Japan history revisionists bolder under Abe: Analysts

TOKYO - Successful hotel chain operator Toshio Motoya doesn't mind if his denial of a notorious Japanese World War II military atrocity in China drives customers away.

Motoya not only penned a book calling the 1937 Nanjing massacre a lie but proudly displays it in guest rooms of his nationwide chain of APA hotels.

In protest, China and South Korea pulled their athletes from his inns for the Asian Winter Games that begin in northern Japan on Sunday. China has also told its tour businesses to stop cooperating with APA, essentially calling for a boycott.

Motoya has told supporters he "will never withdraw" the book under foreign pressure.

Such an attitude, analysts say, shows how those who whitewash Japan's modern history are growing more emboldened by what they see as a tacit wink from hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Now in his fifth year in power, Abe makes no secret of his nationalist views. He says Japan must shake off past constraints, including altering its war-renouncing constitution imposed by American occupiers after World War II.

Tamotsu Sugano, an expert on Japanese rightist groups, said hotelier Motoya has close ties with ultra-conservative lobby Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, which has published a dossier calling the Nanjing massacre a "false accusation".

And while Abe does not question the massacre, he and more than half his Cabinet ministers hold membership in a parliamentarians' league that supports the group.

"Since he was first elected to parliament, Abe has acted very closely with the core members" of Nippon Kaigi, said Sugano, who has written a book on the organisation.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, says revisionism has been rising among politicians, the business sector and media since the late 1990s.

"Abe has been careful after becoming prime minister, but his firm foothold is these people," Nakano said, calling him "their flag bearer".

The prime minister, who once prevaricated over whether Japan's wartime aggression amounted to "invasion", has also appointed cabinet ministers with a revisionist bent.

And while Abe has stood by previous government apologies for the war, he said ahead of the 70th anniversary of its end in 2015 that future generations should not have to say sorry.

China says 300,000 people died in a six-week spree of killing, rape and destruction by the Japanese military that began in December 1937.

Some respected academics estimate a lower number of victims, but mainstream scholarship does not question that the incident, known as the "Rape of Nanking," took place.

Motoya's book, dryly titled "The Real History of Japan: Theoretical Modern History II," uses the word "fabrication" to describe Nanjing.

"Revisionists in Japan are seeking to rewrite Japan's shared wartime history in Asia and promoting an exonerating narrative that ignores what happened," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, told AFP in an email.

Motoya has also come under fire for anti-Semitic comments made in an in-house magazine placed in his Canada hotels, asserting that Jews "control" key sectors of the United States.

His history book has elicited no condemnation from the Japanese government and little from media or broader society.

The nationalist Sankei Shimbun daily has rather applauded the government for "neither pressuring APA hotel nor urging self-restraint".

The situation in Japan contrasts with Germany, where opinions expressing sympathy for Nazi rule are broadly considered unacceptable and displaying fascist symbols such as the swastika, or denying the Holocaust, are illegal.

Last year, an 87-year-old woman was sentenced to prison for denying that Auschwitz was a death camp.

The lack of vocal criticism over revisionist ideas in Japan, however, does not mean nationalist views resonate widely.

Indeed, voters have bet on Abe mainly for his promise to revitalise the economy. Polls show underwhelming support for his pet project of constitutional revision.

"The rise of China is stoking anxieties and nationalism in Japan, but nationalism doesn't resonate powerfully among Japanese because they understand what can go wrong," said Temple University's Kingston.