Japan Press Weekly
[Advanced search]
Past issues
Special issues
Fact Box
Feature Articles
Mail to editor
Mail magazine
HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 May 18 - 24  > Koreans executed as ‘Japanese war criminals’ after WWII
> List of Past issues
Bookmark and Share
2016 May 18 - 24 [PEACE]

Koreans executed as ‘Japanese war criminals’ after WWII

May 22, 2016
Akahata Sunday edition

Following World War II, trials of Class-B/C Japanese war criminals, who were charged with abusing and torturing civilians and war prisoners, took place at 49 locations across Asia. In those courts, about 5,700 people were indicted and more than 900 were executed. Among the prosecuted were 148 Koreans, and 23 of them were executed.

Story of Lee Hakray

Lee Hakray, 91, a Korean resident living in Japan, was once held responsible for war crimes.

In February 1925, Lee was born in a mountain village in the southwestern part of present South Korea. It was 15 years after Japan “annexed” Korea or what he phrases as when “Japan swallowed up my native land”.

Japan positioned the Korean Peninsula as a “logistics base” for its planned invasion of China. After fully initiating the invasion of China, the Empire of Japan reinforced even further the policy of making Koreans subjects of the Japanese Emperor, the so-called “Japanization policy”, in Korea.

The Imperial Army in December 1941 entered into the Asia-Pacific War and came to hold an enormous number of prisoners of the Allies in Southeast Asia. To handle this situation, Japan in May 1942 decided to recruit “prison guards” from Korea and Taiwan.

Assigned a quota, the village office told 17-year-old Lee to take the examination for a post in POW camps. It was, however, the examination for compulsory conscription.

In July 1942, more than 3,000 Koreans as “Japanese civilian employees” enlisted in the Imperial Army. Lee was forced to adopt the Japanese name of Hiromura and was sent to a POW camp in Thailand. The captives there were engaged in the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway for the purpose of securing a supply route to Burma, now known as Myanmar.

Lee testified, “We had to send even sick prisoners to the construction site.” Many POWs such as Australians died from the extremely heavy work in extremely poor conditions.

Lee was in Thailand when the war ended in August 1945. He was delighted at the prospect of being free, and he wanted to go back to his home village as soon as possible. However, his joy did not last long. He was brought to trial of Class B/C war criminals by the Allied Nations on allegations of “prisoner abuse”.

In the war crimes court held in Singapore, he was sentenced to death. “My mind went blank,” he said. Eight months later, his sentence was reduced to imprisonment for an unspecified reason, and he was relocated to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. In 1956, he was released but he could not return to his country because he was a “Japan collaborator”. With help from Japanese charitable donors, he started a taxi company with some of his friends. He has since been struggling to survive.

The Japanese government, despite having mobilized these Koreans as “Japanese” during the war, excluded them from any assistance and compensation which “Japanese” soldiers and bereaved families receive. This is because people from Korea and Taiwan were deprived of their Japanese nationality and became “foreigners” under the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

“The Japanese government for its benefit used us as Japanese during the war and didn’t give us any support after the war. This is irrational,” said Lee.

A Korean who was given the death penalty as a Japanese war criminal asked Lee just before the execution to convey a message, “Please tell the world that the man named Hayashi (this person’s Japanese name) was not a bad person.”

These last words still wreck Lee’s heart. “For death row Japanese war criminals, they maybe believed that they would die for Japan. But for us, we couldn’t have such a resignation.” Lee still keeps asking himself, “For whom and for what did we have to be hanged?”

For more than 60 years, Lee has been calling on the Japanese government to redress the absurdity. He often visits Dietmemebers to make a request to this effect.

Lee said, “I’ve been trying hard to restore the honors of my dead friends. I really want to ease these people’s disappointment. This is my commitment as a spared Korean war criminal.”


The Imperial Japanese government moved ahead with the assimilation policy to have Koreans “voluntarily” support Japan’s war of aggression. In October 1937, the Imperial government laid down an oath for Koreans to pledge to become “strong Japanese people standing by the Emperor” and forced them to recite it. The occupation authorities banned schools in Korea from teaching the Korean language in April 1938 and even ordered Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones in February 1940.

Imperial gov’t forced Koreans to ‘enlist’ for Japanese Army

With regard to Japan’s occupation policies, Akahata interviewed Keisen University Professor Emeritus Utsumi Aiko. The following is a summary of her comments:

The Imperial government attempted to assimilate Koreans into Japanese by depriving them of the right to use their own language and forcing them to go and worship at Shinto shrines.

I heard a story of a Korean man who had worked for the Japanese Army as a prison guard. One day when he was still underage, a local Japanese policeman said to him, “If you refuse to enlist, your family won’t receive any rations.” He then persuaded his parents and enlisted in the army.

During WWII, along with being prison guards for the Japanese military, many Koreans were forcibly taken to coal mines in Hokkaido. At that time, Koreans were worrying that Japanese soldiers would come to their homes at any time and take them away.

In May 1942, the Tojo Cabinet made a decision to adopt a draft system on the Korean Peninsula, considering it too lenient to recruit Koreans for the military. The Imperial Japanese Army, which imposed on its soldiers the notorious Combatants’ Code “Don’t live as a captive”, failed to inform enlisted Koreans about the Geneva Convention which states how POWs should be treated.

Even after the war ended, the successive Japanese governments have neither apologized to nor compensated Asian victims of the war of aggression, while paying a certain amount of damages to non-Asian ex-prisoners. In order to build truly friendly relations with Koreans and eliminate the hothouse that has generated discrimination against them, it is essential to pressure the Japanese government to offer its sincere apology and compensation to Koreans damaged by Japan’s war.
> List of Past issues
  Copyright (c) Japan Press Service Co., Ltd. All right reserved