TOKYO/BEIJING – The furor over a major Japanese hotel chain’s decision to place a book denying the 1937 Nanking Massacre in its rooms is rattling the tourism industry as the money-making Lunar New Year holidays get underway.
The book, written by the head of the Apa hotel chain, is causing a backlash that could lead to broader international rejection of Japan and the loss of the Chinese tourists behind Japan’s tourism boom.
The Chinese government is asking citizens to boycott the hotel chain and Chinese media coverage of the uproar shows no signs of ebbing.
“This kind of wrong approach is an outright provocation to Chinese tourists,” Zhang Lizhong, spokesman for the Chinese National Tourism Administration, said in a statement released to the Chinese media Tuesday.
Apa said it began placing the compilation of essays, written in Japanese and English under a pen name used by Apa Group Chief Executive Toshio Motoya, in every hotel room last June.
Among the book’s claims is that the Nanking Massacre — an approximately monthlong orgy of rape and murder that China claims killed more than 300,000 people when the Imperial Japanese Army took over the city known today as Nanjing — was fabricated.
The event is also known as the Rape of Nanking and is memorialized in the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China and was inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in October 2015.
While the post-World War II International Military Tribunal for the Far East put the death toll at over 200,000, some Japanese historians claim the total was around 30,000 or deny the massacre ever happened.
Motoya is known in Japan for having strong political views. His profile on Apa’s website states that he believes business owners should use their businesses to bring about their own version of social justice.
The Apa Group’s key earner is its hotel business, helmed by Motoya’s wife, Fumiko, who appears on its billboards wearing a jaunty hat.
The hotel business boasts about 198 facilities in Japan and abroad, with 33,000 rooms already built or planned, and is forecast to log ¥107 billion ($935 million) in consolidated sales for the business year ended last November.
Tourists were still streaming into an Apa hotel in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district Thursday, filling the lobby with suitcases. But the Chinese government’s call to boycott the chain is sure to dent Apa bookings by Chinese, who account for around 5 percent of its guests.
Unease over the uproar is spreading throughout the tourism industry. Firms are expecting a bumper season from the combination of Saturday’s Chinese New Year and the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties 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 state 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. Japan is scrambling to build accommodations ahead of the 2020 Olympics.
Hailing from the real estate business in Ishikawa Prefecture, Motoya built the Apa empire on his own by 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-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, whose winning essay on Japan’s involvement in World War II prompted a public outcry.
The standoff appears likely to continue.
Apa Group said in a press release on Jan. 17 that 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 criticize 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. Media outlets have taken aim at Motoya’s alleged ties to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is viewed as a historical revisionist.
The official Xinhua News Agency called Motoya an Abe supporter and state-run broadcaster CCTV implied in an analysis of the Apa uproar that the Abe administration may have secretly engineered the book’s distribution.