Lisa's In And Around Tokyo: Noborito - - Home To Wartime Balloon Bombs, Counterfeit Cash

Lisa's In and Around Tokyo: Noborito--Home to wartime balloon bombs, counterfeit cash

I looked at the old sakura tree near the defunct Imperial Japanese Army Noborito Laboratory Museum for Education in Peace and thought about the person who long ago planted that tree.

Who was he, and what was going through his mind? Could the person be a she? Either way, that person is probably no longer with us. That tree, however, that has seen so much, continues to witness all that we do or don't do, and through the seasons, stands there, just being.

Noborito Kenkyujo, today located on the campus of Meiji University’s Ikuta Campus, was a top-secret military facility built in 1937. The brightest scientists and engineers of the day worked here doing research and development for unconventional weaponry, and local men and women labored in the factories.

At its peak, there were more than a thousand people here, all doing their little share of the war effort, "okuni no tameni," or for the benefit of their beloved nation.

Gadgets that "Bond, James Bond" might have used in the 007 spy series, things such as invisible ink, secret cameras, bugging devices, camouflaged explosives and pens that release nasty bacteria into water supplies, were made here.

Hollywood only highlights the drop-dead gorgeous guy and seductive woman using the tools of their trade, but somebody somewhere designed and built those innovative devices that our heroes and heroines use. The museum shines a light on such behind-the-scenes warfare.

I like that this museum stays away from political commentary about right and wrong, or making justifications and accusations. And that the exhibition is from the stance of the perpetrators and not the victims.

The institute was involved in chemical warfare, developing biological agents to kill crops and making deadly viruses, bacteria and poisons that were tested on human subjects.

A major currency counterfeiting operation was based here, and 4 billion yen ($35.9 million) worth of fake notes at that time were printed and spent in China to wreak havoc on their economy.

Teenage girls cut and pasted strips of washi Japanese paper to make balloon bombs that drifted all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the United States. Imagine being in the United States and seeing hydrogen-filled balloons drift across the sky. Although only a handful of people in the United States were killed by them, that was enough to get many Americans worried.

"After Pearl Harbor, will the mainland be next?" People braced for what might come. At the museum, you can see a small-scale replica of the handmade balloons.

There’s a ton of food for thought here. Oh, sakura tree, may you see long-lasting peace.


This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the May 7 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa's In and Around Tokyo," that is the successor series to the popular "Lisa's Eye on Tokyo." Moving beyond the geographical range of its predecessor, the new series will depict areas farther from central Tokyo that can be enjoyed in day trips, but will still offer the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.