The History of Sino-Japanese Relations as seen in Japan's Most Popular Travel Guide

The Globe-trotter Travel Guidebook, which is the official English name for 地球の歩き方 (Lit: The way to wander the world) is the most popular Japanese travel guide series. All around the world you can spot Japanese tourists from dozens of meters away by their bright neon yellow Chikyû no Arukikata travel books.

Among those who travel abroad, I think it is reasonable to suggest that travel guidebooks are one of the most important sources of historical information about the world that we are likely to read after the completion of our formal education along with popular fiction and media such as movies and TV. Given that fact, I think that historians might do well to consider the importance of travel guidebooks (and I mean those of our own time, since the travel guides of past ages have gotten the ample and well deserved attention of scholars).

How does Japan’s most popular guidebook series, 地球の歩き方, describe China’s modern history in the 2006-2007 edition of its China volume (D01)? China is Japan’s largest and most important neighbor, but one with which it shares a deeply troubled 20th century history. This has been a major theme in most of my postings both here at Frog in a Well and on my own blog at One would expect, then, that there would be certain important 20th century events which would need a minimum degree of coverage and be dealt with some degree of care by the authors.

Below I will briefly consider how the 2006-7 edition covers some of these events in : 1) Descriptions of some of the Beijing locations 2) Nanjing locations 3) Some miscellaneous other locations and most importantly 4) in its survey essay on Chinese history located at the back of the book. Read on…


The book makes several references to the destruction caused by European powers in 1860 in its descriptions of 颐和园 and 円明園, for obvious reasons. Mention of China’s relations with Japan in the Beijing section only appear in the descriptions of the following locations:

中国人民革命军事博物馆 (given 1 out of 3 stars)

“Various modern weapons such as Japanese and former-Soviet made tanks, planes, machine guns, and boms are on display. There is a valuable collection of Japanese weapons requisitioned by the Chinese and later used by the PLA. Also, there are detailed descriptions of China’s wars and weapons and [displays] are divided into easily understood categories of China’s ancient and modern wars, weapons and themes.” (50)

Notes: This museum is China’s premier military museum and in terms of nationalist content, is matched only by Korea’s independence memorial museum. There are major sections of the museum dedicated to the “Anti-American war of resistance” and the “Anti-Japanese war of resistance.” It contains major exhibits on Japan’s atrocities, including the Nanjing massacre. A few pictures from my last visit below.

Img 4158 Img 3423 Img 4182 Img 4200

卢沟桥 (2 out of 3 stars)

“…Known as marco polo bridge…苑平城,on the eastern side of the bridge is the first fort occupied by the Japanese military in the Marco Polo bridge incident on July 7th, 1937 and its remains are left in their original form, including the remains of shots fired by the Japanese military.” (51)

Notes: As the site of the opening of the Second Sino-Japanese war, it is remarkable that there is no context or mention of the location’s significance for the war in this short description, despite much longer historical contextual descriptions for other locations. Some of my own pictures below.

Img 3432 Img 3433

中国人民抗日战争纪念馆 (1 out of 3 stars)

“A historical exhibition of the Second Sino-Japanese war completed in 1987 and located about five minutes walk from the East of the Marco Polo bridge. 5490 meters squar. Historical materials related to the Nanjing massacre, Unit 731 and the Marco Polo Bridge incident are on display. There is also a large diorama reenacting the Marco Polo Bridge incident.” (51)

This museum is a large structure filled with exhibits on the war. Unlike many other museums in China, almost all of the captions have Japanese translations, while English translations are fewer and far between. Some of my pictures below.

Img 3441 Img 3435 Img 3445 Img 3442


The introduction to Nanjing’s history makes no mention at all of the Sino-Japanese war. In does say that it was the capital of the Taiping rebellion’s government and it was also the capital of the “中華民國臨時政府” or the Chinese provisional government. This is referring to Sun Zhongshan’s first government in Nanjing established in 1912 but I find this a very strange thing to note. This initial government was short lived and it would probably be better to note that it was the capital several times during the Republican period. The name 中華民國臨時政府 is ambiguous, since it could also refer to the puppet government established in Beijing during the Second Sino-Japanese war and later merged with other puppet governments when Wang Jingwei comes to power under a new collaborationist regime in Nanjing in 1940.

In terms of Sino-Japanese relations, perhaps the most important museum in Nanjing is dedicated to the history of the massacre in 1937:

侵化日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆 (1 out of 3 stars)

I feel I should include the original Japanese here along with translation for reference:


“In December of 1937 the Japanese military invaded Nanjing and occupied the walled city. On the Chinese side it is generally claimed [定説=generally accepted opinion] that at this time there was an indiscriminate massacre of the city’s inhabitants. This Memorial Hall for Comrades Murdered in the Nanjing Massacre Committed by the Invading Japanese Military was built to pass on knowledge about the Japanese military’s massacre to future generations. In the memorial hall there is exhibited part of a mound of bones, the testimonies of survivors, pictures, former-Japanese military weapons. On the site can also be found stone monuments left by Japanese and trees planted in remembrance.” (294)

Notes: The most interesting point here is, of course, the wording of the second sentence in this description. I don’t think it needs any comment from me.

Miscellaneous Other Cities

Tianjin – Mention that Japan is among the 9 foreign settlements here.
Dalian – After the Russo-Japanese war the city “came under Japanese influence” and discussion of the remains of Japanese structures.
Shenyang – mention of Japanese structures connected to the South Manchuria Railroad.
Changchun – Mention of it being the capital of Manzhouguo – under the name of Xinjing. Lots of Japanese lived here from 1930-1945. 伪满洲国务院 mentioned, completed in 1936, various other buildings still in use so you can’t go walking around in them.
Chongqing – brief mention of it as temporary capital during the Second Sino-Japanese war.

Survey of Chinese History

At the end of the book there is a 4.5 page survey of Chinese history. The last two sections are “China in Chaos – The Period of the Establishment of the Chinese Republic 1912-1945” and “The Establishment of the People’s Republic of China 1945-Present”

Below I’m quoting all of the material from just before World War I until 1945, with the exception of one paragraph on the Nationalist and Communist parties. I’m also adding the first line of the next section. Do you notice anything missing in this narrative?


[One paragraph on the formation of the Nationalist and Communist parties, the northern expedition and the transfer of power from Sun Zhongshan to Jiang Jieshi and the oppression of the Communists. No mention of Japan.]


中華人民共和国の成立 (1945年-現在)


…After this the conflict centering on the warlords intensified and this was taken advantage of by foreign powers. Japan was especially blatant in its interference. Japan established a foothold for its expansion in China during the Boxer rebellion and the Sino-Japanese war. When World War I broke out and the European powers were weakened, it despatched troops to the Shandong peninsula, forced its 21 demands on China and accepted the transfer of vast rights in China. Japan succeeded at the 1919 negotiations on the Versailles Treaty in Paris to get other nations to accept its rights but Chinese who heard this news began anti-Japanese demonstrations. Before long they had spread throughout the country (May 4th movement).

[Skipped paragraph, see above]

In this vacuum [caused by conflict between Nationalists and Communists] Japan schemed to move into the Northeast of China. In 1932 Japan succeeded in persuading the last Qing emperor Puyi to come to power again and established the Manchurian Manshûkoku. Manshûkoku was destroyed by the Soviet invasion in 1945, disappearing in only 13 years.

The Establishment of the People’s Republic of China 1945-Present

Japan surrendered and when it withdrew from China, a civil war broke out between the Nationalists and Communists. (705)

As you can see there is no mention whatsoever here about the Sino-Japanese war between 1937-1945, Japan’s occupation of most of China, let alone of the atrocities etc. which have become such an issue in Sino-Japanese relations today. It looks almost as if a complete paragraph was completely cut out. Even the coverage of the establishment of the Manchurian puppet state leaves out any mention of the military campaign which first conquered the territory needed for the new state.

This posting will be followed by a second post soon on the treatment of Korean history in 地球の歩き方’s 2005-6 Korea edition. Although I won’t be taking up the task myself, it would be interesting if someone went further and compared treatment of Chinese and Korean history in the 地球の歩き方 series across several editions, going back a decade or more (The first guidebooks by its publisher apparently came out in 1979).


  1. This is quite interesting. The Walk the World series is published by Diamond Big Publishing, but I don’t know enough about them to know if they are overtly right-wing or not. While I do not have the main China book, I do have the Shanghai volume (D02) for 2005-2006, and in its 3-page history section it almost entirely skips over the war. After a brief mention of the reclaiming of the concessions of Germany, Austria and Russia after WW1, it says:

    しかし、1941年の太平洋戦争勃発以降は、残りの租界を事実上日本が占領することになり、完全な自治の回復(形式的には1943年に接収完了)は第二次世界大戦終了後となった。(『地球の歩き方 上海・蘇州・杭州』p432.

    “However, after the start of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941, the remaining concessions were occupied by Japan for all practical purposes, and complete reclamation of administrative powers (officially completed in 1943) had to wait until after WW2 ended.”

    Not one mention of the 1932 Shanghai Incident, the 1937 Sino-Japanese war, or anything. There is also a section (p95) which talks about the former Japanese concession area, which refers to the Sino-Japanese war as “becoming serious” in the 1940s (日中戦争が本格化する1940年代) which would probably surprise all those dead soldiers and civilians who found it already pretty serious in the late 1930s.

    Interestingly enough, this blindness isn’t totally one-sided. The rather good Shanghai City History Museum in the basement of the Pearl Orient Tower (that spaceship thing in Pudong) skips over any mention of the 1930s-1940s geopolitical situation entirely.

    As as side note, I also happen to have the Walk the World Singapore (’04-’05) book, and its history section is far more detailed. It refers to, notably, “during this period [the occupation] Singapore residents lost jobs through trade stagnation, suffered food and other shortages, and suffered spiralling inflation. Also, the Japanese Army treated Malays and Indians better [優遇] than Chinese, who were treated cruelly [過酷], and thus opposition [対立] among differing communities deepened.” (p351).

    That last phrase seems a little glib to me, however.

    There are a few points about the basic problem under discussion here though. First, how valid is the basic premise that the potted history in WTW is used as a serious guide by Japanese travellers? The WTW series is aimed more at the serious independent traveller than the JTB tour group, and would presumably be more aware and do more research before travelling, rather than rely on big colourful photobooks with fancy food and trendy shopping highlighted. In other words, who exactly uses these books and how?

    Just looked at my other guidebook to Singapore, Wagamama Aruki 3, Singapore, (the ‘Blue Guide’ series published by Jitsugyou-no-Nihon-sha). Far more detail on the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

    “When Japan joined WW2 on Dec 8th 1941, Singapore, the British strategic hub in Asia, was Japan’s greatest attack target, and fater heavy fighting, was occupied by Japan on Feb 15th 1942. Singapore was renamed “Shonan Island” [昭南島], and until Japan’s defeat in August 1945, was under Japanese Army rule. During this period, the nakedly militaristic policies of the Japanese Army [日本軍による露骨な軍国主義政策] caused resentment centring in the Chinese population. Also, Singapore’s Chinese financially supported the Chinese government fighting the invasion [侵略] and in 1942, in the guise of purging anti-Japanese elements and communists, Chinese male residents between the ages of 18 and 50 were rounded up and imprisoned [拘禁], and massacred [虐殺] at Sentosa Island and Changi. One view has their number at up to 50,000. This was the worst of the many barbaric acts [蛮行] committed by the Japanese Army under the occupation. After the war, 214 soldiers were executed as war criminals.” (p288-289)

    Doesn’t pull any punches, not even with the language. There just might be something in the original idea that WTW has a Basil “Don’t mention the war!!” Fawlty editorial stance, though there is not enough data at the moment to be able to say just what that is and why it is. Someone who knows more about the Japanese publishing industry might be more able to comment.

  2. Nice post. Do they say anything about Shanghai? Given that it had a larger Japanese population than any other Chinese city I would wonder what they might say about it.

    Thinking of Shanghai, there is now something of a Jewish tour industry in Shanghai, taking people to places their families lived. Is there a Japanese equivalent? Or does the book not give any indication? I ask because I wonder how much the Japanese imperial history has become family history. It is not hard to imagine a Jew in the U.S. or Australia telling the grandkids stories about his time in Shanghai and having them come back to look. Do Japanese who were in China in one way or another pass on those types of stories? I’m not even sure how to approach that question, but it is interesting.

  3. Jerrers, thanks so much for adding some from other books in the globe-trotter series! Very interesting. I’ll post on the Korea book soon. Alan – I’m sorry I didn’t include more discussion of its Shanghai places, but I didn’t see anything stick out in terms of its relations with Japan or on modern historical notes. Many of the cities, such as those I included in the misc. section have mention of the remains of buildings from the Japanese communities and businesses that were active in those areas. There is a whole cottage industry in Japan for those who grew up in Manchuria especially with many memoirs and writings about the Japanese community there. My old host father on my first trip there was born and raised in Manchuria, until 1945 and said he was eventually going to get around to writing about his childhood. I’m not sure about the frequency of writings on other areas in China.

  4. 地球の歩き方は結局のところガイドブックに過ぎないのでは。

  5. Eisuke’s comment is to the effect that: ” Isn’t the Globetrotter series, in the end, nothing more than a guidebook? If anything, I was surprised that there was so much description fo the war. It seems that everyone [here] is more interested in completely irrelevant details [lit. the corner of Japanese tiered laquer boxes] than in the historical views of Japanese people.”

    Eisuke, I am afraid I have to disagree.

    1) First of all, nowhere in this piece did I make the claim that what is written in the guideboook expresses the historical views of the Japanese people. I am talking about the history of China and its relations with Japan in the most popular guidebook in Japan, which thousands of Japanese have and read.

    2) I have claimed, and you are welcome to contest this, that outside of the compulsary education system, people at large get much of their historical knowledge from a number of more unorthodox sources such as movies, TV, and—travel guidebooks. Not everyone who travels to a country reads widely in that country’s history before they go and when they get there, they often turn—as millions of us have, to our guidebook for the quick and dirty summary of the history of the country, or the importance of certain places. You are free to contest that point, but I think it borders on the obvious. As such, I think that considering the kind of ridiculously bad historical coverage in a book as popular as 地球の歩き方 is well worth a blog entry.

  6. Lawsonさん。
    1)に関してですが、「地球の歩き方」は、英語圏の方が海外旅行のガイドブックと考えるLonly Planetとは
    rediculously bad book なのだから、rediculously bad historical coverage なのは当然ではないでしょうか。
    2)何年かまえにイアン・ブルマのwages of guiltを読んでいたとき、印象に残った一節がありました。
    ブルマが娘と東京ディズニーランドを訪れ、It’s a small worldのアトラクションを見たときのことですが、

  7. Perhaps the point is not so much that the travel guide has become an increasingly popular source from which the public weans tidbits of their nation’s history, but that this very recent publication, as illegitimate a form of historical reportage as it may be, nonetheless signifies that Japan’s skewed perspective of their past relations with China has not changed even to this day. That is to say, documentation about this particular part of their history remains glossed over, partial, and shady. It would be hard to argue against the fact that deliberation went into qualifying these references. But why should there be such deliberation in something as simple and mundane as a travel guide? Why not directly state that the Japanese invasion of Nanjing involved the mass killing of its inhabitants? Are the pile of bones on display “generally claimed” to be evidence of the massacre? It pervades me with a deep sadness to see defense of such clearly obscure statements about a very definite past. May we finally one day live in a world without nations, as a unified but diverse human race divided only by oceans.

  8. I’m not sure it should be the guidebooks responsibility to suddenly do what Japanese politicians have been afraid to do for so many years. Though it does make sense that they should not report inaccurate information (such as “generally claimed/generally accepted opinion,” when it is fully noted that it was not just claimed), they are in the end, a guidebook, without the full responsibility of carrying Japan on their shoulders. In that I agree with Eisuke, but I do think you have a point that they should not tell of an inaccurate vision of what reality is. Of course, you don’t expect an American guidebook to talk about the butchering of the First Nation peoples, or a French guidebook to roll around (no pun intended) in the details of the guillotine.

  9. A small but potent demostration of what the Japanese people have been fed with regard to the past histoy. But this is nothing new, it’s just getting worse.

  10. no chinese here?
    it’s so long an article
    i’m a chinese young people,in my opinion,it’s so difficult to change my point that you can’t make friends with japanese guys,
    yes, i do admit that japan is very powerful in their economy and has so many good things we should study in honor,but most of the chinese youngpioneers have no trust in them ,especialy their politicians .For example ,the jackal is very smart and strong ,but you wouldn’t like to make friends a jackal if you are an antelope,or fox
    who don’t love and protect the human beings ,can not be accept by human beings,
    we chinese has so large numbers of people, and therefore many of them has not good activties such as bad lifestyles should be rectification slowly and forgiven,
    but never look down upon the friendly and kindly and warm-heartly people ,they are the lion,who like sleep so much and still not wake up,they are the friend of world ,chinese won’t beat you if you make friends with them ,and so am i.
    Do you want to know me so to know the chinese partly?
    pls contact me by writing your words on my website, i’m so glad to wait your response ,byebye

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