Japan’s tourism industry braces for fallout from Nanjing Massacre denial book
The furor over a major Japanese hotel chain’s decision to place a book denying the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in its rooms is rattling Japan’s tourism industry as the moneymaking Lunar New Year holidays get under way.
The fear is that the backlash over the book in the APA hotel chain, written by the head of the operator APA Group, could grow into a broader rejection of Japan and a loss of the Chinese tourists who have fuelled the tourism boom of recent years.
The Chinese government has called on its nationals to boycott the hotel chain and Chinese media coverage of the uproar shows no signs of ebbing.
“This kind of wrong approach [by APA] is an outright provocation to Chinese tourists,” Zhang Lizhong, spokesman at China’s National Tourism Administration, said in a statement released to Chinese media on Tuesday.
APA said it has been placing the essay compilation, written in Japanese and English under a pen name by APA Group Chief Executive Toshio Motoya, in every room in its hotels since June last year.
Among the book’s claims is that the Nanjing Massacre, which China claims resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 people, was fabricated.
While the post-second world war International Military Tribunal for the Far East put the figure at more than 200,000, some Japanese historians claim the total was as low as a few tens of thousands or deny the event entirely.
Motoya is known in Japan for his particular political views. His profile on the APA website states that he believes business owners should seek to use their businesses to bring about their own version of social justice.
APA Group’s key earner is its hotel business, helmed by Motoya’s wife Fumiko Motoya, who is pictured on its billboards wearing a jaunty hat.
The hotel business boasts some 198 facilities in Japan and abroad, with a total of 33,000 rooms already built or planned, and is forecast to log 107 billion yen (US$935 million) in consolidated sales in the financial year that ended November 2016.
Foreign tourists were still streaming into an APA hotel in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district on Thursday, their suitcases filling the lobby. But the Chinese government’s call to boycott the chain is sure to make a dent in bookings by Chinese nationals, who account for around 5 per cent of the chain’s guests.
Unease over the uproar is spreading in Japan’s tourism industry. Providers are all the more agitated given the bumper season they have been expecting – a combination of the Lunar New Year and the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of relations between Japan and China.
“It’s hard to handle matters of ideology, but I think we would do well to be thoughtful given the rising numbers of visitors to Japan,” said a senior official at the Japan Tourism Agency, the Japanese government’s tourism body.
“If Chinese people move away from APA, which has a great number of guest rooms, it could lead to fierce squabbling for rooms at the other hotels,” a source linked to a major travel agency said.
Hailing from the real estate business in his home prefecture of Ishikawa on the Sea of Japan coast, Motoya built the APA empire on his own, expanding to hotels, apartments and financial products.
He is known to have deep connections with conservative politicians, including former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, a fellow Ishikawa native.
An essay competition Motoya held in 2008 led to the resignation of Air Self-Defence Force chief Toshio Tamogami, after Tamogami’s winning essay on Japan’s involvement in second world war prompted a public outcry.
The standoff looks likely to continue. APA Group said in a press statement on January 17 it has “no intention to withdraw this book from our guest rooms”.
“Although we acknowledge that historic interpretation and education vary among nations, please clearly understand that the book is not aimed to criticise any specific state or nation, but for the purpose of letting readers learn the fact-based true interpretation of modern history,” the statement read.
The Chinese government and state-run media have since formed a united front against APA’s refusal to withdraw the book. Chinese media have taken aim at Motoya’s alleged ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom critics have labeled a historical revisionist.
The official Xinhua News Agency called Motoya a supporter of Abe in its criticism of the hotel magnate, while state-run broadcaster CCTV implied in its analysis of the uproar that the Abe administration may have secretly engineered the book’s distribution.
Sources close to the matter say Beijing may be fanning the flames out of reluctance to aggravate the Communist Party’s anti-Japan wing as the party prepares for its twice-a-decade congress in the second half of this year.
“Japan-bashing is a safe bet for Chinese [authorities], so they won’t be eager to calm the situation,” a source close to bilateral relations said.