This is the fourth article in our series “Racism in Corporate Japan” funded through the generosity of our SNA Patrons.
SNA (Tokyo) — Ahead of Donald Trump’s second visit to Japan in 2019, a Japanese hotelier invited the US president’s former chief strategist and senior advisor Steve Bannon to give a “special lecture” in Tokyo. That hotelier’s name is Toshio Motoya.
During Bannon’s visit, he and Motoya were hosted by lawmaker Katsuyuki Kawai, special foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), where Bannon gave a forty-minute diatribe aimed at China, which he described, among other things, as “the most geopolitically ambitious, aggressive, expansionist power in world history.”
Bannon asserted, however, that Japan and the United States could still “bring them to their knees” if the two nations together against China.
Bannon was equally extreme in his praise of Prime Minister Abe, whom he described as “a great hero to the grassroots, the populist, and the nationalist movement throughout the world.” Memorably, Bannon declared that Abe was the “Trump before Trump” in global affairs.
Of the trio of rightwing stars that led the event at the LDP headquarters that day, only Motoya is not currently on the wrong side of the law. Last month, Katsuyuki Kawai accepted a three-year prison term for vote buying in the House of Councillors election held a few months after Bannon’s LDP lecture. Bannon himself has been indicted for defying a subpoena of the US Congress, now investigating the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Forbes magazine last year estimated that the APA hotel boss Toshio Motoya is the 27th richest person in Japan with a net worth of about US$1.45 billion.
APA Group hotels are ubiquitous in Japan, with more than five hundred outlets around the nation. Since 2016, the group has also owned the Vancouver-based Coast Hotels chain in North America.
But if hotels are Motoya’s business, then rightwing Japanese revisionist politics is his passion.
Famously, most APA hotel rooms are stocked with copies of rightwing literature, notably the Apple Town essays that Motoya writes under the pen name Seiji Fuji, and the interviews that he conducts with politicians, ambassadors, and celebrities.
He has been writing these essays for well over a decade, and there is little doubt about where he stands on the political spectrum.
Motoya is an advocate and patron of the hard right. However, unlike DHC Chairman Yoshiaki Yoshida, whose openly expressed anti-Korean racism gives pause even to those in power, Motoya is closer to the “mainstream” rightwing views of politicians such as Shinzo Abe or Sanae Takaichi.
Indeed, Motoya has personally served as vice-chairman of Anshinkai, Shinzo Abe’s official political support group.
Motoya’s obsession is to eliminate the “masochistic” view of history that he believes infects postwar Japan. He advocates teaching national pride and confronting regional threats with the force of Japanese arms.
For him, this is a matter of restoring “true history” to Japanese public consciousness.
However, Motoya’s “true history” also has more than a touch of the conspiratorial thinking characteristic of so much the far right—and it is not aimed solely at China or Korea.
For example in an Apple Town dialogue with rightwing politician Akihisa Nagashima in May 2015, Motoya asserted,
The United States had to create a story in which it had no choice but to bomb Japan—a bad country—in order to end the war, which was a way of rationalizing what it had done. That’s why historical facts have been warped and Japan has been made to take responsibility for sins such as carrying out an aggressive war, slaughtering 300,000 people in the Nanjing Massacre, and forcibly transporting 200,000 Korean Comfort Women. Of course, the United States knows that the Nanking Massacre and Comfort Women stories are fabrications, but it cannot admit that, as doing so would mean the United States would assume responsibility for its own sins.
These are themes that Motoya returns to again and again in his writings, drawing lessons for what he calls “information warfare,” which he sees as being waged throughout society—in the schools and in the news media.
For example, in an Apple Town dialogue with the then-Tunisian ambassador in April 2017, he stated,
I believe that Japan should put more effort into information warfare. Nowadays, many Japanese hold the masochistic view that ‘Japan was an aggressor nation,’ but this was merely something that was imprinted upon them by the US Occupation forces after the war. The reality is that Japan has always been a pacifist nation. The previous war with America was caused by President Roosevelt who wanted to enter Europe using the pretext of the Tripartite Pact, and so he provoked Japan into losing control. It was a war started by the United States, not by Japan.
His conclusion from this reading of history is that, “it is no exaggeration to say that the history of the world is the history of information conspiracy warfare. If they only knew the truth, everyone would become a conservative… The media should report only supportively. Isn’t it necessary to mandate this by law?”
Early 2017 was a key period for Motoya. He became even more outspoken than usual, profoundly excited about the election of Donald Trump in the United States, whom he views as a sort of kindred spirit.
The arrival of President Trump has opened up a new world. A country is an independent nation only if it can protect itself. Japan today is not a truly independent nation. However, with President Trump as a trigger, Japan may transform into a country of independence and self-defense. The purpose is to prevent the creation of a power vacuum in East Asia and to prevent war. To that end, a constitutional amendment should be made to gradually increase the 1% GDP limit for defense spending to 2%, so that it can be equipped with not only defensive weapons, but also with deterrent offensive weapons.
From our perspective today, it’s worth noting that this very same objective of doubling Japan’s military budget from 1% to 2% of GDP was a formal campaign pledge of the ruling party in the October 31 general election, pushed by the Abe Faction and its allies.
Motoya’s racism, as noted, is more subtle than that of DHC’s Yoshida, but occasionally it reveals itself.
There is something oddly anachronistic about Motoya’s thought. It doesn’t hark back to the last century so much as to late 19th century Europe and antiquated notions of “civilizations” with distinct characters shaped by the climate, and which largely determine the behavior of individuals.
One occasion upon which Motoya mused extravagantly on such subjects was in a March 2010 Apple Town essay, wherein he posited,
Japan, which is warm and comfortable to live in and surrounded by the seas on all sides, is like the ‘Galapagos of Civilization.’ The spirit of ‘living harmony’ that humankind originally possessed is still alive here. On the other hand, monotheistic civilizations such as those arising from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which were born from the harsh environment of the desert, behave strictly against pagans and different cultures, and Western countries engage in repeated wars due to their influence, leading ultimately to the atomic bomb.
Motoya’s inclination to read current events through an ethnoreligious lens appears elsewhere, such as when he complained in May 2012 that “the Japanese media reports only those things that have been filtered by Jews and Anglo-Saxons, but you have to think for yourself what the truth of the world is.”
Motoya’s ravings have been embraced warmly by Japanese conservatives, to whom he offers substantial financial and political support. His Apple Town dialogues appear to have little difficulty arranging interviews with senior politicians, ambassadors, and well-known cultural figures.
However, Motoya ultimately discovered that his views don’t always travel so well outside of “warm and comfortable” Japan.
His biggest international dust-up arose over some of his ethnoreligious assertions regarding Jews.
In September 2016, the APA made its first major foreign purchase; it bought the Vancouver-based Coast Hotels chain for C$210 million (US$166 million). Motoya unwisely decided to implement the same policy of stocking English-language versions of Apple Town in his North American hotels. It didn’t take long for the explosion to occur.
In February 2017, at the same time when Motoya was excited about the election of Donald Trump, he asserted in an Apple Town dialogue with ruling party lawmaker Satsuki Katayama, that “Jewish people control American information, finance, and laws, and they benefit greatly from globalization because they move their massive profits to tax havens so they don’t have to pay any taxes. Many Jewish people support the Democratic Party.”
Motoya went on to argue in this dialogue that Trump’s election was primarily a product of public anger against Jews, who he alleged form the “top 1%” in the country. He concluded, “We can view Trump’s victory as an explosion of these feelings because there is no other explanation for more than 50% of white women choosing Trump, who repeatedly made reckless remarks that were very discriminatory against women.”
The subtitle of the Motoya-Katayama dialogue was, “An American counteroffensive against Jewish Globalism.”
When this text stocked in North American hotel rooms came to the attention of Jewish leaders in Vancouver, needless to say they were not amused.
Bernie Farber, a former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the local media that the text was representative of “historical, classical antisemitism.” He added,
It’s the type of thing I really haven’t seen in many years. I don’t know if this guy took a time machine and travelled back in time. Honestly, I don’t get it. If it were coming from a neo-Nazi, you would say, it’s this person or that person. But this is coming from a leader within the Japanese economy. I’m kind of left a little speechless.
Motoya never offered an apology. However, the offending issue of Apple Town was removed from the hotel rooms and from the company website.
Coast Hotels explained that it had “decided to take away literature which gives an erroneous impression.” It regarded this action as a “swift resolution” to the problem.
Motoya himself explained, “I always mean to praise the Jewish people as wise, with excellent skills in the fields of information, finance, and the law. But considering their history of struggle, I decided my statements had gone too far and removed them from the website.”
There have been few consequences for Motoya in the intervening years. APA Hotels are still stocked with his literature. Conservative politicians from Shinzo Abe on down still court his political and financial support. APA Hotel advertising revenues still flow to the news media—no doubt playing a key role in tamping down open criticism. Even the 2020 Olympic organizers made extensive use of his hotel chain.
Motoya’s billionaire wealth, and the fact that many Japanese quietly share his nationalist prejudices, have made him invulnerable.
As Motoya himself explained in early 2017 when he was under fire from abroad: “We still have Apple Town in the rooms because I don’t believe it is wrong for me to put my own words in my own hotels. I am the founder and owner, so I can clearly write and say what I want to.”
Racism in Corporate Japan Series
Article 1: Pachinko Mogul Accused of Racism by Own Daughter
Article 2: Anti-Korean Racism Blemishes Beauty Brand DHC
Article 3: Woodford & Ghosn: Foreign Executives Not In Charge
Research assistance for this article was provided by Kentaro Kato
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