The dark history of conscription and forced labor behind Japan's Hashima Island,



하시마섬 유네스코 세계유산 등재 2년… 그 후?

Hashima island.
One of dozens of controversial sites Japan has pushed to gain UNESCO World Heritage recognition.
A proud symbol of Japan’s rapid industrialization.
Contrary to the image Tokyo is promoting it’s where hundreds of Koreans were taken and forced into labor in deadly undersea coal mines.
Oh Jung-hee met with the few survivors to hear their stories.

A 15-second-long video has been lighting up New York’s Times Square since Monday.
It aims to shed light on a less well-known aspect of Hashima Island — one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“It’s a fact that the island is listed as a world heritage site. So our ad starts with this fact, and then delves deeper into forced conscription and the 120 victims. It ends by saying that Hashima’s true name is ‘island of hell.'”

Roughly 15 kilometers away from the city of Nagasaki in southwestern Japan… lies the uninhabited island of Hashima.
Surrounded by a sea wall, and full of abandoned concrete buildings,… the island resembles a battleship, which is why it’s commonly called Gunkanjima or “Battleship Island.”
The island is recognized as a symbol of Japan’s rapid industrialization,… but has a dark history of conscription and forced labor.

From 1940 to 1945, five hundred to eight hundred Koreans were forcibly taken to Hashima Island.
Kim Hyung-seob is one of them.
The exact date that he was taken to Japan — November 17th, 1943 — is one he can never forget.

“I don’t even want to talk about it. I can’t explain how much we suffered. Eating was the biggest problem. They gave us dried sweet potato, beans and bean dregs. That’s what they called ‘food’ for us.”

Korean laborers were neither well-fed nor well-paid..
And they had to spend more than 12 hours a day in the coal mine,… which is 1-thousand meters under the sea.

Lee In-un is another survivor.
He says… some laborers desperately tried to escape from ‘hell’… but failed.

“The land was visible from the island. It was right across the sea. Some tried to escape by swimming and holding onto wooden panels. But they died.”

“The dreary atmosphere of Hashima island can be seen through these photos here. And what’s clearly noticeable is the difference in living environments between Japanese citizens and Korean laborers. The Japanese citizens living in modern, newly built apartments. In contrast, five hundred to eight hundred Korean laborers were crammed into these small buildings.”

Hashima Island was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015,… as one of the places symbolizing Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.
When Japan got the endorsement of the UNESCO advisory committee ICOMOS, Korea strongly protested against it,… claiming that having these places as world heritage sites hurts the victims’ and UNESCO’s dignity.
At the 2015 UNESCO official meeting, Japan, for the first time on the international stage,… acknowledged there was forced labor.

“There were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.”

But that was immediately reversed by the Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida.

“The expression ‘forced to work’ does not mean ‘forced labor.'”

ICOMOS recommended that Japan take measures to help visitors understand the ‘full history’ of the sites… and Japan promised to establish information and commemoration centers.
While an implementation report on that is due December 1st this year,… not much action has been taken within Japan.

“According to what we’re hearing from civil groups in Japan,… signboards installed at the facilities don’t explain at all about conscription and forced labor. Rather, the authorities are interviewing the Japanese people who lived on the island back then… who say Hashima was not an ‘island of hell’ like what Koreans say.”

The Korean government is to raise the issue at the annual UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting… currently taking place in Poland.
The government expressed regret that no tangible measures have been taken in Japan over the last two years… and highlighted Japan’s promise is not only an agreement with Korea, but with the whole world.

Having an agreed view on history and remembering it is crucial in heading toward the future.
For Korea, the first step would be recognizing Hashima Island and others as legacies of Japan’s industrialization… and for Japan, to face the fact that colonization contributed to its industrialization.
Oh Jung-hee, Arirang News.

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