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“Erase Our Persecuted Name from Your Shrine”

Posted October. 20, 2005 06:16,   


For the first time, one name among the over 20,000 Korean-born conscripted soldiers and associated civilians enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan has been deleted through diplomatic channels, 46 long years after being enshrined.

According to the Korean Embassy in Japan on October 19, the shrine notified the embassy through an official correspondence dated September 13 that the name of Cho Byeong-geun (died 2003 at the age of 83), who had been conscripted during the Pacific War and enshrined as one of those killed in action, had been removed from the list of the enshrined and an official apology conveyed to his surviving family members.

The late Mr. Cho was initially deployed in Papua New Guinea in July 1943 as a civilian attached to the Japanese navy, then processed as killed in action in January 1944 when the allied forces made their landing. However, he had in fact been held as a prisoner of war in an Australian POW camp until returning to his country in 1946.

In the official letter, the Yasukuni Shrine stated, “We verified that the owner of the name had been living until December 2003 and accordingly amended the list of the enshrined,” and added, “We deeply apologize for the pain we have caused his surviving family.”

Cho Young-ju, the eldest son of the late Mr. Cho, explained, “We only found out about the enshrinement when my younger brother stumbled upon a personnel report at the Korean national archives office.” He emphasized, “Most of the personnel records for the Koreans enshrined at Yasukuni are stored in the national archives. The government needs to identify their surviving family members and apprise them of the fact.”

The late Mr. Cho was enshrined along with a large contingency of Korean conscripts during the grand autumn ritual at Yasukuni in October of 1959. Thus, he had been the subject of yearly “memorial rites” for 44 years until his actual passing in 2003.

A representative of the Korean Embassy in Japan noted, “We were informed by the Yasukuni Shrine that it had made two corrections regarding the enshrinement of Koreans, but we remain skeptical since no details can be verified,” adding, “In any case, we have been sensing a positive change on the part of the Yasukuni of late, including the return of the monument celebrating Korea’s victory over 16th-century Japanese invaders.”

He went on to say that the embassy would “exert its best efforts to remove the names not only of those who were wrongfully enshrined during life but also of all Korean conscripts enshrined there.”

Until a few years ago, the Yasukuni Shrine had refused to amend its list of the enshrined even in the case of people wrongfully listed as dead, arguing, “Our shrine is dedicated to the souls of those who gave their lives in battle, so even if a name has been included in error, there’s no need to delete it since the soul will not be called to the shrine in such a case.”

Hun-Joo Cho hanscho@donga.com