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From 1937 to now (1990), the Japanese militarists, the government and the public dealt with the undeniable atrocities committed by the Japanese troops in Nanjing and the rest of Asia in a number of ways. The major waves of Japanese treatment of this dark historical tragedy ranged from total cover-up during the war, confessions and documentation by the Japanese soldiers during the 1950's and 60's, minimize of the extent of the Nanjing Massacre during the 70's and 80's, official distortion and rewriting of history during the 80's, and total denial of the occurrence of the Nanjing Massacre by government officials in 1990.
The Japanese Government had a tight control over the news media during the War and the Japanese civilians did not know about the truth of the Nanjing Massacre or other crimes committed by the Japanese Military Force. In fact, the Japanese soldiers were always described as heroes. It was not until the postwar Tokyo Trial (tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East) that the truth of the Nanjing Massacre was first revealed to the Japanese civilians. The atrocities revealed during the Trial shocked the Japanese Society at the time.
Prior to 1970, there was no open denial by the Japanese regarding the Nanjing Massacre. In fact, there were a number of Japanese books, many were confessions or diaries by Japanese soldiers, which confirmed and gave detailed accounts of the Massacre. Works by the Japanese documenting the Nanjing Massacre climaxed with the appearance of Katsuichi Honda's series of articles, "The Journey to China", published in Asahi Simbun (Nov.,1971), which were based on interviews with the survivors of the Massacre. However, the Nanjing Massacre was never emphasized in the Japanese history textbooks. During the Tokyo Trial, the Massacre was treated as one unique example of the atrocities committed in Asia, rather than as a separate charge. Few Japanese historians treated the Massacre as a serious research topic.
The denial of the Nanjing Massacre started around 1972, when the right-wing political force in Japan began to rise. The Japanese denial of the Nanjing Massacre and other brutalities in Asia can be divided into three broad categories:
(a) Complete Denial of the Massacre
By the end of 1971, the wave of confessions by Japanese soldiers and research by journalists exposing the brutal crimes in Asia encountered strong resistance from the right-wing conservatives. The articles by Katsuichi Honda, the "Journey to China", triggered a new phase of response in the Japanese treatment of the war crimes from the Japanese right-wingers. The denial movement began with two controversial yet influential articles: (1) an article by a self-claimed Jew named Shichihei Yamamoto, "Reply to Katsuichi Honda" published in Every Gentlemen, March 1972; (2) an article by Akira Suzuki, "The Phantom of The Nanjing Massacre", published in the April issue of the same Journal. This wave of open and public Japanese denial of their war crimes escalated over the years, as evidenced by Massaki Tanaka's book "Fabrication of Nanjing Massacre" (Nihon Kyobun Sha, 1984) in which not only was the Nanjing Massacre denied, but the Chinese Government was charged as responsible for the occurrence of the Sino-Japanese War.
(b) Disputes on the Number of People Killed in the Massacre
Besides total denial, another line of Japanese thoughts insisted that the Nanjing Massacre was exaggerated by the Chinese. This view is best elaborated in a book written by Hata Ikuhiko "Nanjing Incident" (Chuo Koron Shinsho, 1986) in which it was argued that the number of victims in the Massacre was between 38,000-42,000. It was also argued that the killing of surrendered or captured soldiers should NOT be considered as "Massacre". This book is now considered as the official history text on the issue by the Japan Ministry of Education.
(c) Distortion and Rewriting of History
In 1982, the Ministry of Education embarked on a campaign to distort the presentation of the history of World War II. In the process of the revision of history textbooks in Japan, Japanese "aggression" in China was substituted by "advancing in and out" of China during the Sino-Japanese War. The Nanjing Massacre was described as a minor incident which occurred because the Japanese soldiers were too frustrated by the strong resistance from the Chinese Army. Although the substitution of the word "aggression" by "advancing in and out" was finally stopped because of the strong protest by the surrounding Asian countries and various Japanese educational groups, the rewriting of the Nanjing Massacre remained. Moreover, the Ministry of Education has never admitted that the distortion of history is a mistake.
Japanese attending the memorial service for seven Class A War criminals, including Matsui Sekine( ). The words on the monument says: "The Tomb for Seven Honorable Men Died for their Nation".
The Nanjing Massacre came into focus again when an interview with Shintaro Ishihara, the most popular contemporary writer in Japan and the most flamboyant member of the Diet, was published in the October issue of Playboy Magazine. In the interview, Ishihara declared that the Nanjing Massacre never occurred, and that "it is a story made up by the Chinese, ... it is a lie". On November 10th, 1990, during a protest by Chinese Americans against the Japanese actions in Diao-Yu-Tai Island, the Deputy Japanese Consul in Houston maintained that according to Japanese sources, "the Nanjing Massacre never occurred."
In 1994, the Japanese justice Minister and Army Chief of Staff,
Shigeto Nagano, insisted claims of Japan atrocities were all fabrications.