectures including Fukushima, Chiba and Ibaraki. A number of these devices reached the US and were able to cause casualties.

“We were told not to say anything to anybody — even our parents and siblings — about what we were doing at the lab,” Ota, who was 15 at that time, recalled.

For him, memories working in the laboratory were not all about working. There were also innocent moments like when sweet bean paste were passed all over the facility after successful launches of the balloon bombs.

But no matter what the memories brought him, he had chosen to keep them all to himself. It was not until two years ago that Ota, who is now a real state businessman, agreed to talk about his experience in the Noborito lab.

Noborito Lab

The said lab was built in the Kanagawa Prefecture in 1937 by the Imperial Japanese Army and its purpose was to solely develop weapons for war, including biochemical agents. It had employed over 1,000 individuals  in its prime.

When the American bombings began to grow more intense in Japan, the lab’s operations were moved to several remote locations.

More Secrets

95-year-old Nobuo Igarashi was also among the workers who retold their experiences working in the Noborito lab. He joined its operations as a dyeing techniques expert.

Sample of fake Chinese bank notes produced during WWII.
Sample of fake Chinese bank notes produced during WWII.

His skills became important in the development of an ink the Japanese government used to print fake Chinese bank notes. The resulting bills were then taken to Shanghai by personnel of the Nakano School, an institution for military intelligence training, and were used in an operation intended to disrupt Chinese economy in territories that were under Chiang Kai-Shek’s rule. Overall, Noborito lab had produced a total of  about ¥4 billion to ¥5 billion worth of counterfeit Chinese bills.

“My job was not a matter of pleasure or justice; I was working hard to survive,” Igarashi said.

After the war, former workers of the Noborito lab had escaped charges for war crimes like those who have worked for the Japanese Imperial Army’s Unit 731, a facility infamously known for its inhumane experimentation as it used humans as guinea pigs for the development of chemical and biological weapons.

It was also after the war that a number of ex-Noborito lab workers were called up by the US military to help in secret activities like the forging of public Korean and Chinese documents during the Korean War. Igarashi had worked at a US military facility before being employed in an ink manufacturer.

“Looking back, my life seems to have always been haunted by the experience of Noborito,” he stated. “But I don’t think myself to be an unlucky man. That was the way of life in those days.”

Making the Film

The director of “Army Noborito Laboratory”, Tadayuki Kusuyama, spent over six years just to complete the said documentary. He strongly hopes film viewers will take the time to reflect on the war upon seeing it.

“What was that war for? I want (viewers) to face up to this question through the film,” he said.

– The Japan Times Reports

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE