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Japan's 'Battleship island' haunted by ghosts of its past

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By Ursula Hyzy

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© 2017 AFP

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I visited Gunkanjima in 2011, shortly after experiencing the 3/11 tsunami in Sendai, where I was staying with friends. I found it as awesome and eerie as that natural disaster. When Skyfall was released I was amazed at the producer's choice of the villain's lair, and, determined to return, did so, last year, after spending several days in Kumamoto before, during and after that devastating two earthquakes. I continue to be awed by what I experience and discover about Japan during my annual six-week trek around the country's various regions, and wish I'd started those experiences forty years ago, instead of a mere ten. It's quite the place, and I envy all you North American ex-pats who can now call it home.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@njca4 no the pyramids were not built with slave labour, the Pharonic state ran a very comprehensive and efficient system employing craftsmen and labourers including providing housing for them.

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So forced to work under “very harsh conditions” does not mean 'forced labor'. Welcome to Japan, one of the inventors of "Newspeak". Commercial whaling for the harvesting of meat becomes "scientific research" with whales killed for the harvesting of meat. Rephrasing an uncomfortable truth to make it more comfortable makes it the equivalent of a lie. Personally, I would more respect the truth being told, because lying about what happened is another evil added to the original evil. America and Germany are not uncomfortable admitting to using slave labor, but telling the truth requires courage, something which often appears lacking in Japanese politicians. In the attempt to hide their shame, they are in fact shaming themselves even further.

Exactly. Well said sangetsu!

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Visited here several years ago. A fascinating place to see ... and it has an interesting history behind it, too. If you ever get to Nagasaki you've gotta take a boat ride out to Gunkanjima and see the place. It's a boat ride you won't forget.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So forced to work under “very harsh conditions” does not mean 'forced labor'.

Welcome to Japan, one of the inventors of "Newspeak". Commercial whaling for the harvesting of meat becomes "scientific research" with whales killed for the harvesting of meat.

Rephrasing an uncomfortable truth to make it more comfortable makes it the equivalent of a lie. Personally, I would more respect the truth being told, because lying about what happened is another evil added to the original evil. America and Germany are not uncomfortable admitting to using slave labor, but telling the truth requires courage, something which often appears lacking in Japanese politicians. In the attempt to hide their shame, they are in fact shaming themselves even further.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Can't you have honest citation?

You're the one changing history.

This is my original post. Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company. Under their labor contract, they had legal obligation to work until they quit their job. "The legal obligation to work till they quit" is what they mean by saying they were "forced" to work. drafted as soldiers were "forced to fight". Now, the report of the commission is as follows.

The above post says they came of their own free will.

The commission found that an estimated 800 Koreans were forced to provide labor on Hashima Island from 1944 to 1945, based on various records and testimony from survivors.

This post says that's the commission found that they were brought here against their will

It confirms my point.

Then your point is incoherent. Sorry

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Aly RustomFEB. 16, 2017 - 04:30PM JST

It confirms my point.

No what you said at first was

Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company.

That's COMPLETELY different from your last post:

Can't you have honest citation?

This is my original post.

Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company. Under their labor contract, they had legal obligation to work until they quit their job. "The legal obligation to work till they quit" is what they mean by saying they were "forced" to work.

From 1944 to 1945 during the last years of WW2, Japanese government drafted its citizens, both citizens of Korean origin and Japanese origin, for public work. The coal mining in the island was "public work" because the coal was essential for the war. The people so drafted were "force to work", just as people drafted as soldiers were "forced to fight".

Now, the report of the commission is as follows.

The commission found that an estimated 800 Koreans were forced to provide labor on Hashima Island from 1944 to 1945, based on various records and testimony from survivors.

It confirms my point.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

It confirms my point.

No what you said at first was

Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company.

That's COMPLETELY different from your last post:

They were drafted by the government for the war effort. Some of them were surely against the government policy and worked against their will. This is about the true story.

Also in your first post:

This article does not say anything about how and when those Koreans came to Hashima island or under what condition and under what law they worked. So, readers just "fill in the blank" by their wild imagination

But the Article clearly says HOW they came:

Chinese and Korean workers were once forced to work here, slaves to their colonial master Japan.

AND

Some were not there by choice.

As for the conditions YOU said the article doesn't state:

Up to 1,000 metres below sea level, men toiled in cramped and stifling spaces where they had to defecate into small holes that they dug themselves. “The air was thick with humidity. It was sticky and the coal dust mixed with our sweat so we were black from head to toe,” said Tomoji Kobata, a 79-year-old who worked on the island for about a year and a half during the early sixties. More than 200 workers died in accidents over the years. Others suffered from silicosis, a work-related lung disease.

Slave workers? Only if you call drafted soldiers slave soldiers.

They were koreans who were forced to work there.

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Aly RustomFEB. 16, 2017 - 03:49PM JST

Wrong

Beginning in the 1930s and until the end of the Second World War, Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to work under very harsh conditions and brutal treatment at the Mitsubishi facility as forced laborers under Japanese wartime mobilization policies.[1][6][7][8]

I have read sources [1][6][7][8] and they do not support the description in the very wikipedia.

Rather, source [8] says, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2012/10/117_121502.html

The commission found that an estimated 800 Koreans were forced to provide labor on Hashima Island from 1944 to 1945, based on various records and testimony from survivors.

It confirms my point. They were drafted by the government for the war effort. Some of them were surely against the government policy and worked against their will. This is about the true story. Slave workers? Only if you call drafted soldiers slave soldiers.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

This article does not say anything about how and when those Koreans came to Hashima island or under what condition and under what law they worked. So, readers just "fill in the blank" by their wild imagination.

No. YOUR GOVERNMENT DID.

In July 2015, during the WHC meeting, South Korea withdrew its opposition after Japan's acknowledgement of this issue as part of the history of the island, specifically noting that "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 [including Hashima island

Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company. Under their labor contract, they had legal obligation to work until they quit their job. "The legal obligation to work till they quit" is what they mean by saying they were "forced" to work.

Completely wrong.

While the island is a symbol of the rapid industrialization of Japan, it is also a reminder of its dark history as a site of forced labor prior to and during the Second World War.[1][2]

Forced labour is forced labour. NO amount of denial will change that.

From 1944 to 1945 during the last years of WW2, Japanese government drafted its citizens, both citizens of Korean origin and Japanese origin, for public work. The coal mining in the island was "public work" because the coal was essential for the war. The people so drafted were "force to work", just as people drafted as soldiers were "forced to fight". So, Japanese Government may erect a sign saying "There were many citizens of the Empire from Korean Peninsula who were drafted and worked in the mine for the purpose of the war." to show the true history.

Wrong

Beginning in the 1930s and until the end of the Second World War, Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to work under very harsh conditions and brutal treatment at the Mitsubishi facility as forced laborers under Japanese wartime mobilization policies.[1][6][7][8] During this period, it is estimated that about 1,300 of those conscripted laborers had died on the island due to various reasons including underground accidents, exhaustion and malnutrition

all quotes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashima_Island

You cannot rewrite history.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

AgentXFEB. 16, 2017 - 02:38PM JST

So basically these Korean laborers (whose country was occupied by Japanese forces at the time) were allowed to 'opt out' of the duties at anytime, and were free to leave?

So much for owning the past, eh?

Of course, they could leave at anytime.

Speaking of owning the past, "occupied" is a loaded word. "Occupation" means physical control of an area of enemy territory by the military during a war. Korea and Japan had no war for centuries. The Japan-Korea merger period between 1910 and 1945 was not a result of a war or military occupation, but a result of treaty negotiation to bail Korean Kingdom Government out of foreign debt. The Japan Korea merger was no more "occupation" than the merger of Texas or Hawaii was.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Bill MurphyFeb. 16, 2017 - 02:40PM JST

Consider that Auschwitz-Birkenau was included in 1979.

It was not done under the premise of misleading or false information. Unlike Japan, Germany owned up to its war crimes, atoned and has done just fine ever since. Japan OTOH, still kicks, screams, lies, denies and revises. This childish inability to take responsibility is what leaves such a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Yubaru wrote: "I hope you remember to say they were slaves as well. This place should never have been given UNESCO status" .............................................................................................................. The reference in the article is from 2015. Below is a quote from an article published on January 24, 2017 by Spencer Peterson in "Travel and Leisure": "South Korea's opposition to the recognition of Gunkanjima and six other sites led Unesco to postpone its final decision for 24 hours, during which time Japan decided to recognize the use of forced labor. "Japan is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that 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," the Japanese delegation said in statement."

The word "slaves" does not appear in what may be a translation from the Japanese. I think the statement is clear as it stands. However, the phrase "Japan is prepared to take measures that ALLOW AN UNDERSTANDING that there were a large number..." (emphasis mine) is more interesting than the omission of the word "slaves". Basically, it means the reader may believe it or not as he wishes. As long as factual information is provided at the site which allows visitors to reach their own conclusion, that's right by me. However, I imagine that many readers here will still demand an explicit apology from the Japanese government regarding this issue before inclusion. Do any readers know if UNESCO sets such an apology as a pre-condition for inclusion of such controversial sites on the list? .......................................................................................................... As far as Yubaru's second sentence is concerned, does it mean he would exclude Gunkanjima from the list because slave labor was used? The horrors perpetrated at a site have not been a disqualifying factor during the selection process. Consider that Auschwitz-Birkenau was included in 1979. Like it or not, that's part of humanity's heritage.

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CH3CHOFeb. 16, 2017 - 01:46PM JST "The legal obligation to work till they quit" is what they mean by saying they were "forced" to work.

So basically these Korean laborers (whose country was occupied by Japanese forces at the time) were allowed to 'opt out' of the duties at anytime, and were free to leave?

So much for owning the past, eh?

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Aly RustomFEB. 16, 2017 - 09:43AM JST

So forced to work under “very harsh conditions” does not mean 'forced labor'.

This article does not say anything about how and when those Koreans came to Hashima island or under what condition and under what law they worked. So, readers just "fill in the blank" by their wild imagination.

Until 1944, Koreans came to the island out of their own will under labor contract with the mining company. Under their labor contract, they had legal obligation to work until they quit their job. "The legal obligation to work till they quit" is what they mean by saying they were "forced" to work.

From 1944 to 1945 during the last years of WW2, Japanese government drafted its citizens, both citizens of Korean origin and Japanese origin, for public work. The coal mining in the island was "public work" because the coal was essential for the war. The people so drafted were "force to work", just as people drafted as soldiers were "forced to fight". So, Japanese Government may erect a sign saying "There were many citizens of the Empire from Korean Peninsula who were drafted and worked in the mine for the purpose of the war." to show the true history.

AgentXFEB. 16, 2017 - 01:17PM JST

I must say, I was unaware that this was the case with this site

Nowhere in Japan is free from public work during the war.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

Having said that, been to gunkanjima (loved it) and as far as I remember references to slavery and foreign forced-labour were largely omitted (from leaflets, films, tour etc). Something unesco should look into perhaps.

I must say, I was unaware that this was the case with this site. It seems as though the facts are conveniently avoided. It would be so much cooler if the Japanese just owned their past rather than just pretending like it doesn't exist. Denying it and ignoring it just denotes that it was never dealt with properly and could occur again.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Scrote: "The Koreans and Chinese working on the island were not slaves, they were "comfort miners"."

Comfort miners who were not only NOT forced laborers, they willingly sacrificed their lives, or much of them, for the happy work conditions and wonderful pay they were given by the benevolent Imperial Japan. Why can't those people just move on and forget about it while we reminisce of days long past??

3 ( +6 / -3 )

The Koreans and Chinese working on the island were not slaves, they were "comfort miners".

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I am a very big fan of this island as I absolutely love ghost towns and haunted houses. Having said that, I think the gov needs to do more to show the history of the island.

In 2015, Tokyo said it would take steps to ensure visitors understand that many Koreans and others were brought to the island and forced to work under “very harsh conditions”.

Really?

On the same day, immediately after the UNESCO WHC meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida publicly announced that "the remarks [forced to work under harsh conditions] by the Japanese government representative did not mean 'forced labor'".[21

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashima_Island

So forced to work under “very harsh conditions” does not mean 'forced labor'. Kind of like someone saying, "The fact that I'm his student doesn't make him my teacher."

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"Mitsubishi Materials, a descendant of the original operator, has said it is going to place a memorial at some of its former mining sites to honour forced labourers."

THey promised they would do this in order that it be recognized as a UNESCO site, but once it was they have been doing nothing but dragging their feet, and the company, while apologizing to American POWs for forced labor (which many in Japan were still against), have said there is no need to apologize to Koreand and Chinese because they were not "POWs" since the areas had been colonized by Japan. Typical attitude of some here. And of course, they burned all records of how many slaves they forced into working here to maintain deniability, and so people here can say it didn't happen, and they can lament about what once was "great".

Shame on Japan.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

“UNESCO status was a desecration and a shock for the victims

Can't really bite the hand that pays you now can you?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

references to slavery and foreign forced-labour were largely omitted

Similarly, at the Hiroshima Museum reference was made to the Koreans who died as a result of the bombing. Visitors to the museum were informed the Koreans were in Hiroshima 'because of a labor shortage'. Both the number of Koreans killed and why they were in Hiroshima were factual. However the reference omitted a few other facts making the explanation a few facts short of a full-on truth.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@yubaru, I see your point but imo UNESCO sites are also here to inform future generations about their parents' wrongdoings and perhaps/hopefully prevent it from happening again. That's why Auschwitz for example is also 'on the list'.

Having said that, been to gunkanjima (loved it) and as far as I remember references to slavery and foreign forced-labour were largely omitted (from leaflets, films, tour etc). Something unesco should look into perhaps.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I hope you remember to say they were slaves as well. This place should never have been given UNESCO status.

They should be, as a reminder of what happened in the past in regards to the conditions that some of the people had to go through so that we remember and hopefully don't do it again.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

In 2015, Tokyo said it would take steps to ensure visitors understand that many Koreans and others were brought to the island and forced to work under “very harsh conditions”.

I hope you remember to say they were slaves as well. This place should never have been given UNESCO status.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

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