On the day just before he was executed by a firing squad of the Australian Army, Navy Lieutenant Paul Hideo Katayama of the Imperial Japanese Navy wrote a letter to Rev. G. H. Young, the Chaplain of the War Criminals Compound in Rabaul in the Pacific Islands. It is dated 23rd October, 1947.

“Dear Rev. Young:

I am sorry that I could not have my funeral service conducted by you, so I asked Mr. Sato to do it. Mr. TAKAHAI, a member of church, will also be executed. We are very calm and have a great hope to see our Lord face to face. We are very happy that we can die as “Christians.”

I wish you every success and happiness in His name.

Yours sincerely

                    Paul Hideo Katayama”

A photocopy of this extraordinary letter was given to me by Ms Hiroko Imamura, a journalist working for “Gospel for the Millions” – a Japanese evangelical monthly, who found it at the Australian War Memorial when she was researching for an article about Lieutenant Katayama in 2006. (Ms Imamura studied theology at Regent College of the University of British Columbia.)

Ms Imamura first contacted me in early 2006. She was looking for any information about Lieutenant Katayama. She thought I could shed some light on his church life, because he was a member of Ginza Church, part of the United Church of Christ in Japan in downtown Tokyo where my father was the minister during the war. While Katayama was on trial in Rabaul and subsequently waiting for execution, he entrusted my father, Rev. Isamu Mitsui, with all his correspondence for delivery. They were his letters to his wife of a few months, other family members, and friends in Japan. So Ms Imamura asked me if I remembered anything about Lieutenant Katayama.

Though, I didn’t have any memory of any personal contact with him. The only thing I remembered about him was a reference my father made in his sermon on the day after Katayama’s execution. He said something to the effect that Mr. Katayama was like Jesus: he died for the crimes other people committed. However, I don’t remember any mention made about him in the church after that sermon. I suppose 1947 was not a good year to speak too often about a church member who was a war criminal and was executed by the victorious Allied Forces. At the time, my father’s church was full of American soldiers, who came to worship with us. So the subject was dropped completely. But during all those 60 years, I had from time to time wondered what the story was all about. Then Ms Imamura contacted me.

I was not able to provide any new information beside the memory of my father’s sermon about Katayama and the names of some people in Ginza Church who might have known him more. That was the extent of my contribution to Ms Imamura’s research. The special issue of the “Gospel for the Millions” to commemorate the end of the World War II in the Pacific was published in August, 2006. Ms. Hiroko Imamura kindly sent a copy to me. In it, Lieutenant Katayama’s story was featured prominently. I was astonished by the amount of work that went into a short magazine article. She found survivors of the Rabaul War Criminal Compound, letters, his diary, photos, including materials from the Australian Archives at the War Memorial Museum. She also interviewed a former Australian military policeman who participated in Katayama’s execution. There was even a movie made in Australia about Katayama in 1990. She wrote to me that she had so much material that she decided eventually she would like to write a book about him.

What emerged from her investigation was a cover-up scheme by the Japanese military to protect the officers in high command which included a member of the royal family. It made a junior officer, Lieutenent Katayama, the sole scapegoat. The alleged war crime was the execution of a few Allied Forces airmen, who had been taken prisoners when their plane was shot down, and were charged for the deaths of civilians. They were summarily tried, sentenced to death and immediately executed. It was probably the case of what today’s military euphemism would call “collateral damage.” Katayama was supposed to be one of a group of seamen who had carried out the execution. He was probably an interpreter who read the death sentence, as his job in the navy was a language officer.

During WW II, many Christian Japanese soldiers is that because of their better command of foreign languages, they were assigned to the communication and/or the intelligence unit. They were often interpreters and/or translators. This was the case for Lieutenant Katayama. He was in the Tokyo University of Foreign Languages when he was conscripted. He was particularly proficient in English. Having an uncle who was married to an English woman must have made English part of his life. He was a language officer in the Communication Unit, and often acted as an interpreter. He had access to much military information. This is why after repatriation to Japan, he did not hesitation to voluntarily report to the Allied Occupation Forces War Crime Investigation Unit, when he heard that witnesses were being sought in a case of the killing of Allied airmen in the Pacific. He was surprised that he was immediately arrested because he was the only one who reported in for the particular case of war crime. He was sent back to the Pacific and interned at Rabaul War Criminal Compound of the Australian Army on the New Britain Islands off New Guinea. He had just married to his long time fiancé only a few months before.

During the trial, it became clear that Katayama was to be the only culprit charged in the case. As soon as he discovered that no one else had reported, he was puzzled and dismayed and spoke about this with Rev. Tamezo Harada, who was a minister who guided Katayama into Christian faith and baptism – a father figure. Just before Katayama was shipped back to the Pacific for the trial and subsequent execution, Rev. Harada came to visit him all the way from Kyuushu (the Southmost island of Japan) at the Tokyo Detention Centre where he was held. Katayama recorded the conversation with his beloved minister in his diary. They spoke about giving one’s life for a friend as the highest form of love. Reading the diary, one is struck by the almost surreal lack of bitterness on the part of Katayama.

During his detention in Rabaul and while waiting for the execution, he became friends with the Australian Chaplain for the War Criminal Compound, Captain G.H. Young. He became Rev. Young’s interpreter. Eventually, two men organized a church in the compound with regular worship services, a Bible study group, a prayer meeting, etc. Katayama became a lay preacher for the congregation doing a lot of pastoral work and teaching. It was during this period of waiting, many Australians became convinced that Lieutenant Katayama was innocent – a scapegoat setup by his superior officers. Don Ball, a military policeman, was one of then. They started to work hard to appeal his sentence. But there just weren’t enough days, as the Allied Forces became anxious to conclude the operation of the B & C class war crime courts. Even the chief prosecutor of the Rabaul War Crime Court became uneasy about the Katayama’s guilt. But it was too late.

Don Ball, one of the Australian military policemen who participated in Katayama’s execution was then only 19 years old at the time. Katayama spoke to him while he was tying him to the chair. Kataya didn’t want a blind. He said, “I’m not afraid to die.” But Ball persuaded him that it was for the members of the firing squad, so that their trauma would be lessened. Ball also remembered Katayama saying, “Thank you.” to the medical officer who marked the heart with a white piece of cloth. When his eyes were covered, he asked for a moment to say the Lord’s Prayer. Ball joined him holding Katayama’s shoulder. When the prayer was concluded, Ball ran and hid behind a rock. He could not bear watching the man shot with whom he just said a prayer. A few seconds later, Ball heard the word, “Fire.” He could not hold back tears while wrapping Katayama’s body with a blanket on a stretcher. Lieutenant Paul Hideo Katayama was executed by a firing squads on October 23, 1947. Exactly sixty years ago.




  1. Hi I am interested in learning more facts of Paul Hideo Katayama. I have not found much more than what you have already posted . I think of Hideo as a modern day Antipas in a type. As an American I am a Christian first. And I would like to share his life to others. As movies go they couldn’t tell his story without showing Christ in is life

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