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Society

Asahi Shimbun Must Further Examine
Their Own Responsibility for the War

Taketoshi Yamamoto
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

One month prior to my age-limit retirement, I have finally managed to publish a book entitled Asahi Shimbun's Invasion of China [Asahi Shimbun No Chugoku Shinryaku] from Bungeishunju. Though I served the university for only ten years, I owe many things to the university during this short period. Among other things, I appreciate them for offering us a free research environment. As a sign of my gratitude, I had worked to write this book since last summer.

Actually, I published an article with the same title on the November issue of Shokun! in 2004. Analyzing the history of the newspaper company Tairikushinposha, this article pursued the responsibility of Asahi Shimbun for World War II. I spent ten years in search of materials about Tairikushinposha, and wrote the manuscript for the journal as if I presented an interim report. However, because I realized that personal efforts were not enough to collect materials, I requested that Asahi Shimbun disclose their internal materials about this theme. An Asahi deskman came to my lab and said that a long-term series of articles they would start soon was their answer to me. Nonetheless, they had never mentioned Tairikushinpo that I thought essential, not only during the one-year series, but also in the books War and Newspaper [Senso To Shimbun] and Newspaper and "Showa" [Shimbun To "Showa"], in which the series was compiled.

In History of Asahi Shimbun [Asahi Shimbun Shashi] published by Asahi Shimbun, then President Nakae said that they uncovered all of their stains in history without any disguise. The name of the newspaper Tairikushinpo first appeared in the Volume of Taisho and Pre-War Showa of their company history published in 1994, and honestly speaking, I learnt this name for the first time reading it. Without doubt, this was a sign of their willingness to release their stains. As I explored this issue, however, I found out that they attempted to purposefully conceal facts undesirable to them. So, I gave up relying on Asahi, and had spent my spare time in the last half of my tenure at Waseda collecting materials at archives and libraries in Japan and overseas, and interviewed many people who were involved in the issue. Then, finally, I started concentrating myself on writing the book last summer, when I felt I had an adequate amount of material.

After my book was published, I gave it to some of my colleagues and friends. People who knew I was a reserved historian commented that the title sounded too harsh to suit me. Between me and the publisher, there was no argument against using exactly the same title as that used in the journal article. It was Asahi that made such harsh history, and it is logical that a book demonstrating this should be harsh as well.

For about six years prior to the end of the World War II, Tairikushinposha issued a Japanese newspaper in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, and Xuzhou, and a Chinese newspaper titled Shinshinpo in Shanghai. When the Nanjing Massacre occurred, Shinshinpo directly managed by the Japanese Army carried out propaganda aiming at local Chinese people for the legitimacy of this armed attack. Even after being acquired by Tairikushinposha, the newspaper continued acting as a vanguard of the Japanese troops in invading the continent.

Tairikushinpo was a newspaper called for by Army, Navy, and free activists in Manchuria, and issued with the cooperation of Asahi. At first, the executives of Asahi - who scarcely recognized its invasive nature initially - were proud of undertaking a newspaper for promoting national policy. Since around the time when Wang Jingwei established the Nanjing Government in 1940, those executives had totally lost a feeling of discomfort in promoting and justifying the Japanese invasion. Reporters dispatched from Asahi began occupying important positions in the company. After Pearl Harbor, Asahi subsidized Tairikushinposha and started making its important decisions at board meetings held in mainland Japan. Because the business of Tairikushinposha was flourishing, their ambition of dominating the continent expanded to the extent developing a plan of establishing Manchurian Asahi Shimbun. This plan was, however, thwarted by the Kwantung Army staff who were cautious about a monopoly by a single newspaper.

Tairikushinposha acquired the Shanghai Mainichi Shimbun in 1938 to monopolize the Japanese newspaper market in Shanghai, and formed and virtually dominated the China Newspaper Association in 1939. A document I found at the United States National Archives and Records Administration shows that this Association was a fascistic organization uniformly controlling not only Japanese newspapers but also Chinese ones. Within the Association, former Asahi reporters were assigned to its important positions. If the Japanese troops had succeeded in conquering China, Asahi's flag would have been raised in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Before the Manchurian Incident, Asahi had been assaulted by the military and right-wingers as an enemy of the nation, or a representative newspaper promoting democracy. As Japan accelerated the invasion of the continent, however, they not only became a newspaper for supporting national policy but also began admiring imperialism even more passionately than the military. None inside and outside the company felt uncomfortable in witnessing that Asahi became democratic in peacetime and imperialistic in wartime. The taste of Asahi initially found in articles and ads of Tairikushinpo then gradually vanished. As the commitment of the military and Asahi was obscured more and more, the Asahi headquarters inversely reinforced control over it.

Nevertheless, studies by external people have inevitable limitations. Though I collected materials extensively, it is undeniable that they are still insufficient. Again, I call for release of internal materials. According to my previous experience, Asahi is similar to Chinese official archives that refuse to make documents public. To survive the period of change for the media in the future, Asahi should alter their attitude and release materials they have. To prevent Japan from becoming militarist or imperialist in times to come, Asahi has the responsibility for explaining to their readers to what extent they were committed in Tairikushinposha during the Pacific War. While endlessly pursuing the social responsibility of the government and corporations, they should also have the same attitude toward their own past.

Taketoshi Yamamoto
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

Prof. Yamamoto was born in 1940. He is currently a Professor with the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University. He specializes in history of the media and information.

Prof. Yamamoto's major publications include Readership of Newspapers in Modern Japan [Kindai Nihon No Shimbun Dokusha-so] (Hosei University Press), and Black Propaganda [Burakku Puropaganda] (Iwanami Publishers).