Minseibu Japanese civil administration (Longer text)
Module name: Relationships (Japanese perspective)
This page was contributed by Dr Iwamoto Hiromitsu
The Japanese-occupied areas changed as the war progressed. After their bitter retreat from Kokoda, Buna and the Solomons, the Imperial Headquarter decided to exclude eastern New Guinea from the absolute security zone on 24 September 1943. On the same day the Army and Navy made a central agreement to instruct their local forces to prepare a self-supporting system, as their troops were left behind the strategic defence line that gradually moved to western New Guinea (Dutch East Indies), Micronesia, the Philippines, Okinawa and mainland Japan. Under these circumstances, the Japanese could maintain their tight control of Rabaul and Kavieng throughout the war. They controlled the western area of New Britain only until the end of 1943, and Manus until February 1944. In Bougainville, the Japanese could keep largely Buka Island and Buin. In the areas around Buna, Lae and the Huon Peninsula in mainland New Guinea the Japanese maintained control only for a short period until around the end of 1943. They kept the Wewak area under strong control from the early 1943 until the end of the war.
The Navy took full responsibility for controlling the occupied area through Minseibu (civil administration unit) in New Guinea on two grounds. Firstly, the Army's initial operational plan did not include New Guinea.(1) Secondly, just before the beginning of the Pacific War, the Navy and Army agreed that the Navy would control New Guinea and Bismarck Archipelago.(2) Immediately after invasion at Rabaul, the Navy set up Minseibu on 10 March 1942. Its official name was ‘New Britain Minseibu’. Then a branch office was set up at Kavieng in the end of April 1942. The 8th Navy Development Department was another civil administration unit, which was set up at Wewak in February 1943, but it was short-lived and moved to Kairiru Island in March 1944 then to Hollandia in the same month as the fighting became fierce.
As Rabaul was an important strategic base for naval, land and air operations throughout the war New Britain Minseibu was a well-organised and fully staffed administration. The first chief was MATSUNAGA Keisuke, Captain of the 8th special unit, but most other senior staff were civilians with expertise in finance, transport, communication, agriculture, fishing and so on. A wartime publication reported that the primary purpose of New Britain Minseibu was the development of New Guinea, and that Minseibu staff were selected for this purpose.(3) Postwar reminiscence confirms that elite staff were sent from various Tokyo government departments to New Britain.(4) In September 1943, thirty junior staff were posted to the administration. They were graduates of Takunan-juku, a private school established in April 1941 by Nihon Takushoku Kyokai [Japan Colonisation Society] that was a fringe organisation of the Ministry of Colonisation. The school trained students in various industries essential to the construction of Dai-toa Kyoei Ken (The Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere).(5) The thirty staff were called ‘kaigun rijisei’ [a civilian cadet attached to the navy], and given the title of naval commissioned officer. Most of them were posted to farms around Rabaul to instruct villagers on how to grow crops to supply the troops.(6)
Although Minseibu was established as an organisation to perform civil administration, it was placed under the command of the Headquarters of the 8th Base Unit, and it was not given power of deciding policies on how to rule the occupied area. It remained subordinate to the 8th Base Unit that made guidelines and plans. On 10 April 1942, the Headquarters issued the Occupation Policy.(7) It was stated in the outline of the policy that the primary purpose of the occupation was strategic in – to consolidate the defense in the periphery of the Central South Pacific. The administration’s tasks were restoration of law and order, building a self-supportive force and commencement of research on important natural resources necessary for national defence. At the same time the policy was declared, the Execution Plan of Administration of the Occupied Areas under 8th Base Unit (dai 8 konkyo-chi tai senryo-chi gyosei jisshi keikaku) was announced.(8) The plan stipulated administrative measures in details.
Minseibu had three tiers of organisation to govern the local population. The upper tier was the central administration with the commander of the 8th Unit concurrently holding the post of the governor. A political committee was to be set up with local Japanese residents, Chinese and New Guineans. Although establishment of this committee cannot be confirmed either in writing or by an oral source, a wartime article reported that some meetings with local village chiefs were occasionally held.(9) The local administration was a second tier staffed by Japanese officials with several vice-constables selected from New Guineans. Lowest tier was the village organisation with a native chief who was to deliver orders from the central administration to the villagers.
One of Minseibu’s major tasks was recruitment of villagers to supply labour to private companies that were brought to Rabaul for resource development, construction units, military police and other various units. Although the accurate statistics during the war were not available, the number of those labourers, according to a Japanese report submitted to the Allies at the time of Japanese surrender, is 2,617.(10) But at least several thousand more should be added to this number, as the total does not include the labourers who were sent from Rabaul: for example, about 2,000 labourers who were sent to Buna were not included in this total.(11)
(1) Takagi SOKICHI, Taiheiyo kaisen shi [History of sea battles in the Pacific], (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1959): 182–85.
(2) “Senryochi gyosei jisshi ni kansuru riku-kaigun chuo kyotei [Central agreement between the Army and the Navy on the execution of military administration in occupied areas]”, 26 November 1941, in Boeicho boei kenkyu-sho senshi bu [War History Office, Defence Research Institute, Defence Agency] (ed.), Nanpo no gunsei [Military administration in the South Area], Asagumo shimbun-sha, Tokyo, 96.
(3) Nanshin-sha [southward advancement company], “Nanpo senryo-chi no gunsei [Military administration of occupied area in the South Area]”, Nanshin [Southward Advance], 8/5 (1943): 12.
(4) KAYA Kan, “Harukanaru seishun - kaigun no omoide [Young days long ago - memories of the Navy]”, Yasukawa (ed.), Kaiso no nebi laifu - dai 3 ki tanki geneki kaigun shukei ka shikan bunshu [Reminiscence of the Navy life - collection of writings by the 3rd short-term service naval pay officers], (Tokyo: 68 kai bunshu kanko kai, 1981): 213.
(5) Takunan-juku shi kanko i’in kai [Editorial Committee of History of Takunan-juku], Takunan-juku shi [History of Takunan-juku] (Tokyo: privately published, 1978): 27–28.
(6) KATO Masami, “Rabaul yo eien ni [Rabaul eternally]”, in Takunan-juku, 260.
(7) “Dai 8 konkyo-chi tai senryo-chi gyosei jisshi yoko [administration policy of occupied areas by the 8th Base Unit]’, in “Showa 17 nen 4 gatsu 10 ka, Rabaul 8 kon kimitsu tsuzuri [10 April 1942, Secrete files of the 8th Base Unit at Rabaul]”, 4 Rikujo butai [land unit] 4, War History Office, Defence Research Institute, Defence Agency.
(9) SHIOYA Ichiro, “Nyu buriten fudo-ki [Situation in New Britain]”, Shukan asahi [Weekly Asahi], 16 January 1944, Tokyo, 8.
(10) Japanese Statistics - New Guinea Area, 20 September 1945, National Archives of Australia, MP1049/5-1877/13/366, “Japanese Statistics New Guinea Area”.
(11) Lieut. Hen. Dawson to G.S.O. 1, New Guinea Force, Port Moresby, 13 August 1942, National Archives of Australia, AWM54-779/3/76, “Interrogation of Rabaul Natives who had deserted from the Japanese”. August 1942.