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Japan applies 11 forced labor sites for UNESCO heritage

Posted March. 31, 2015 07:25,   


The 28 sites of the industrial revolution during Japan’s Meiji era, which the Japanese government applied for the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, are scattered across eight prefectures in Kyushu and Yamaguchi. As the areas had the Meiji Restoration in 1868, they are called the “shrine of modernization” in Japan. As industrial facilities, which led modern industries such as iron-making and coal mining, were concentrated in the areas and became outposts producing war supplies during the war, Koreans under the Japanese colonial rule were forced to work in 11 sites of them.

According to a Korean committee that surveys and supports Korean victims who were forced to work abroad by the Japanese colonial rule, 1,481 Koreans were forcibly mobilized to the 11 sites, while Japanese civic groups claim that the number goes up to 63,700. At least 708 Koreans were mobilized by force to three places alone – an office, a repair shop and a forge welding factory of Yahata Steel Mills operated by Nippon Steel in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, confirmed the Korean committee. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the facilities in July last year.

It was found that 466 Koreans were forced to work at three facilities related to the Miike coal mine operated by Mitsui Mining Company located in Omuta, Fukuoka, and 158 Koreans were drafted to work at the Hashima coal mine and the Takashima coal mine on the island of Hashima in Nagasaki. Japanese civic groups estimate, however, that up to 40,000 Koreans must have been forced to work in those coal mines given that the mines produced quality coal.

The Hashima Island, which the Japanese government applied for UNESCO world heritage, is an uninhabited island, 15 kilometers away from the port of Nagasaki. It is called a “battleship island” because it looks like a battleship when it is seen with a bird’s eye view. Although it is a small island with the size of two baseball stadiums, it was called a “hellish island” or a “prison island” because the mobilized Koreans had to suffer harsh labor and mistreatment in the coal mine 700 meters under the sea 70 years ago.

The victims mined coal, lying their face down or on their side, in the narrow and pitch-dark mines on a double shift for 12 hours a day, and four or five people died per month due to cave-in accidents. Those who attempted to escape lost their lives at sea or were caught and beaten to death. Mitsubishi was the company that operated the mine on the island and exploited labor on the island.

The Japanese companies that forcibly mobilized Koreans during the Pacific War such as Mitsubishi Materials, Nippon Steel, and Mitsui Mine Company have become leading companies in Japan today. The companies, which could have been collapsed by the U.S. after the end of World War II in 1945, survived by supporting the U.S. forces on the back during the Korean War.

“It is distorting history to designate the sites of labor exploitation as the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage,” Jeong Hye-gyeong, head of the committee’s investigation team, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “Like Europe, Japan should think the sites as a place for soul-searching and reflecting itself.