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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 May 10 - 16  > Ex-high school teacher reveals reality of Koreans’ wartime forced labor in Fukushima
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2017 May 10 - 16 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Ex-high school teacher reveals reality of Koreans’ wartime forced labor in Fukushima

May 9 & 10, 2017
During World War II, many Koreans were transported to Japan as forced laborers at coal mines and construction sites. A former high school teacher in Fukushima Prefecture has recently revealed the facts concerning the wartime slave labor in Fukushima’s Iwaki City.

In 1910, the Empire of Japan annexed Korea with the use of military threats. As part of its national mobilization policies, the Japanese government brought a total of 700,000 Korean workers to Japan during WWII.

Tatsuta Koji, a 75-year-old ex-high school teacher in Iwaki City, has researched this issue for over 10 years after his retirement. According to his research, about 20,000 Koreans were forced to work in Iwaki between 1939 and 1945.

Korean workers did not come to Japan of their own free will. With the aim of addressing labor shortages, based on the National Mobilization Law, the Japanese authorities forcibly brought them to Japan and imposed imprisonment on those who rejected mobilization orders.

In regard to the wartime compulsory labor at a coalfield in Iwaki, records of mine workers in Japan state as follows: “No matter how ill Korean workers felt, they were not allowed any rest from work. Superintendents and foremen of the labor camp used violence against workers day after day. Beaten with sticks, laborers often had fresh wounds and bruises.”

In addition to the institutional violence at coal mines, Tatsuta found severe discriminatory labor practices against Korean miners. They were assigned to extremely dangerous tasks and many of them were killed in accidents such as cave-ins. At mines in and around the city, 80% of Korean laborers were forced to engage in cutting rock face, a task with a high fatality rate.

The management paid Koreans derisory wages, deducting “reserves” from the amount to be paid. After the war ended, they were sent back to their home country without unpaid wages.

Even under these conditions, slave laborers repeatedly rose up in protest against their harsh working conditions.

In April 1943 at the Yoshima coal mine in Iwaki, a dispute broke out between Korean workers and Japanese labor managers which turned into a riot joined by all 400 Koreans. The riot was suppressed by the military police and 23 Koreans were convicted. “That disturbance did not occur without cause. In its background lay the fact that Korean miners were discriminated against and brutally treated on a daily basis,” Tatsuta pointed out.

Court records and Special Political Police documents show that the number of Korean workers in Fukushima who escaped totaled 5,125 between 1939 and 1943, accounting for almost 30% of all workers. A total of 31 labor disputes arose during the same period of time with nearly 2,700 Korean laborers taking part. Statistics between 1944 and 1945 are unavailable due to the lack of data.

Tatsuta stressed, “Learning about Koreans’ wartime forced labor and telling the historical fact to younger generations will help promote friendship between Korea and Japan. We have to work hard to protect the postwar Constitution which is based on reflection on Japan’s war of aggression and the horrible experiences of civilian victims during the war.”
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