“These suggestions are preposterous. We hope that people in positions of responsibility in Japan and elsewhere would seek to avoid comments that inflame tensions in the region,” an embassy spokesman told TIME early on Friday.
The charges were made this week by Naoki Hyakuta, a nationalist writer and close friend of Abe, who was recently appointed to the board of governors of the Japan Broadcasting Corp., commonly known as NHK.
In campaign speeches on behalf of a far-right candidate for the governorship of Tokyo, Hyakuta claimed that the infamous Nanjing Massacre in 1937 never occurred, and that Americans staged the postwar trials of Japanese leaders to cover up U.S. war crimes. He said those crimes included the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the mass firebombings of Tokyo.
The staunchly conservative Abe himself caused diplomatic outrage in December, when he paid his respects at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine — a memorial to the Japanese war dead including 14 high-ranking war criminals. Beijing, Seoul and Washington strongly condemned the visit. Now supporters of Abe who have been appointed to NHK’s top decisionmaking body are fueling tensions by making revisionist or inflammatory statements.
Last week, the new NHK chairman Katsuto Momii provoked outrage both at home and abroad when he said all of the countries involved in World War II maintained “comfort women” — a euphemism for the system of forced prostitution employed by the Japanese military during the war years.
That charge prompted a frosty denial from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo that American forces had engaged in any such activity.
Along with Hyakuta’s charges, it was reported this week that another NHK board member had published an essay praising the leader of a nationalist group who committed ritual suicide in the offices of a major newspaper in October 1993 to protest negative news coverage.
Board member Michiko Hasegawa wrote that because the activist recited a brief prayer to the Emperor before shooting himself in the abdomen, “His Majesty the Emperor has again become a living god.” Hasegawa is a professor emeritus of Japanese cultural studies in Tokyo.
Japan’s Emperors were once worshipped as living gods, but are designated under the current constitution as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.” As such, they have no governing authority or official religious function.
Hasegawa, who also has close ties to Abe, published the essay in connection with a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the activist’s death.