Big Talk

The Purpose of Learning English is to Express One’s Views to the World

Hiromichi Moteki was awarded the 2nd APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize for his book Japan’s Master Plan for Victory: What Could Have Been. Moteki is acting chairman of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, which he founded with Hideaki Kase, and is working to promote correct Japanese history and ways of thinking in English throughout the world. Toshio Motoya spoke with Moteki about the inspiration behind these activities, the future path Japan should travel, and other topics.

Translating Japanese books and papers into English and sharing them with overseas media

(Motoya) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You’ve previously attended my Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan and Shoheijuku school. Also, congratulations on winning the 2nd APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize this year.

(Moteki) Thank you very much. I look forward to talking with you.

(Motoya) Few Japanese people share their beliefs with the wider world in English. I launched Apple Town magazine 28 years ago, and I actively print my essays and Big Talk interviews in English today. English translations weren’t available from the start, and I’ve heard positive and negative comments since I began doing this. However, I believe in the importance of conveying my views to people from other countries. Still, I think that transmitting Japan’s way of thinking across the world should be a job for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)… You also work with diplomacy commentator Hideaki Kase to share views from Japan around the globe.

(Moteki) Yes, we do this in the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact. My first project to convey information from Japan to the world was Mangajin, a monthly magazine started in 1988. This educational magazine printed Japanese manga with Japanese and English text, and it was useful for overseas learners of Japanese as well as Japanese people studying English. It also introduced Japanese pop culture. The high-level content was evaluated very positively in the language-learning industry, but unfortunately the 70th issue in 1997 was the last.

(Motoya) I’ve read a bit of Mangajin, which was a wonderful magazine. I heard you had an American partner.

(Moteki) Yes, the magazine was originally his idea. An employee at a marketing company, he had studied Japanese and was obsessed with Japanese manga. Manga covers a wide range of topics from amusing content to literature, philosophy, religion, science, and technology. He said no other country has developed comics of such complexity. My partner wanted to translate Japanese manga into English for publication. That was during the asset bubble, and many Americans were starting to learn Japanese because of Japan’s dramatic economic growth. That gave my partner the idea of launching a Japanese language learning magazine. I heard about this from a friend, and we ended up collaborating. The name “Mangajin” is a portmanteau of “manga” and “magazine.”

(Motoya) Manga is certainly popular in the United States and Europe, and I’ve heard manga is the first way that many people encounter Japan. Numerous manga have also been made into American and French movies.

(Moteki) I was involved in this publishing businesses before starting the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact. Translators must have high-level skills to render manga into English. Mangajin was shut down, but I still had a network of translators, and I wanted to be involved more substantively in translating high-level Japanese into English. Our first project was translating and publishing Shudo Higashinakano’s The Nanking Massacre: Fact versus Fiction: A Historian’s Quest for the Truth (Tendensha) into English. Later, I founded the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact around 14 years ago with Kase because I wanted to more comprehensively disseminate information from Japan.

(Motoya) Do you have any periodic publications?

(Moteki) Putting books out is wildly inefficient because you have to find a publisher and pay various costs. Thanks to the Internet, today we translate Japanese books and papers into English, put them online, and send out e-mail newsletters announcing each new post. We currently have 4,000 overseas e-mail addresses, including media personnel and scholars. We’re also a member of the Association for Asian Studies, a large academic association in the U.S., and we share information with other members.

(Motoya) People say history is written by the victors. After the U.S. occupied Japan, it implanted a historical view determined by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) that requires conformance with the Press Code. It is still taught in schools, and the media’s hands are tied by this viewpoint. Many people in Japan, the U.S., and across the world don’t have a correct understanding of history. There is sometimes a backlash against the English-language Apple Town articles by people from other countries who have received this sort of mistaken education, but I believe in the importance of continuing to express myself at all times. Three years ago, APA Hotel was the target of a storm of criticism on the Chinese Internet about my book, which denies the Nanjing Massacre, being placed in hotel rooms. The Chinese government criticized me by name and demanded we remove the books. In response, I stated that freedom of speech is a right in Japan. I asked them to provide proof regarding any errors in the book for my own reference, but I’ve received no reply. Afterwards, President Xi Jinping attended the National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims ceremony in December of that year, but he did not give a speech. He hasn’t even taken part since the following year, and has sent subordinates in his place.

(Moteki) Is that so?

American military commanders operated military brothels

(Motoya) The Chinese government knows the Nanjing Massacre is a fiction, and has no way to refute those who point this out. There are many photos and other types of proof remaining from the 1937 Tungchow mutiny, when the Chinese massacred Japanese people. However, there is no list of victims from the Nanjing Massacre. The Chinese government insists on this lie because it is in the interests of the nation. The common knowledge of the world is that all countries tell lies and kill people for the sake of their interests. Japan’s national interests are frequently harmed because Japanese people pay too much consideration to others. For example, the first report from joint Japanese-Chinese historical research was published in 2010. This report includes two different arguments. The Chinese side wrote that 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed in the Nanjing Massacre, while the Japanese side said, “There are various estimates about the number of victims, such as 40,000 or 20,000, with an upper limit of 200,000 victims.” Japan should have stated the army did not kill a single unarmed civilian or child. I do think civilians were sometimes drawn into war and killed. However, not one person has proof that the Japanese army purposefully slaughtered nonresistant civilians, and there was no reason it would have done so.

(Moteki) At that time, the City Wall of Nanjing enclosed an area the equivalent to the inside of the Yamanote Line. All of the remaining people fled to the safe zone. Nanjing was captured on December 3, 1937. One hundred and fifty newspaper reporters arrived right after that to report extensively on the city. The Asahi Shimbun published a special feature occupying the entire front page on December 20, including photographs of Nanjing residents with serene expressions entitled, “Peace Returns to Nanjing.” This series continued with titles such as, “The Smiling People of Nanjing.” The paper certainly did not depict Nanjing as a place where a massacre had just taken place. None of the reporters who actually went to Nanjing saw a massacre with their own eyes, even after the end of World War II.

(Motoya) Nanking, a documentary film released two months after the occupation of Nanjing, portrays an extremely peaceful city, including children setting off firecrackers to celebrate the New Year near Japanese soldiers. It could not have been shot soon after a massacre. I think we will have to keep stating that the Nanjing Massacre is a fabrication.

(Moteki) I agree.

(Motoya) South Korea insists Japan forcibly transported 200,000 comfort women, which is impossible. The people of South Korea felt a sense of disgrace when their weak country was annexed by Japan. They used the pretext that Japan was a terrible nation as a means to relieve this feeling. South Korea has continually educated its people this way, which is why it works so hard to install comfort women statues around the world and tries to sublimate its people’s emotions.

(Moteki) I think an uprising would have taken place if women were forcibly moved. There are no records indicating this happened. And if 20,000 women had actually been transported, it would mean the Korean people were extremely deplorable for not carrying out a single protest or riot. South Korea makes great efforts to promote this around the world, which I cannot comprehend.

(Motoya) There were different sorts of military prostitutes, but some testimony says they received high wages and spent time with soldiers on their days off.

(Moteki) Comfort women were not sex slaves – I think we should consider them as a type of licensed prostitution, which was legal back then.

(Motoya) Besides the comfort women, it’s true that sexual violence occurs during war. Considering South Korea’s claims, how should we regard the children of mixed ancestry, called “Lai Dai Han,” who were born from violence committed by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War? It’s said there are between 20,000 and 30,000 of these people, and there are monuments remembering massacres by the South Korean army across Vietnam. A local guide said the Vietnamese government does not criticize South Korea because it receives bribes from South Korean financial conglomerates.

(Moteki) People say the American army did not open military brothels for religious reasons. However, Susan Brownmiller’s renowned book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (Keiso Shobo) says the U.S. Armed Forces operated brothels at its camps during the Vietnam War. Furthermore, the operators were brigade commanders. This means the American army was more directly involved in military brothels than Japan, which contracted them to the private sector. Despite this, the U.S. Congress took the shameless action of passing a resolution asking the Japanese government to apologize to former comfort women. This is happening because the Japanese government has already apologized. The government must not thoughtlessly admit to or apologize for wrongdoing.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons are founded on research from the Imperial Japanese Navy era

(Motoya) I think the basis for this is Japan’s defeat in World War II. European countries maintained their stances while winning and losing wars, but Japan has been forced to swallow lies and pay reparations after just one defeat. Japan is still persecuted and falsehoods about the war are widely spread around the world today, 75 years after the end of World War II. This is a terrible thing, and right now I think it’s important that many Japanese people learn the truth.

(Moteki) We must also directly refute unjust criticisms. English-language sources backing up our claims are needed in both journalism and academia. The Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact is building an archive of historical documents in English that can be used as proof when contesting these criticisms.

(Motoya) That’s wonderful, and I frequently recommend that Japan should establish a “Ministry of Information” with a staff of 3,000 and an annual budget of 300 billion yen. This ministry should refute any mistaken claims from foreign governments and media organizations within 24 hours, in the local language and English. I think this would prevent others from making heedless statements. The ministry should also actively promote Japan’s views and work to prevent espionage. Japan has no institution to do tasks like this today.

(Moteki) So you imagine it as separate from the MOFA.

(Motoya) Yes. The MOFA should have refuted the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women stories and provided proof at an early stage, but it didn’t. I think we should promptly build an institution that can do this work speedily, even if it is of a small scale.

(Moteki) The problem is that the current Japanese government accepts the Tokyo Trials, and everything is presupposed on the fact that Japan committed the Nanjing Massacre and waged an aggressive war. If we don’t deal with this somehow, the Ministry of Information couldn’t speak out against these criticisms.

(Motoya) Yet we must deny things that aren’t true. The background to this issue also includes the atomic bombings by the U.S. The U.S. slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians in one instant when it dropped the bombs. It had to portray Japan as a bad country that massacres and invades so the U.S. could maintain its image as a good country. Still, there was a reason the U.S. had to use these weapons. The Soviet Union was transformed into a military monster through American aid. It quickly defeated the German army on the eastern front and occupied Berlin. The Soviet Union seemed powerful enough to communize all of Europe and then the whole world, excluding the North and South American continents. If left unchecked, it’s possible this would have led to World War III, a “hot war” between the U.S. and Soviet Union with deaths numbered in the tens of millions. The U.S. had to drop the atomic bombs to restrain the Soviet Union and transform this fight into the Cold War. One way of thinking says tens of millions were saved by Japan’s sacrifice. There are various sides to history, and we cannot look at it through a single lens.

(Moteki) I agree entirely. Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath by Herbert Hoover, who was president before Franklin D. Roosevelt, is not merely a memoir, but a discourse on World War II that he wrote over 20 years. It describes how Japan desired reconciliation, and would have ended the war immediately with assurance that the imperial system could continue. Roosevelt kept up the war and dropped the bombs anyway. Hoover says the atomic bombings were the worst crime committed by the U.S. in its history. That’s another way of thinking about this topic.

(Motoya) Roosevelt wanted to fight with Japan so he could win re-election. To that end, his most urgent task was to revive the American economy, which was still suffering the aftereffects of the Great Depression. Enormous demand generated by the war was his magic bullet. Because of the Tripartite Pact signed in 1940, Roosevelt calculated that he could anger Japan and make it open hostilities, which would give the U.S. an entry into the war in Europe, improve the economy, and win Roosevelt another term. American presidents don’t balk at starting wars to win re-election. It seems like President Donald Trump is just watching North Korea without doing anything, but I think he may launch a limited air strike or other military action right before the election in November 2020. North Korea is holding its own against the U.S. from an equal standpoint just because it has nuclear weapons, which is impressive.

(Moteki) In Japan as well, Yoshi Nishina at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research was working on nuclear bomb development during the war in the army’s “Ni-Go Project.” Bunsaku Arakatsu at Kyoto Imperial University was doing the same in the “F-Go Project” for the navy, which had a nuclear testing facility in Hungnam, North Korea. One theory says a successful nuclear test was conducted on August 12, 1945, and some even say this was the foundation of North Korea’ s current nuclear program.

(Motoya) So North Korea’s nuclear weapons might have come from Japan.

We must revise the constitution to protect the wonderful nation of Japan

(Motoya) When Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula, it promoted industry in the north and agriculture in the south. The north was more affluent at that time. Japan left behind various types of infrastructure in North Korea after the war, including hydroelectric power plants. People talk about Japan paying reparations to North Korea, but I think Japan should receive even more if we calculate the assets remaining there today. Today it seems likely that North Korea under Kim Jong Un and South Korea under Moon Jae-in will be integrated into a nuclear “Korean Federation” that is antagonistic to Japan.

(Moteki) Moon sees North Korea as an ideal society.

(Motoya) Through information manipulation, North Korea was previously portrayed as an ideal state in Japan as well. Many people went to North Korea when Korean residents of Japan were sent back to their country, where they experienced great suffering. When I visited Pyongyang, I was guided by a Japanese woman who married a Korean resident of Japan and immigrated to North Korea. When others couldn’t hear, she lamented that she couldn’t go back to Japan. Pyongyang has become a beautiful city with the passing of time, but I am sure people living there are still in distress. That’s what happens in a socialist country ruled by a dictator. In Japan we tend to think Japan-like societies exist everywhere, but that’s simply not true. People who learn about the rest of the world realize Japan is the best nation of all.

(Moteki) That’s true.

(Motoya) Moreover, Japanese is unlike any other language in the world because it uses both phonetic symbols and ideograms. I believe it is the most expressive language that exists, and it can be used for subtle phrases not possible in English, including our many terms for people and colors. Japan has also never been colonized, except for the temporary occupation after World War II, and we have ancient traditions and culture besides our language, such as the unbroken imperial line.

(Moteki) This seems paradoxical, but we can also regard Japan as the world’s most international language. For instance, more Ancient Greek texts are translated into Japanese than English. If you know Japanese, you can read documents like this from around the globe.

(Motoya) In Japan one can learn all sorts of subjects and write papers in Japanese. However, most countries use their native languages for daily life and English for academic pursuits. Some say this exceptional quality is why Japan has won so many Nobel Prizes for science. In contrast, South Korea previously used both kanji (Chinese characters) and the Hangul script, but today it has abolished kanji and only conducts education in Hangul. Students can’t read kanji texts from the past. When studying history, they are limited to Hangul books that denounce Japan and are incapable of reading past publications showing Japanese rule in a positive light. I think this rupture has broadly adverse effects, from scholarship to society.

(Moteki) That makes sense.

(Motoya) We must be able to defend ourselves to protect our wonderful country of Japan. I believe we should revise the constitution, abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles to maintain a nuclear balance in East Asia, and enter into a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. I hope you will keep working hard so we can achieve this. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(Moteki) I am totally against teaching English to elementary school students, because they don’t benefit at all from a half-baked understanding of the language. They should study English with the goal of conveying their views in the future. They must have a solid grammatical foundation and ample vocabulary to be able to do this in a foreign language. Focused education starting in junior high school is better than learning bits and pieces in elementary school.

(Motoya) I believe one should study foreign languages after mastering one’s native tongue. If you learn two languages at once, you won’t progress beyond an intermediate level in either.

(Moteki) I agree. Mental attitude is also important for learning English – you should study to become capable of expressing yourself, not to unilaterally imitate the English-speaking world. After all, one can access information from around the world even without knowing English today.

(Motoya) It sounds more important that they gain a strong understanding of Japanese – the most superior language in the world – while feeling a sense of pride in Japan. Thank you for sharing such an interesting discussion with me today.

(Moteki) Thank you.

Date of dialogue: December 27, 2019


Hiromichi Moteki

Born in 1941 in Tokyo. Graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Economics. After working at Fuji Electric and the International Wool Secretariat, he founded Sekai Shuppan, inc. in 1990. Together with the American company Mangajin, Inc., he published Mangajin, a magazine about the Japanese language and Japan with manga in both Japanese and English text. Moteki is currently acting chairman of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact. In 2019, his book Japan’s Master Plan for Victory: What Could Have Been (Heart Shuppan) won the 2nd APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize. His other published works include The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is Destroying English (Chuko Shinsho Laclef); Elementary Students Don’t Need English (Kodansha); and The Pitfalls of Yutori Education (Kokumin Kaikan Shuppan). He has translated Japanese Military Strategy in the Pacific War: Was Defeat Inevitable? (by James B. Wood, WAC) and Don’t be Scared of Radiation (by T.D. Luckey, Nisshin Hodo).