For the past couple of weeks, two hoteliers made headlines across the world with what some people consider as “outrageous” and “absurd” statements. One is the newly inaugurated U.S president Donald J. Trump, boss of the Trump hotel empire, and the other is Toshio Motoya, CEO of Japan’s APA group. Trump accused American media of churning out “fake” news, while Motoya described as “fake” the mass killing of Nanjing civilians by the Japanese military in 1937.
It seems that the two business titans share much in common. Their taste for décor, for one thing, is strikingly similar, that is, the very opposite of simplicity. The American president’s hotels often sport a signature golden glaze and the five gigantic letters of “TRUMP”, while Japan’s APA hotels are adorned with a huge portrait of Fumiko Motoya, wife of Toshio Motoya andAPA hotel’s president as well as its public face. Her portrait, atop most APA buildings, is so attention-grabbing that every time I pass an APA hotel and am confronted with Ms. Fumiko’s trademark fancy hats and garish outfits, I never fail to be impressed by her bravery. I couldn’t help but wonder how much courage it takes to dress in such an “overstated” way in such an “understated” country as Japan. Or maybe she doesn’t care that much. After all, she and her husbandI are estimated to be the fourth richest in Japan, boasting 220 billion yen in wealth and an annual income of 3 billion yen.
Conventional wisdom holds that discretion is among the crucial qualities a successful businessman is supposed to possess, but these two business tycoons defy such conventions. In America, only two weeks into his presidency, Trump has managed to antagonize a wide range of sectors at home, from the intelligence community to career diplomats, and estranged a host of countries abroad, from longtime alliesto the conflict-torn Mideast. On the other side of the Pacific, Motoya enraged China, Japan’s powerful neighbor and longtime rival, by placing his revisionist history book in thousands of APA guest rooms.
Just as Trump accused American media of spreading fake news, Motoya, writing under the pen name of Seiji Fuji, claimedthat the Nanking Massacre didn’t happen and was actually fabricated by China’s communist propaganda machine.
Such an assertion provoked an outpouring of criticisms and condemnations from China. In response, APA said in a statement on its website “although we acknowledge that historic interpretation and education vary among nations, please clearly understand that the book is not aimed to criticize any specific state or nation, but for the purpose of letting readers learn the fact-based true interpretation of modern history.”Even the book’s title, Japan’s True History: Theoretical Modern History II,reflects Motoya’s notion of “interpreting historic events without being trapped with ‘conventional’ theories.”
Some Motoya supporters argue thatthe businessman has every right to express his personal thoughts, and denying the Nanjing Massacre doesn’t necessarily mean he is a dangerous right-wing nationalist. To be clear, I have no issues with people airing their opinions and I cannot agree more that everyone is entitled to free speech. However, if we take a closer look, it is not difficult to discern there is more to it than what meets the eye.
To start with, Toshio Motoya is a major figure in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support group Anshinkai , a council member of the Friends of Lee Teng-Hui Association in Japan, a representative director of the readers club for Sankei (the most nationalist paper in Japan), and director of JASFD Komatsu Airbase Kanazawa Association of Friends. As some Japanese scholars believe, with their enormous wealth, Motoya and his wife, rubbing shoulders with party whips, business tycoons and military top brass in APA wine parties, are able to exert substantial influence over Japan’s politics.
One famous incident involving the Motoya family is the resignation of former JASDF chief of staff Toshio Tamogami. In an essay competition sponsored by APA in 2008, Tamogami won the top prize with an essay whose views fiercely clash with Japan’s official stance on WWII. In the essay, he denied Japan launched an aggressive war in Asia. And he went further, claiming that instead of being a victimizer, Japan was actually a victim of a U.S.-China conspiracy and was tricked into attacking Pearl Harbor. He was forced to resign afterwards.
Even if we accept that Motoya is simply expressing his personal beliefs on the war, we can still raise questions about the very nature of his claim. The Nanjing Massacre is a well-documented incident and there is little doubt, both among governments and academia, over its authenticity. The only controversy is the exact death toll. The Chinese government maintains that some 300,000 people were killed, while the Tokyo military tribunal, established following WWII, put the death toll about 200,000. Some conservative politicians and academics in Japan claim the number is even lower, at about 15,000 to 40,000. Despite all these, Mr. Motoya still asserts the whole event is simply fabricated and that his view is “fact-based true interpretation of modern history”.
There are people saying this APA controversy is nothing but another bump, not unusual in the fraught Sino-Japanese relations. Yet what’s disturbing in the whole APA uproar is the choice of word. Whereas almost all mainstream media organizations, like CNN, the New York Times, BBC, the Guardian (not to mention Chinese media), explicitly used the word “massacre”, news stories in Japan, even those by Asashi, Japan’s most progressive newspaper, tended to avoid “massacre” and embraced instead the choice of “Nanjing Incident”.
This is not something isolated. Reading editorials by Japan’s three most influential national papers (Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi) released in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, one is shocked by the meager mention of the Nanking Massacre and the collective absence of words associated with imperialist Japan’s wartime atrocities, such as fascism, militarism, massacre, immoral, and inhumane. Asahi used the word “inhumane” only once in its editorial commemorating Hiroshima Bombing, but instead of describing Japan’s action, this word is reserved for nuclear weapons, describing them as inhumane.
This is part of a perceptible shift in Japan’s media landscape during the years toward conservatism represented by papers like Yomiuri and a declining influence of progressive papers like Asahi. It implies some deeper and larger change in Japan’s overall mindset on war history, that is, a departure from the historical perspective of self-deprecation to that of self-respect.
Motoya and his friend Tamogami are two prominent figures occupying the extreme end of the spectrum, who go one step further to embrace self-aggrandizement.To them, Japan’s history is “forced on us by the victors”, and “we should take back our true history that we can be proud of.”
History is never neutral. It is inevitably recalled through different prisms, refracted by global interactions, political orientations and even personal experiences. In postwar Japan, as much as elsewhere in other parts of the world, controversy over historical interpretation never ends and is always a contested terrain on which larger wars are being waged. Surely, self-deprecation has long overstayed its time in Japan, and self-respect is something better and urgently needed, but at the same time it would be in Japan’s very interests not to be embarking on the road of self-aggrandizement.