Japanese Must Learn the History of Forced Labour

Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

I am writing this in Hiroshima on August 6, on the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city.

For the last 13 years, I have participated in an annual peace study tour for U.S. and Japanese university students to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and translated atomic bomb survivors’ stories.

What bothered me at this year’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony was the repetition of the phrase yui-itsu (the only).

Hiroshima City’s mayor Matsui Kazumi and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo both stressed in their respective speeches that Japan was “the only a-bombed nation in war.”

Hiroshima Governor Yuzaki Hidehiko even went as far as to say “We, the Japanese, who are the only people who have experienced the horror of the atomic bomb.” It was outright “a-bomb nationalism.”

The word “yui-itsu” excludes hibakusha (a-bomb victims) who were not “Japanese,” particularly those from the Korean Peninsula, accounting for 10 percent or more of all hibakusha.

They were never mentioned in the ceremony.

Japan is in the middle of a Korea-bashing storm.

Since Korea’s Supreme Court’s ruling last fall ordering perpetrating companies to pay compensation to the victims of forced labour, the Japanese government has not only refused to sincerely observe the ruling, it has also raised its fist against the Korean government, and went as far as to levy economic sanctions against Korea.

The Japanese mainstream media is largely siding with the Japanese government, dragging public opinion along with it.

Amid such an atmosphere, even peace-friendly Hiroshima repeats the mantra of “Japan as the only a-bombed nation,” without giving any thought to the Korean hibakusha, who would not have been in Hiroshima to suffer the bombing if it were not for the Japanese colonization of Korea.

It is quite symbolic that a large rising-sun flag flies right beside the Cenotaph, the Memorial Monument for Hiroshima.

In late July, I visited Hapcheon, a place called “Korea’s Hiroshima,” with a friend.

Many people of Hapcheon, impoverished under the Japanese colonial rule, moved to Hiroshima for their livelihood, or by forceful mobilization, only to be further victimized in the atomic bombing of the city by the United States on August 6, 1945.

They had little access to health care, even less than Japanese hibakusha, because of the discrimination against Koreans.

Many could not disclose that they were hibakusha at all, for fear of stigma associated with being hibakusha. Poor health and poverty have been passed down through subsequent generations.

In Hapcheon, we spent a night hearing the life story of Han Jeongsun (born 1959) at the “House of Peace,” a facility established by a Buddhist organization to support second-generation hibakusha like Han.

“People say 1945 was a year of liberation. But to me, war started when I was born,” she said.

“I want to see Japan held responsible for treating Koreans like dogs, and the U.S. held responsible for using nuclear weapons against human beings.”

After Hapcheon, I visited the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization Under Japanese Occupation in Busan.

Now more than ever, I think it is important for Japanese people to visit this museum and learn about the experiences of the over 7.8 million Koreans who were mobilized by force, “the total control of the human, material and financial resources by the Japanese Empire in order to wage a war in the Asia-Pacific,” as explained at the museum.

The museum exhibit included a screen showing approximately three hundred companies that used forced mobilization and still operate.

The list included the name of the company that my father worked for. In a diorama depicting Korean labourers working in the battlefield while watched by Japanese soldiers, there was a sign that said, “Koreans are not allowed to enter shelters during air raids.”

This reminded me of the diorama at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum showing the inside of an evacuation cave where a frightened family tries to silence a baby while a Japanese soldier stands with his bayonet pointed towards the family.

In the Battle of Okinawa too, many Okinawans were driven from caves by the Japanese military only to die in the storm of shells and cannons in the battlefield.

August is when we remember the war. We should remember to do so in the shoes of those who were victimized by Japan.

This is an English translation of No. 28 of the author’s series Norimatsu Satoko no me [Norimatsu Satoko’s Eyes] that appeared on Page 3 of Ryukyu Shimpo, August 15, 2019 edition.


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