TIME Japan

Best-Selling Author Feels the Heat in Japan’s History Wars

People mourn the of Nanking Massacre on August 15, 2012 in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China TPG/Getty Images

Just when you thought the battle over Japan’s wartime history couldn’t get any weirder, a best-selling author was forced to issue a denial about a previous denial — in his own book – that Japanese troops had committed one of the worst atrocities of World War II. That is, he said, they didn’t.

Henry Scott Stokes, a leading Western journalist and longtime defender of Japan’s right wing, told Kyodo News Service last week that he was unaware that the Japanese-language version of his book includes an assertion that the infamous 1937 “Nanking Massacre” had never occurred.

He called that assertion “straightforward right-wing propaganda.”

The book, whose title translates as “Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist,” has sold more than 100,000 copies since it went on sale in December.

It comes amid a boom in publications that cater to right-wing views in Japan as well as nasty historical disputes with Asian neighbors. It was released only in Japanese.

Stokes, 75, is a former correspondent and Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times, Financial Times and Times of London.

Although the book presents a largely – if not overwhelmingly — sanitized view of Japan’s wartime conduct, Stokes, who said in recent interviews he does not read or write Japanese, told Kyodo that the Nanking denial had been inserted in the translated version of his book without his knowledge.

Late Friday, he sharply reversed course.

In a carefully worded joint statement with publisher Shodensha, Stokes, who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease, said there is no disagreement.

“The author’s opinion is: The so-called ‘Nanking Massacre’ never took place. The word ‘Massacre’ is not right to indicate what happened,” the statement said.

In an interview last month, Stokes had said “ghastly events” had occurred at Nanking, but that the Japanese were not alone responsible.

Stokes has long been a darling of Japan’s right wing. He moved to Tokyo from London in 1964 and served as bureau chief for major U.S. and British newspapers in the 1960s and ‘70s. He published a well-received biography of nationalist icon Yukio Mishima in 1974 and remains on friendly terms with conservative leaders and activists.

Because his illness makes it difficult to write or type, his “Falsehoods” book was based on more than 170 hours of taped interviews. Written essay-style, the book was assembled from those interviews by Hiroyuki Fujita, a translator closely associated with conservative causes.

Stokes said in a recent interview that he had not read the finished book. He told Kyodo that he was unaware of the apparent turbulence concerning Nanking until Kyodo brought to his attention.

Fujita said the controversy centered around just two lines in the 250-page book. Fujita said that after discussions with Stokes and Shodensha officials it was jointly decided that no changes were necessary.

“What Henry has in mind and what is written in Japanese in his best-seller book have the common implication behind them: We should not say ‘Nanking Massacre’ to understand what really happened in Nanking,” Fujita said in a written statement.

Still, not everyone is convinced that the book accurately portrays Stokes’ views.

A Tokyo journalist hired to transcribe the taped interviews for a potential English-language edition said she quit in protest. She said she became convinced that the interviews had been taken out of context.

“I felt that what you said in the transcripts was completely different on important points from what is written in your book,” transcriber Angela Erika Kubo wrote in a May 4 email to Stokes.

Although estimates vary for the number of victims, mainstream historians agree that many tens of thousands of civilians were killed by marauding Japanese troops in Nanking over a six-week period beginning in December 1937.

Stokes’ association with leading Western news organizations – he is now a freelance writer — undoubtedly appealed to his publishers and helped give the book mass-market appeal, said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian Studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo.

“They knew that he bestowed a credibility that they would never have on their own. They would be dismissed as right-wing crackpots, while Henry Scott Stokes has a rich pedigree,” Kingston said.

Sven Saaler, an associate professor of Japanese history at Tokyo’s Sophia University, said the controversy is not surprising. Nor do the brisk sales necessarily mean that right-wing views have broad appeal in Japan.

“These kind of publications have always been around, and always have been selling a few ten-thousand copies to a certain audience. But the revisionist views of history have yet to reach a broader segment of society. The revisionist views are deeply rooted in parts of the Japanese elite, particularly in the political class, so there is a gap between historical views,” Saaler said.

Lucy Birmingham, president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, said the foreign press corps in Japan has come under increasing attack from conservative news media for alleged anti-Japanese bias in recent years, and pressure to toe the line is likely to continue.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what Henry Scott Stokes’ views are. He has been quoted as saying diametrically different things in different publications,” says Birmingham, a freelance writer who has written for TIME and other publications.

“Foreign journalists in Japan are in the crossfire. It’s coming from a small, but loud minority of right-wing writers and publishers who are testing the media waters on their extreme views … It’s the attitude, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.'”

TIME Photos

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TIME Japan

Strong Quake Rattles Tokyo but Few Injuries Reported

Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013.
Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013. Kimimasa Mayama—EPA

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake centered 100 miles south of Tokyo shook the Japanese capital early on Monday; however, no deaths or major damage have been reported in the tremor’s wake

A powerful earthquake rattled the nerves of Tokyo residents in the early hours of Monday morning, but failed to cause any substantial damage.

Local authorities reported that at least 17 people were injured as a result of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to the Associated Press.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK reported that Monday’s quake was the strongest seismic convulsion to shake the capital since powerful aftershocks hit Tokyo in the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake that struck off the country’s northeast coast.


TIME movies

The Japanese Are Fat-Shaming the New Godzilla

Poster for the upcoming reboot of "Godzilla" Warner Bros.

The Hollywood reboot of the Japanese monster film hits theaters on May 16, but Japanese fans are already annoyed by how "massive" the monster appears in trailers

Many Americans are waiting in anticipation for the May 16 premiere of Godzilla, a Bryan Cranston-starring reboot of the 1954 Japanese horror classic. And the recent string of trailers has only increased excitement.

But in Japan, fans of the original film aren’t exactly thrilled with the look of the new Godzilla. In fact, some fans are down-right annoyed with how fat the monster appears in the American trailer. “When I finally saw it, I was a bit taken aback,” Godzilla fan Fumihiko super-fan Abe told the AFP at a Tokyo exhibition of paintings of the monster. “It’s fat from the neck downwards and massive at the bottom.”

Other fans joked online that the American version of the monster had “done a ‘super-size me,'” calling it “a calorie monster” and “Godzilla Deluxe.” And perhaps the most cutting insult of all, posted to a Japanese forum, read, “He’s so fat, I laughed.”

Luckily for Japanese fans, who will get the opportunity to judge the reboot in theaters in late May, it sounds as if the Hollywood version of Godzilla doesn’t actually feature that much Godzilla, fat or otherwise. Vulture reports that the monster is an “elusive presence” in the film.


TIME China

Obama Ends Asia Tour in China’s Long Shadow

President Obama delivers remarks to US and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks to U.S. and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The region's biggest power remained the proverbial dragon in the room throughout the U.S. President's weeklong tour to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. But the more he said the visits weren't about China, the less that rang true

U.S. President Barack Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia ended Tuesday with a speech at Manila’s Fort Bonifacio. Standing in a gymnasium packed with camo-clad soldiers, Obama spoke about the 10-year military pact signed Monday. The agreement, which was the centerpiece of his visit to the Philippines, will give U.S. planes, warships and troops greater access to the archipelago. Many Filipinos see the deal as a counter to China, with which the country is locked in a bitter maritime dispute. Obama insists it is not. “Deepening our alliance is part of our broader vision for the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

Left unsaid, of course what this “vision” for Asia means for the region’s rising power, China. The recurring theme of Obama’s tour was that it was not about Beijing. This was a friendly visit, full stop — and it was indeed full of well-wishes and vows of trust. Yet the more Obama denied it was about China, the less it rang true. Through stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, China loomed large — the proverbial dragon, or panda, in the room.

The mixed messaging underscores the challenge of one of the Obama Administration’s signature foreign policy initiatives: the so-called pivot to Asia. The plan calls for the U.S. to shift resources away from the Middle East to East Asia, where they see more opportunity ahead. But China is also expanding its influence in the region. And Obama chose to visit four countries that are wary of China’s rise.

“President Obama obviously wants to avoid any appearances that this is part of a new Cold War with China,” says Mark Thompson, director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong. “But this is a tricky balancing act because this is increasingly how the U.S.’s traditional allies that he is visiting are viewing things.”

Take Japan. President Obama’s visit to Tokyo came amid ongoing Sino-Japanese territorial disputes. A set of rocks, called the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Mandarin, is administered by Japan but also claimed by China. The U.S. maintains a neutral stance on their ownership. But while in Tokyo, Obama said for the first time that the islets are covered by the security treaty that commits the U.S. to defend Japan should it be attacked — a boon for hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not great news for the Chinese.

It was a similar story in the Philippines, where the signing of a military pact and a speech to soldiers did much to counter the notion that the visit was, as Obama insisted, not about countering China, but rather, deepening long-standing ties. “The Obama strategy is military deterrence and balancing, combined with political and economic engagement,” says Minxin Pei, a China scholar at Claremont McKenna College, in California. “The problem with this strategy is that the Chinese tend to take the engagement part for granted and see the deterrence part as pure containment.”

Even in South Korea, which is not embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, Beijing was, at times, a silent presence. In Seoul, Obama announced that the U.S. and South Korea agreed on a binational defense team that, in the event of war, would put South Korean troops under U.S. control. Citing signs that North Korea plans to conduct another nuke test, Obama warned the U.S. would “will not hesitate to use our military might” to defend its allies. Yet there is a growing sense that to move forward with North Korea, it is China, not the U.S. or South Korea, that holds the key.

And then there’s Malaysia, a country with whom neither the U.S. nor China has particularly strong ties. A recent editorial in Global Times, a Beijing-backed newspaper, claimed the Obama visit — the first by a sitting President since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 — was a reward for Malaysia adopting a harder stance toward China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. If that’s the case, Obama certainly isn’t saying. But he certainly stepped lightly in Kuala Lumpur, choosing not to visit opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is appealing charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. The President also failed to convince Malaysia (or Japan for that matter) to commit further to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade bloc that does not include China.

Still, the host countries gained much: Japan’s Abe got U.S. cover for his rightism; the Philippines and South Korea received some military muscle; and Malaysia’s leaders gained prestige from hobnobbing with Obama. Beijing seems quite content to let all this play out. State media predictably lashed out at Obama’s pledge on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and had some stern words on the U.S.-Philippines military agreement. But the official response to Pivot 2.0 was uncharacteristically measured, almost dismissive. When asked about Obama’s visit at a regular press conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “Whether it [was] to counter China or not, we will tell based on what the U.S. says and does.” As for China not being on the itinerary, Qin riffed on a saying that traces back to a Qing-era love poem: “You come or you don’t come, I’m right here.”

TIME Food & Drink

Restaurant Tries to Make Dining Alone Less Awkward by Seating Patrons with Giant Stuffed Animals

Much less conspicuous

Ever feel self-conscious eating out alone? Moomin Café in Tokyo has recently gone viral because gigantic stuffed animals are seated across the table from solo diners in an attempt to reduce any discomfort.

Waiters enthusiastically pair parties of one with characters from a Finnish picture book series.

While a dining partner that looks like a hippopotamus certainly won’t make your table any less conspicuous, will you really be worried about other people’s opinions when you have this punim resting over your pancakes?

Some of the meals appear to be inspired by the stuffed animals, too:

This restaurant might even be more magical than the cat cafe that opened in New York.

(h/t: First We Feast)


South Korean Ferry Disaster Mirrors Earlier Japanese Boat Capsizing

The South Korean disaster was strangely similar to a 2009 Japanese boat's sinking


In 2009, the Ariake, a Japanese ferry on its way to Okinawa through rough currents, capsized and slowly sank.

Five years later, the Korean ferry Sewol capsized and sank in rough currents as well, only this time the ship trapped hundreds of high school students on its way down.

The incidents are not merely similar, they’re nearly identical: The two ships were made by the same builder, run by the same operator and capsized at roughly the same time into their journey. Since the Ariake’s accident, Japan has taken steps to make ships safer, precautions that might have prevented the Sewol tragedy.

TIME Japan

U.S. and Japan Fail to Reach Trade Deal During Obama’s Visit

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe attend a joint news conference after their meeting at the State Guest House on April 24, 2014 in Tokyo.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe attend a joint news conference after their meeting at the State Guest House on April 24, 2014 in Tokyo. The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

The U.S. and Japan failed to reach a last-minute bilateral trade deal during President Obama's visit this week, which would have paved the way for a 12-nation, U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic component of Obama’s "pivot" to Asia

The U.S failed to reach a last-minute agreement on a bilateral trade deal with Japan during President Barack Obama’s trip this week. Clinching the deal would have paved the way for a 12-nation U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic component of Obama’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia.

Japan’s Minister of State for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari and U.S. trade representative Michael Froman made a final effort during President Obama’s visit to Japan, after conducting talks for over three weeks, but the two parties didn’t see eye to eye on most of the major contentious issues, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A Senior Administration official told reporters on board Air Force One en route from Japan to Seoul, South Korea that the U.S. and Japan would continue trade talks despite the two’ countries failure to reach a final agreement while Obama was in Japan. The official also said Obama’s presence was critical in bridging a gap on one particular set of disagreements between the two countries.

The U.S. had aimed to conclude talks last year. However, Japan refused to meet its demands for an elimination of all tariffs, offering only tariff reductions for sensitive farm products such as beef and pork.

“If Japan wants to push forward in this new century, then reforms are going to have to take place,” Obama said at a news conference on Thursday. “Trans-Pacific Partnership is consistent with those reforms.”



TIME Barack Obama

Watch: Obama Meets ‘Scary’ Humanoid Robot In Japan


On the second day of his visit to Japan Thursday, President Barack Obama toured the country’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where he came face to face with the tiny Honda-built humanoid robot ASIMO.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the robot said in a metallic voice, welcoming Obama to the facility. It then proceeded to run around and kick a soccer ball at the commander-in-chief, who deftly stopped it.

But the experience left Obama spooked. He later quipped, “I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike,” he said. “They were amazing.”

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