Julia Adeney Thomas at The Times Literary Supplement:
Behind the curtain of empire, horrors lurk. At the Tokyo Imperial Zoo on September 4, 1943, two starving elephants remained silent, obedient to their trainers, while a religious service on the other side of a red-and-white awning prematurely memorialized their sacrifice for Japan’s imperial cause. Buddhist monks, government officials and schoolchildren made offerings of food to the elephants’ spirits and to the spirits of other captive animals killed by order of the government. This unprecedented ceremony known as the “Memorial Service for Martyred Animals” was held on the zoo’s grounds where nearly a third of the cages stood empty. Lions from Abyssinia, tigers representative of Japan’s troops, bears from Manchuria, Malaya and Korea, an American bison, and many others had been clubbed, speared, poisoned and hacked to death in secret. Although the zoo’s director had found a way to save some of the condemned creatures by moving them to zoos outside Tokyo, Mayor Ōdaichi Shigeo insisted on their slaughter. Ōdaichi himself, along with Imperial Prince Takatsukasa Nobusuke and the chief abbot of Asakusa’s Sensōji Temple, presided over the carefully choreographed and highly publicized “Memorial Service”, thanking the animals for sacrificing themselves for Japan’s war effort.
But the elephants were not dead. Tonky and Wanri had been holding out for ten days against their keepers’ attempts to poison them with strychnine-laced food and cyanide-permeated water, refusing to eat or drink.