Two months before the March 20, 1995 Aum Shinrikyo attack on Tokyo's subways using Nazi-developed sarin poison gas, a leading Japanese news magazine published a story "There Were No Nazi Gas Chambers!" in World War II. Ironically, large ads for the Holocaust-denial article hung in hundreds of subway cars throughout Tokyo's myriad mass transit system. The magazine, Marco Polo, was on sale at numerous newsstands in the cavernous Kasumigaseki station, the gassing target where three major subway lines meet and thousands of officials and workers disembark beneath the metropolitan government complex.
Anti-Semitic books and articles are not uncommon in Japan. Most tend to favor conspiracy theories of international Jewish control of political and economic forces, and attempts to subdue the Japanese economy. Most, like the Marco Polo article, are one-sided, riddled with historic inaccuracies, and lack any semblance of substantiation. They are met with official protests from the Israeli Embassy, and occasionally the U.S. Embassy, who traditionally ask for a public, published apology and a subsequent corrective article that cites historic record. The "No Gas Chambers" article also brought a strong protest from the Simon Wiestenthal Center in Los Angeles, who called for an advertiser boycott.
The response by the Marco Polo parent company, publishing giant Bungei Shunju, was as surprising as it was swift: In abject apology, Marco Polo would cease publication. The magazine would be completely disbanded. All unsold issues would be recalled. Its editor would be transferred to a non-publishing research section, and its staff dispersed to other Bungei publications. The top officials at Bungei Shunju would take hefty salary cuts as personal penance.
The termination of the 250,000 circulation Marco Polo was an unprecedented response, stunning both its admirers and critics. But was the killing of the magazine a symbolic seppuku -- ritual suicide as the ultimate apology -- on the part of Bungei Shunju, or was it more of a case of cosmetic surgery -- to rid the publishing house of what had become an increasingly irritating, unsightly, and unprofitable, lesion on its otherwise respectable product and record? Was the action face-saving or spiting? An examination beyond the headlines and beneath the public atonement reveals several layers of manipulation and power-brokering, both internal and external, domestic and international, and diplomatic and economic. There were numerous excesses in marketing and managerial, as well as in journalistic, professionalism.
This study was conducted primarily in Tokyo, Japan, three months after the demise of Marco Polo. Japanese and American journalists, and embassy officials from the United States and Israel were interviewed. Additional interviews were conducted with, and materials gathered from, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
News stories about the Marco Polo controversy were analyzed from the English-language editions of four Japanese newspapers as well as from reports filed by the Tokyo bureaus of four major American newspapers, one wire service, and the international edition of one news magazine.
Background information on the Bungei Shunju publishing company and its nine magazines, including Marco Polo, was obtained from Japanese magazine and advertising sources. The "No Gas Chambers" article in Marco Polo was analyzed for content, as was newspaper advertising in one of Japan's leading national dailies for an anti-Semitic book. Background was gathered and analyses made of Japanese perceptions of Jews from several Japanese and U.S. published books and articles, and from interviews with Japanese, U.S. and Israeli officials.
Anti-Semitism in Japan
With only about 1,000 Jews living in Japan, the Japanese have little first-hand experience in relating to Jewish people and culture. There have been, however, numerous books and magazine articles published in Japan about the Japanese and the Jews, or Nihonjin and Yudayajin. These writings have increasingly, within the last decade, adopted anti-Semitic themes that blame shadowy international Jewish cartels and conspiracies with Japan's current economic problems. Whole sections of bookstores, since the mid-1980s, have been given over to books about Yudayajin with such titles as: The Jewish Plot to Control the World, The Expert Way of Reading the Jewish Protocols, and The Secret of Jewish Power That Moves the World.
The anti-Semitic tone of such books, educators, authors and officials believe, is borne not so much out of hatred as out of ignorance and economic uncertainty. Goldstein credits it "not (to) race or religion, but economics" (1989, 22). A Japanese professor of Jewish history says "The Japanese don't know anything about the Jews. That's why they imagine things" (Sakamaki, 1995, 17). David Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa, in Jews in the Japanese Mind, write "Various attempts have been made to account for the intensity of Japanese interest in Jews, and particularly to explain the persistent chimerical belief in a global Jewish conspiracy bent on destroying Japan" (1995, 11). Arie Dan, First Secretary for Press and Information of the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo notes that "Japanese high school students do not study World War II. They have no sense of their, or anyone else's history" (1995).
Still, the pervasiveness of the "Jewish Conspiracy" sentiment is alarming, called by an American journalist "a persistent theme in Japanese intellectual life that has taken on a new virulence since the Persian Gulf War" and by a Japanese journalist "not a fad but a dangerous phenomenon that needs to be stopped. "(Goozner, 1989, 22) . Two books by Masami Uno, the leading anti-Semite author, have sold more than 1 million copies, If You Understand the Jews, You Will Understand the World, and If You Understand the Jews You Will Understand Japan. Arie Dan points out that millions more Japanese are familiar with Uno's claims against the Jews because they are highlighted in lengthy advertisements for the books carried -- uncritically, Dan complains -- by Japan's leading newspapers. "They see the headlines in bold type: statements that the Jews are responsible for Japan's economic crisis. That's all they see, that's all they know, that's what they come to believe." Dan recounted his own two years of graduate study in Business Administration at Tokyo's prestigious Keio University: "In my classes, my own professors, learned men, would espouse international Jewish conspiracy theories to control the Japanese Economy" (1995).
Yoshito Takigawa, a former journalist and chief information officer for the Embassy of Israel adds his dismay that the newspaper advertisements for Uno's and other conspiracy theory books also boost their sales "from under a total of 5,000 to 30,000 or more a month," giving them an aura of credibility as best-sellers. Because of the increased sales following the advertisements, "the newspaper itself starts quoting the book's thesis as valid economic theory. The Yomiuri (Japan's largest newspaper: 10 million daily circulation) did that," Takigawa said, a concern echoed by Goodman and Miyazawa, who also noted that Uno's theories were given credibility through inclusion in Bank of Japan discussions and that Uno himself was subsequently invited to a lecture series by the then-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (1995).
The Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) Shimbun, Japan's counterpart to the Wall Street Journal, carried a one-third page ad in 1993 for Get Japan, The Last Enemy: The Jewish Protocols for World Domination, described by Goodman and Miyazawa: Emblazoned with Jewish stars and an image of Satan, the ad claimed that 'Jewish cartels surrounding the Rothschilds control Europe, America, and Russia and have now set out to conquer Japan!' It outlined the Jewish scenario to destroy the Japanese economy, blaming the Jews for everything from the cut in Japanese interest rates in 1987 to the Gulf War and predicting the 'reoccupation' of Japan by Jews by the end of the decade (1995, 245).
The anti-Semitic success phenomenon is not restricted to relatively unknown authors boosted to fame through media advertisement and coverage. The Secret of Jewish Power to Control the World was written by Eisaburo Saito, a member of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet. A book by Yoshio Ogai, an influential official of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, prescribes Hitler as a role model for winning office in Hitler Election Strategy: A Bible for Certain Victory in Modern Elections.
The conspiracy theories have their roots in a belief of a powerful Jewish cartel with immense economic and geopolitical control. Uno, for instance, claims that the U.S. Reagan and Bush administrations were merely puppet governments responding to the strings pulled by the Jewish shadow regime. That brings a handy anti-American overtone to the theories as well. Jewish interests, he claims, control IBM, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Standard Oil, Exxon and AT&T. "Jewish" mass media in the United States manipulated public opinion to get Bill Clinton elected president so that he could carry out cabal instructions to enact economic policies to ruin Japan. Anyone viewed as working against contemporary or historic Japanese interests, in Uno's books, is declared a Jew, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Rockefellers and the Morgans, Vladimir Lenin, and, inexplicably, former Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani (Goodman & Miyazawa, 1995). William Morgan, U.S. Embassy press attaché, feels the Japanese have been historically fond of or "susceptible to conspiracy theories," citing the historic ABCD theory (attempts at containment by the Americans, British, Chinese and Dutch) as justification for attacks on China and expansionism in Asia in the 1930s. (1995).
Uno and other anti-Semitic theorists speculate the conspiracy to destroy Japan is rooted in a hatred by Jews for Japan's joining the Axis Powers in World War II and its adherence to all OPEC conditions of trade embargoes with Israel during the oil crises of the 1970s. Ironically, one historic precedent for the theories of Jewish economic and geo-political influence comes from the financing and fundraising by American Banker Jacob Schiff for Japan's 1904-05 war with Russia. Inherent in many books and magazine articles is a begrudging respect for what is perceived as Jewish economic prowess, an image the Japanese like to picture in themselves. This is reflected in such works as Make Money With Stocks the Jews Aim At, and in the boastful descriptions by leading executives such as Den Fujita, president of McDonald's Japan, who calls himself the "Ginza Jew."
Not all the published works in the "Jewish Corners" of Japanese book stores deal with conspiracy theories or anti-Semitic themes. Some represent what Goodman and Miyazawa call "philosemitism." Ann Frank: Diary of Young Girl is one of the major best-sellers in Japan, as is The Japanese and the Jews, an adulatory work by Shichihei Yamamoto, writing as Isaiah Ben-Dasan. There is also a national fascination with links between Japanese and Jews that is reflected in popular Yudayajin books and magazine articles through three major themes:
The Japanese character is often described in terms of contrasts and paradoxes . "Anti" and "philo" Semitic sentiments can be held, and published, simultaneously. The same publishing house released Ann Frank, a major "Lost Tribe" treatise, and the "No Nazi Gas Chambers" debacle: Bungei Shunju.
The Bungei Empire and Rise of Marco Polo
Bungei Shunju is a powerhouse of a publisher in Japan, comparable to Time-Life in the United States. It published nine magazines up to the elimination of Marco Polo. Its flagship magazine is the self-titled Bungei Shunju, a monthly with 550,000 circulation, described by the Japan Magazine Advertising Association as "the most prestigious general interest magazine in Japan, reflecting the opinions of the intellectual elite of the country" aimed at "readers in their 40s and 50s with annual incomes of $90,000. . . ." (1993, 24).
Bungei also publishes some of the oldest and most established magazines in Japan, including All Yomimono (92,000 circulation) , featuring light fiction, and Bunga Kukai (50,000 circulation), serious Japanese and international fiction. Both were started in the 1930s. Bunga Kukai is regarded as one of the most respected magazines in Japan. The publishing house also produces popular journals of analysis and commentary. The Shokun! (145,000 circulation), a "national forum for national debate and summary of ideas," and Shukan Bunshun (704,000 circulation), featuring "social, political, economic, sports and health issues; feature articles and opinions by world renowned novelists; and critical essayists" (1993, 28).
Bungei has engaged in successful niche publishing for specialty topics and audiences, including a Sports Illustrated-modeled Sports Graphic Number (280,000 circulation), Crea (250,000 circulation), a woman's magazine, and No Side (80,000 circulation), for "sophisticated and wealthy readers over 45 . . . with quality articles (that) help readers lead more comfortable and healthy lives" (1993, 26).
In 1992 Bungei began publishing Marco Polo, aimed at the market its other magazines were missing: young adults in their 20s and 30s. This lucrative market was weaned on manga, or comic magazines and graphic novels, which they continue to read into adulthood. To reach them, Bungei designed its new magazine to present stories visually, with plenty of photos, illustrations and graphic type. It described its content as: "Articles (that) deal with lifestyle, love, fashion, car, entertainment, domestic and international politics and the economy. Practical, informative, yet enjoyable stories to fill the need of reading pleasure" (Japanese Magazine Advertising Association, 1993, 26). Several Japanese and American journalists in Tokyo likened Marco Polo to People magazine in the United States. The name Marco Polo was selected to emphasize a sense of discovery and internationalism.
The book and magazine market in Japan is huge. The Foreign Press Center reports in Japan's Mass Media (1994) that magazines sell 3.7 billion copies a year. Most are sold in retail bookstores, so rely on intensive advertising campaigns to support single-copy sales. Subway and rail cars are prime advertising space, with 10-12 placards per car hanging from the ceilings, as well as dozens more framed on the upper walls.
Marco Polo began as a semi-monthly, but its younger audience was not as easily drawn or loyal as the publisher hoped. It quickly changed to a monthly, with a respectable 500,000 circulation. But by the time of its demise, it had dropped its circulation by half , had undergone several design changes, and relied more heavily on sensational and attention-grabbing stories that could be boldly proclaimed in subway placard ads. The ones appearing January 20, 1955 to promote the February issue proclaimed: "The Greatest Taboo of Postwar History: There Were No Nazi 'Gas Chambers.'"
"No Gas Chambers"
Masanori Nishioka is a physician and amateur historian. He had been unsuccessful in finding a home for his freelance holocaust-denial treatise until he received an acceptance from Marco Polo editor Kazuyoshi Hanada. The article appeared in the February 1995 issue of Marco Polo. An editor's note introduced the article:
On January 27, the Auschwitz concentration camp will observe the 50th anniversary of its 'liberation.' However, here the greatest taboo of postwar history is being kept a secret. . . . There can be no mistake that jews died tragically. However, there is scant evidence that they were systematically killed in gas chambers. After the war's end, it was proved that no gas chambers existed in any of the concentration camps situated in the West. . . . Actually, these type of suspicions have been subjected to the scrutiny of journalism in Europe and the U.S. . . . Why is it that only Japan's mass media that does not write anything on this subject? Here is the new historic truth that a young doctor has taken it upon himself to investigate as an individual (1995).
The title pages were illustrated by the headline overlaid on a graphic photo of a pile of concentration camp corpses in striped uniforms, with eyes and mouths open, transfixed in death. Other photo illustrations included stacked canisters of Zyklon-B (hydrogen-cyanide) gas, and the brick crematorium ovens and smokestacks. Nishioka claimed these images, as shocking as they are, are misleading. Although Jews were imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, he contended, they were not summarily destroyed in gas chambers. The gas chamber taboo, or myth, he claims, was started by the Polish communist government to legitimize itself by heaping more hate on the Nazis. Yes, Nishioka admits, many Jews died in the camps. But their deaths were the result of septic diseases such as typhus, resulting from their cramped and unsanitary conditions.
And yes, according to Nishioka, such casualties of disease were cremated in the ovens. But the idea of gas chambers just doesn't make sense, according to Nishioka. The cyanide gas was there because it was used, in low strengths, for delousing. The tales of high- strength gas pouring from shower heads or ceiling spigots defies Nishioka's scientific sense: Such gas is lighter than air, he claims. It would not fall and settle efficiently on the prisoners for mass killing. And besides, Nishioka triumphs, the gas is highly flammable. The "shower rooms" are pictured next to the crematoriums: If gas were dispensed there, it would ignite and explode, destroying the buildings.
Some excerpts from Nishioka's article:
"A gas chamber in Auschwitz has no structural features needed for gassing people to death. . . . The Holocaust was a fabricated story. The gas chambers and so on at Auschwitz and the other concentration camps didn't exit. The 'gas chambers' currently open to the public at the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland were built either by the postwar Polish Communist government, or else by its patron, the Soviet Union. Neither at Auschwitz nor anywhere else in territory occupied by Germany during World War II, did even one 'mass extermination of Jews' occur in 'gas chambers.' I have absolutely no intention of defending wartime German policy toward Jews. Although the mass extermination of Jews in concentration camps never took place, it is a clear historical fact that innocent jews were made to suffer by Germany. . . . (But) forget Schindler's List -- a movie is not history. The story of gas chambers was propaganda, one of the psychological strategies used in wartime . . . . The Holocaust is nothing but a story which has become 'history' after the war without being given investigation (1995)."
Despite his attack on "manufactured history" and his analysis of the layout, structure and administration of Auschwitz and Dachau, Nishioka admitted he never visited any of the concentration camps, Poland, Germany or any European country. He never talked to a camp survivor, guard, or liberator. Most of his research was drawn from well known Holocaust denier Arthur Butz' The Hoax of the Twentieth Century and similar writings by Thies Christophersen, author of The Auschwitz Lie. (Hoffman 1995; Takahama 1995) He never did original research or "investigation."
The Response and Protests
The "No Nazi Gas Chambers" article in Marco Polo was published 50 years to the month marking the liberation of Auschwitz. Ironically, the camp complex at Dachau was liberated by the nisei Japanese-American forces of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of the famous 442nd "Go For Broke" Regimental Combat Team, who had made a recent celebrated visit to Japan to "talk story" about their experiences (Chang, 1991; Dan 1995).
On the day of publication (January 20 in Japan, January 19 in the United States), Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, protested to Takakazu Kuriyama, Japanese ambassador to the United States and asked the Japanese government to publicly condemn the article:
"It is almost beyond belief that the magazine Marco Polo would
present to the Japanese public a ten page essay which seeks to deny the murderous
gassings of Jews at the Auschwitz death camp. . . . Under the guise of a serious
investigation, the author has simply repeated outrageous fabrications of Holocaust
deniers to create his 'new historic truth.
Mr. Ambassador, this article is more than a cruel joke. It is a monstrous attack on history and the innocent victims of Nazism that slanders an entire people. It was timed to appear at the very moment that world leaders gather at Auschwitz . . . to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of that death factory and the innocents who were systematically murdered there. For the survivors of the Holocaust, the Marco Polo article is akin to a public denial of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and the death and suffering which is wrought on the Japanese people.
. . . We hope that the government of Japan will publicly condemn through the appropriate Japanese governmental agency, the views expressed by these hate mongers (1995a)."
Israeli Embassy First Secretary Arie Dan filed an oral protest on January 20 with the Japan Foreign Ministry. Dan said he was particularly upset with this article because "Marco Polo was the mainstream press. Usually such articles are a marginal phenomenon, limited to the fringe press. Not this time." Dan was also shocked by the sensational ads for the February issue and the "No Gas Chambers" story hung throughout the subway and rail systems. "Millions saw it -- statements that 'There were no gas chambers. Jews are lying.' Dan was also aware of the target audience of Marco Polo, the affluent, but historically naive young adult. "This would be the only source of their knowledge about the Holocaust," he complained. He visited the Marco Polo offices on January 20 and demanded a retraction, but was rebuffed. After meeting with deputy editor Seigo Kimata, Dan said "The man did not react. He did not apologize." Dan said he went to the magazine expecting the usual response -- "an apology and a subsequent article laying out historical facts. In the past, editors have said 'Oh, we're only printing the author's view. We didn't know the other side. Please write your own article and we'll print it in the next issue.'" (1995)
Former journalist and Israeli Embassy spokesman Takigawa said Marco Polo Editor "Hanada acted as if this was breaking news -- the first time such facts had been revealed. He wouldn't back down. That was very unusual" (1995). Hanada went a step further and publicly defended the article, telling the Associated Press "It's not good for everything about a certain subject to be taboo. Maybe Israelis and Japanese have different ways of thinking about that" (1995).
The Japanese Foreign Ministry responded to the Israeli Embassy protest by calling the article "extremely improper." Kunihiko Saito, vice foreign minister, said "The government thinks that the content gravely lacks consideration and is extremely improper." The Japanese Embassy in the United States responded to the Simon Wiesenthal Center protest by saying "We strongly oppose any form of discrimination whatsoever." (Holocaust Denial 1995).
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Terusuke Terada said it is "very important to help deepen in Japan an accurate understanding of the tragic history of the Holocaust of Jews in Europe. We trust that the Japanese people will exercise a sound judgment, based on historical perspectives, of whatever they read" (Associated Press 1995).
Rabbi Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center said:
"We never contacted Marco Polo. That was my call. The editors of the magazine wrote a lead-in to the article that was an endorsement, saying 'Finally the last taboo has been broken.' So we decided there was nothing to say to them. We'd been through the whole cycle before: outrage, apology, new outrage, new apology, like with the anti-Semitic book ads in the Nikkei. We found out about the article right after the Kobe earthquake. Because of that, I felt on a moral level, because so many people were trying to find out about their families and loved ones, it was inappropriate for us to badger the Japanese Embassy and Consulate here. So I sent one letter. But I wanted to find a way to get out of the outrage-apology cycle (1995c)."
So Cooper turned up the heat by asking several international corporations, whose advertisements appeared in the February Marco Polo issue, to boycott the magazine. The request to ". . . immediately decide to stop all future advertising in Marco Polo, a publication which sadly has chosen the path of hate mongering" (1995b) went to Microsoft, Philip Morris, Philips Electronics, Cartier, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen. The latter three pulled their ads over a period of January 23-30, adding to the pressure on Bungei. Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech responded:
". . . I am also appalled and angered by the irresponsible statements made in the article. . . . The tragedy of the holocaust and of the war must never again be repeated. Please let me assure you that Volkswagen has taken all the steps required to cease advertising in the Japanese magazine Marco Polo until the incident has been unambiguously clarified" (1995).
Taizo Yokoyama of Mitsubishi released a statement that concluded "Mitsubishi Motors of Japan has decided to cease advertising in the Japanese magazine 'Marco Polo' until the incident has been clarified" (1995).
The "clarification" came quickly. Bungei Shunju would shutter Marco Polo. Demise of Marco Polo Bungei Shunju President Kengo Tanaka announced on January 30, 1995, that the company would shut down Marco Polo and, effective the previous Friday (January 27), all unsold copies of the February issue had been recalled. "We came to know of the very deep pain and agony inflicted by the Marco Polo article," Tanaka said. "It was as if we were hit by an iron club in having our eyes opened" (Watanabe, 1995). Tanaka gave few details of the extreme decision to close the magazine, but said, "After rereading the article, we found it had a superficial understanding of Jewish issues and lacked fairness. On reflection, we decided to discontinue the publication" (Hoffman 1995).
Tanaka confessed to Rabbi Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center:
"The article in question was written by a civilian Japanese who took
a view inconsistent with solidly documented facts about the mass murder of Jews
and others in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
His essay was based on the discredited writing of a small number of historical
revisionists in Europe and the United States who assert the Holocaust did not take
. . . We regret very deeply that the article has caused immeasurable pain not only to Jews who have suffered more than enough, but also to millions of others dedicated to truth and decency. We fully realize that no apology can fully undo the damage that has been done" (1995).
Tanaka held a subsequent news conference, February 2, with Cooper, who flew to Tokyo, to show conciliation and promised, "We will set up stronger checking procedures and an ombudsman system" to avoid future errors (Karasaki, 1995). Tadashi Saito, a Bungei spokesman, added "All the editors and workers of Bungei Shunju accept the responsibility for publishing this biased article (which shows) the low understanding among Japanese about the Jewish people and the victims of Nazi camps" (Pollack 1995).
The Marco Polo staff, Tanaka announced, would be dispersed among the other Bungei publications, but editor Kazuyoshi Hanada would be moved to a non-publishing position in the company's historic research and archives section. Tanaka took a self-imposed six-month pay cut and Bungei Supervising Editor Nobumitsu Sakai took a three-month cut. Tanaka resigned the title of president, but maintained his status as company chairman (Bungeishunju Executives 1995).
Tanaka distanced the publishing house from the Marco Polo editors and at the same time pledged Bungei's sincerity in finding accommodation with Rabbi Cooper and the Wiesenthal Center when writing to Cooper:
"Regrettably, the editors of 'Marco Polo', lacking proper perception
regarding a wide range of matters relating to Jewish history, published the article,
wrongly believing that it represented 'a new set of facts hitherto undisclosed in
That such an article was published not only points up a serious problem with the editors of 'Marco Polo', but also reflects an overall lack of understanding on the part of Bungei Shunju Ltd., regarding the Holocaust and the historical facts surrounding this outrage against humanity.
. . . Japanese history and culture are so widely different and removed from those of the Jews that a proper perception of the realities involving the Jewish people will be possible here only through an extensive educational effort with the assistance of organizations such as yours. In this program we invite your guidance" (1995).
Hanada was not allowed to attend the news conference announcing the killing of Marco Polo, nor would he comment later, other than to say that although he found the decision extreme, he would accept it. Tokyo journalists saw Hanada's lateral move as tantamount to a firing. Although he was given a desk and salary, he had very few duties and was regarded as a pariah in the publishing house. It was expected he would wait a "face saving" period and resign and move on (Takigawa, 1995). He shortly began appearing on television as a commentator.
The killing of the magazine surprised not only Hanada, but the major critics of the "No Gas Chambers" article. "We only demanded that the magazine take responsibility and apologize. We never demanded that it be abolished," said Dan of the Israeli Embassy (1995), echoed by Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center, "I was shocked!" (1995c). Dan feels the Marco Polo case was not handled well and suspects more was going on behind the scenes at Bungei Shunju than concern about advertiser boycotts. Takigawa and other journalists in Japan confirm there were several internal power plays as well as external pressures -- not all of them economic.
Behind the Headlines
Was the death of Marco Polo the contemporary extension of some kind of samurai code -- ritual suicide as abject apology and restoration of the "family" honor -- in this case the Bungei Shunju publishing family? While those elements are certainly present on the surface, a deeper investigation reveals this extreme action rose out of an inability to handle the external pressures on Bungei, and at the same time as a solution to the internal pressures the company faced.
Several journalists in Japan report that Marco Polo had been the source of economic and political strife within Bungei Shunju. The magazine had become a drain on the publishing house's resources. Because of the heavy emphasis on photos and graphics, Marco Polo had been expensive to produce, but had yet to show a profit after three years. The magazine went through several redesigns, first in an attempt to boost sales, later to cut costs.
A year earlier Bungei had moved Kazuyoshi Hanada, a well-known and respected journalist, to the editor's post. Hanada had been the top editor at Bungei's Shukan Bunshun, bringing that magazine to the top in weekly magazine sales through several news scoops and exclusives, such as sumo wrestler and national hero Takanohana's engagement to a popular actress. Hanada continued to deliver "sensational," but well-documented reports in Marco Polo, such as the expose of a "sex island" off the coast of Japan, frequented by high government officials to enjoy the services of prostitutes. "I subscribed Marco Polo because its articles challenged a lot toward so-called taboo topic for the mainstream Japanese publishing industry," said Naomi Uzumi, an advertising executive. "In the past, Marco Polo featured stories about cults in Japan. It was interesting to read. But this controversial feature about Nazi, I thought it was taishitakoto-nai -- not so worthy reading" (1995).
The earlier stories made Hanada popular in the investigative journalism community, but not in the staid and conservative editorial departments of his own company's other magazines, particularly the mainstay literary journals. This is not unique to Bungei.
In Japanese journalism, investigative journalism falls to magazines. It is rarely done in daily newspapers, whose reporting is often constrained by their journalists' memberships in kisha kurabu, or press clubs, which put self-imposed limits on the flow of news from government and business. In exchange for regular briefings and access to news sources, the newspaper reporters agree to withhold certain news and not to pursue "news scoops" in competition with each other. As a result, newspaper journalism in Japan tends to be both homogenous and flaccid among the national dailies. (Yamamoto, 1989; Japanese Mass Media, 1994).
The "mainstream" press were aware of the "sex island" story, for example, but refused to report on it (Kaplan, 1995).
Some newspapers publish their own magazines to print, at arms length, the kinds of stories they can't in their own columns. Work on these magazines is considered "second class," at best, among the journalistic elite. Although immensely popular, hard-hitting, and sometimes precipitating reforms, investigative magazine journalism is looked down upon by traditional editors, even in the magazine trade. Heuvel and Dennis quote a mainstream newspaper senior editor: "We believe in covering politicians from the waist up. What they do from the waist down is generally none of our business" (1993, 82). The "waist down," sometimes literally, has become the central business of the investigative magazines.
Investigative magazines, such as Marco Polo, do not belong to industry associations, which exert a considerable degree of standard-setting and regulatory control, such as the Nihon Shinbun Kyokai, or Japanese Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, does on newspapers. The lack of an industry association contributes to a free-for-all in the editing and marketing of magazines, often marked by exaggerated and misleading claims. Hanada "fell into the common pitfall of Japanese magazine reporting and ran anything that looked good, without worrying about the facts. They are willing to run almost any story, no matter how irresponsible it is, as long as it boost sales. In addition, they will run almost any story as long as it is written in Japanese under an 'island mentality'" (Takahama, 1995).
The sensational bent in stories is exacerbated by excesses in marketing them. David Kaplan is a highly regarded investigative journalist whose book The Yakuza is considered the definitive study of Japanese organized crime. While Marco Polo was running, and promoting, the "No Gas Chambers" article, Kaplan's series on psychological warfare conducted by the United States Information Service in the 1950s and 1960s was running in Views magazine, the flagship monthly of Kodansha, one the top three publishers in Japan. "Even those solid reports would get headlines (translated into ad placards) that absolutely lied about the contents. It's pure hype and typical of Japanese magazine publishing" (Kaplan, 1995).
Dan, Kaplan, Takigawa, and other journalists also point to an insular mindset of Japanese journalists that hold a general assumption that what they write won't be read outside of Japan, particularly if written in Japanese, and so would face no challenge. Isuki Iwata, Los Angeles bureau chief for The Yomiuri Shimbun writes "The (Marco Polo) incident . . . reveals that the logics of Japanese society does not always apply in the international community" (1995). Tatou Takahama, a senior fellow at the Yomiuri Research Institute, writes, "The publisher may have thought the controversy would not spread overseas since Marco Polo is a Japanese-language magazine" (1995).
The protests over the "No Gas Chamber" article were not the first, nor isolated, objections to content that Bungei had to face. The publishing house had been amassing an embarrassing number of complaints and apologies (Morgan, 1995). In the last two years Bungei publicly apologized to Japan Railways and to the Imperial Family for inaccurate reporting. Shukan Bunshun publicly apologized for cruel references to sufferers of autism. Bungei was also smarting from criticism over a previous revisionist World War II article by a former education minister that argued "the Rape of Nanjing didn't violate international law" (Sakamaki, 1995).
And Bungei was also reminded in the course of the Marco Polo criticism that its subsidiary book publishing arm had published a leading "Jewish Conspiracy" book, The Jewish World Empire's Plot to Invade Japan (Sutel, 1995). Bungei has a reputation of being "rightist" in Japanese politics. The "No Gas Chambers" article opened up a new round of criticism of all rightists and revisionist government policies, such as the reluctance to apologize for World War II excesses, by such "leftist" publications as the powerful daily Asahi newspaper, also owner of TV-Asahi, which treated the controversy as major news (Dan, 1995).
The pressures inside the publishing house were mounting. Hanada was viewed as an out-of-control editor who did not fit the conservative Bungei profile. The financial failure of Marco Polo was draining resources from other editors' magazines and projects. Bungei found itself as an unwitting avenue for political attacks on its conservative government friends and in the process being held up to ridicule by competing news agencies. Bungei was becoming isolated. Government officials and publishing colleagues were distancing themselves from the company. The intense criticism and protests from the "No Gas Chambers" article were staining Bungei internally, domestically, internationally -- and economically.
Advertiser boycotts are virtually unknown in Japan. Just as publishers often distance themselves from criticism of individual articles by crediting all claims to the authors, advertisers take no responsibility for the contents of the magazines they advertise in. The moral arguments of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, however, overrode the traditional distance.
The appeal was particularly felt by Volkswagen, a German company, and Mitsubishi, an auto and electronic conglomerate with international sales. Although Mitsubishi and Volkswagen stated publicly they would withdraw all advertising from Marco Polo, the threat extended to all Bungei publications. Guy Ley Marie of Cartier Japan, Ltd., was specific: ". . . we have stopped immediately all the advertisement programs with this magazine and the others from this publisher" (1995)
Rabbi Cooper said he was told that media buyers in Japan for these international advertisers told Bungei officials "clean this up, or we're out of here completely -- out of all Bungei publications," (1995c). "The lawyers for Bungei just couldn't handle negotiations on such a scale and in such a short time. The Japanese prefer drawing out negotiations. This came on them too much and too fast," says Arie Dan of the Israeli Embassy. "If they only had to deal with Mitsubishi, they could have come to a 'Japanese-style' accord. But they had to deal with international corporations as well. And Bungei used the same lawyers to handle the protests from the (Israeli) Embassy, passed through the Japanese Foreign Ministry. They were overwhelmed" (1995).
Added Rabbi Cooper, "It dawned on me . . . we pushed buttons more profoundly than we had ever assumed. We were impacting the lives of people in such expanded ways." (1995c).
The "Japanese-style" resolution Dan refers to is described by sociologist Takeshi Ishida as the uchi-soto and omote-ura dimensions of Japanese conflict resolution and accommodation. Uchi-soto is literally "in-out" and omote-ura "front-back." Ishida's paradigm places relationships horizontally in terms of in- and out-groups, and vertically in terms of formality and authority that comes with rank, each with flexible boundaries. Conflicts can be resolved or accommodated by encompassing adversaries within the "insider" group, or by relaxing the formal distance between superior and inferior, or by a combination of boundary flexing. Ishida's paradigm is graphically portrayed as (1984, 17):
|Omote (surface or formal arena)||Ura (background or informal arena)|
| Uchi |
(conflict among in-group members)
|No conflict should exist||Conflict does exist, but is usually solved implicitly|
(conflict with outsiders)
|No concession should be made||Negotiation is possible if neither party loses face and both can maintain integrity|
In Ishida's paradigm, Bungei Shunju's internal conflict, including negotiations with Mitsubishi, would be placed in the uchi-ura stage and solved there, most likely through staff realignment at Marco Polo. But the publishing house was unable to simultaneously handle the soto-ura dimension of conflict with "outsiders" in dealing with the multiple demands of the Israeli Embassy, the Wiesenthal Center and the international advertisers. Bungei's first response was, in fact, in the omote-soto dimension of denying a response to the Israeli Embassy's request for apology and corrective article. The ideal stage, according to Ishida, is omote-uchi, where all elements of the conflict can come into harmony and -- just as important -- all be considered "insiders" to prevent future conflict by working toward common goals.
The shuttering of Marco Polo certainly accomplished the omote-uchi goal by short-circuiting all other stages of the process. Although the Wiesenthal Center had not asked for the magazine to be cut off, Bungei Chairman Tanaka invited the Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper to stand by him at the press conference announcing not only Marco Polo's demise, but also an educational seminar series for all Bungei journalists on Jewish history, culture, and international relations. Bungei and the Wiesenthal Center were effectively turned from adversaries to partners, and the Center an "insider" in Bungei's uchi-soto dimension. By embracing the Wiesenthal Center, Bungei eliminated any need to continue dealing directly with the Israeli Embassy and indirectly with the Foreign Ministry. Since the advertising boycott was at the behest of the Wiesenthal Center, it was called off by Cooper without the need for Bungei to deal directly with the disaffected advertisers.
Could all of this have been accomplished without Bungei's corporate serving up of the head of Marco Polo to placate its adversaries? Perhaps. But balancing internal realignments with external concessions would have left the publishing house wounded in image in the publishing and political worlds and continuing to hemorrhage money with a financially and journalistically damaged product. The decision to kill Marco Polo put the control of the headlines, and through them the reputation of the company, back in Bungei's hands. Bungei Shunju lost a magazine, but no face.
But did the death of Marco Polo for the "No Gas Chambers" article signify a change in Japanese attitudes toward the Jews? The reviews are mixed.
Aftermath: Education or New Life for a Conspiracy?
Marco Polo has become a double-edged legacy in Japanese publishing. The high- profile news coverage of the Marco Polo incident did much to educate Japanese readers about Jews and Jewish history, citing historic record of the Holocaust and the lack of any record for the various "Jewish Conspiracy" theories. But at the same time, the author of "No Gas Chambers," Masanori Nishioka, outraged by the killing off of Marco Polo because of his article, told reporters he felt "deep anger" that rather than challenging his ideas with debate, the forum for any debate was cut off. He claimed the "Jewish lobby used the ads to kill Marco Polo, and Bungei Shunju gave in" (Sakamaki, 1995). Nishioka voiced what many Japanese, including journalists, openly believe: The Marco Polo incident is yet more evidence of Jewish control over Japanese life.
David Goodwin, writing in the Asahi Evening News, reports:
"The closure only appears to prove what anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists say is true, that the Jews want to control the world. When I asked some of my Japanese friends why they thought Marco Polo was closed down they said it was because Jewish people controlled most of the banks, media outlets and other institutions in the United States, stating this as if were fact" (1995).
Arie Dan of the Israeli Embassy is concerned about this double effect, but admits others don't share his worries. "Others, like Rabbi Cooper, say it's a good thing -- a strong signal to the Japanese media that you can't publish such stories. If they want to think it's because we're powerful, that's fine. The important thing is to stop the stories" (1995). Tomoo Ishida, professor of Jewish History at Tsukuba University, predicts Cooper will be right. "Major publishing houses will be careful how they handle Jewish issues in the future because they are afraid of ad boycotts" (Sakamaki, 1995). Naomi Uozumi of the Asahi Tsuushin-sha advertising agency in Tokyo said "The incident reminded me of the big power of sponsors against Japanese press" (1995).
Cooper also said he hoped his seminar series on the Holocaust and Jewish society with Bungei editors and officials would influence future reporting: "I feel optimistic. . . . There is no environment of hate (toward Jews) in Japan. But it does have enormous stereotypes" (Karasaki, 1995). "For whatever reason, anti-Semitism sells. The challenge is understanding why it sells and what we can do to change that" (Sutel 1995).
Many journalists do not share Cooper's optimism. The Yomiuri Research Institute's Takahama wrote, "While I applaud (Bungei President) Tanaka's action, I do not think the irresponsible attitude of Bungei Shunju, showed by publishing the article in the first place will be corrected just by closing down one magazine" (1995). David Goodwin, in the Asahi Evening News, agrees:
"Committing ritual magazine suicide because an editor made a grave error does nothing to inform the Japanese people about a subject which desperately needs to be discussed here. Most Japanese know virtually nothing about Jews and Jewish history and I think that the most responsible action for Marco Polo to have taken would have been to set the record straight. But it can't now, the magazine is dead, and so is the issue" (1995).
Echoing Takahama and Goodwin, Hajime Takano, editor in chief of the internet- based Insider, writes, "In choosing the most simple way out of the problem Bungei Shunju has committed suicide twice over" (1995).
Arie Dan admits the killing of Marco Polo has had a positive impact in at least one aspect of his work. "Whereas protests over (anti-Semitic book) ads were met with indifference, now the newspapers are calling and asking for review and comment." The Yomiuri Shimbun called him regarding such an ad, Dan reported. He told the newspaper it was definitely anti-Semitic. "Yomiuri refused to run it. But that's now," he cautions. In six months or a year, they'll stop calling and another article or ad will appear somewhere else. We need education, not sanctions" (1995).
Rabbi Cooper holds that his seminar series produced some "person-to-person, real contacts. We discussed not only Holocaust history, but the standards of journalism. When one of the editors stood and asked 'why didn't you just send us this information and we would have published it,' I replied 'It was your job as editor to check out the information you had. Why didn't you do your job? What was done wasn't journalism.' "
Cooper said the timing of the May seminar series, immediately after the arrest of Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult leader Shoto Asahara in the subway sarin gas attack, drove home the point. "When I showed them a canister of Zyklon-B, they wanted to touch it, to sniff it. Gas chambers became very clear after the Aum attack" (1995c).
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