Executive of Japanese Public Broadcaster Denies War-Time Massacre

NHK governor Naoki Hyakuta says the Rape of Nanking was simply propaganda, raising further questions about the Japanese public broadcaster's direction.

TOKYO – Naoki Hyakuta, a governor of Japanese public broadcaster NHK appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November, has denied that the Nanking Massacre, committed by Japanese soldiers against Chinese civilians in 1937, ever happened, raising further questions about the Japanese public broadcaster's political direction.

He mentioned his views on the massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, in election speeches supporting a nationalist candidate.

"In 1938, (Chinese military and political leader) Chiang Kai-shek tried to publicize Japan's responsibility for the Nanking Massacre, but the nations of the world ignored him. Why? Because it never happened," said Hyakuta in a speech in central Tokyo in support of Toshio Tamogami in the gubernatorial elections this coming Sunday.

Tamogami is a former chief of the Air Self-Defense Force who was sacked by the government in 2008 for justifying Japan's war-time aggression in Asia.

NHK was rocked late last month when its new chairman Katsuto Momii defended Japan's use of war-time brothels for its military, widely believed to have been staffed by many women who were kidnapped and forced to work there. Momii has since apologized for his remarks, claiming they were his personal opinion and would not affect the impartiality of NHK programming.

STORY: New NHK President's Comments Raise Concerns About Political Independence

The Rape of Nanking, which happened when the Chinese capital fell to the Japanese Imperial Army, is one of the most contentious historical issues in Japan. Estimates as to how many civilians were massacred and women raped by Japanese soldiers in the days that followed vary vastly, but few mainstream historians doubt that there were at least tens of thousands of victims. Despite the fact that former Imperial Army soldiers have confessed to committing atrocities, there is a vocal group of Japanese nationalists who claim the incident was made up.

Under Japan's broadcast law, NHK is mandated to be politically neutral and its personnel cannot take senior positions in political parties. While there is nothing to stop NHK governors supporting candidates in an election, outright political campaigning is extremely unusual.

Hyakuta, who was appointed along with four others to the 12-member NHK board of governors, is a novelist known for his patriotic tales of Japanese pride. His 2006 debut The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero) was made into a film released in December that has now topped the box-office charts for seven weeks.

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, the story of a man looking for the truth about his kamikaze pilot grandfather has brought in $64.25 million (¥6.5 billion) so far, keeping Thor: The Dark World and The Wolf of Wall Street off the top spot.   

Twitter: @GavinJBlair