On a crisp autumn evening, as some 1,500 people fill the hall near the Yasukuni war-memorial shrine to hear former Imperial Army soldiers tell "the truth of the Nanjing Incident" in World War II, Hideaki Kase wastes no time going on the offensive.
"When [the Allied Powers] opened the so-called Tokyo war-crimes tribunal [after World War II], they needed evidence that Japan committed greater atrocities [than the Tokyo air raids and use of atomic bombs], so they made up the so-called Nanjing Massacre, which was completely unfounded," declares Mr. Kase, chair of the Committee for the Examination of the Facts about Nanjing.
Satoru Mizushima, the director of "The Truth of Nanjing," a soon-to-be-released film supported by such politicians as conservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, echoes Kase, who served as a special adviser to two past prime ministers. Nanjing, he says, was a "fabrication, a campaign of Communist China."
During the Rape of Nanjing, as the event is generally known, 300,000 people were killed, 20,000 women raped, and the city ravaged, say Chinese authorities. But 70 years after Japanese soldiers took the then-Chinese capital on Dec. 13, 1937, battles over everything from numbers of casualties to the extent of the brutality in the six weeks after the Japanese marched in remain a point of contention. Japan has not, in its neighbors' eyes, fully addressed past wrongs – the result, say some experts, of a postwar lack of examination of the emperor's wartime role; an often-disdainful attitude toward Korea and China, which Japan occupied; and a lack of broad public awareness of wartime history.
In March, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the military's involvement in wartime sexual slavery, triggering an international uproar. In June, some 100 lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said that the number of those killed by Japanese troops during the Nanjing Massacre was closer to 20,000. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 war criminals are memorialized with the rest of Japan's war dead, infuriated China and Korea, as have textbooks that experts say whitewash atrocities.
A vocal minority continues to go further in Japan. "I'm sure that there were absolutely no Japanese soldiers' assaults on Chinese civilians," says Masaru Naya, a former senior officer, at the Yasukuni meeting. Heidayu Kondo, a captain of the infantry regiment, said it was calm in the city, as did Tomeji Kita, an 89-year-old former infantry corporal.
Countering that view can be challenging. Akinori Fukuda is a leader of the Association of No More Nanjings, a Tokyo-based civic group that invited two Chinese victims to speak earlier this month and showed the not-yet-released independent film "Closed Memories" at the event, in which some Japanese soldiers acknowledge atrocities. He notes the lack of interest. "No media came here to report," he says. "There were no TV cameras."
"Reporting the denials sells well, while media downplay or ignore matters considered to bring discomfort," says Hiroshi Oyama, who served as a chief attorney for Chinese compensation cases related to the war and whose civic group held symposia this year on Nanjing around the world. He was named one of the most impressive people of 2003 in a poll of Chinese media and the public.