Just after the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japan’s Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation should compensate four South Korean plaintiffs for wartime labor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected how the South Korean and Japanese media described the four as requisitioned or forced laborers.
“The government calls them ‘former workers from the Korean Peninsula’ rather than ‘requisitioned laborers.’ The four simply responded to job offers,” Abe said at the House of Representatives Budget Committee on November 1.
In fact, I made the same point in a Sankei Shimbun column on the day of the court decision. For readers who may be unaware of details, I here describe how the four Korean plaintiffs traveled to Japan.
How the Korean Workers Came to Japan
Plaintiffs A and B responded to a job advertisement published in Pyongyang by Nippon Steel (the predecessor of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation) in September 1943. They passed job interviews and traveled to Japan, accompanied by company recruitment staff. They became trainees at Osaka Steelworks.
Plaintiff C joined the Hokoku (Patriotic) Corps for labor services at the recommendation of the mayor of Daejeon before traveling to Japan in 1941, accompanied by Nippon Steel recruitment staff. Plaintiff C then became a worker at Kamaishi Steelworks.
Plaintiff D responded to a job offer as instructed by authorities of the city of Gunsan, Korea, and traveled to Japan in January 1943, accompanied by Nippon Steel recruitment staff. He then became a worker at Yahata Steelworks.
The four plaintiffs, all of whom traveled to Japan before September 1944, were not requisitioned at all.
Korean Steel Workers Were Paid Much More
There were three ways for mobilizing workers on the Korean Peninsula during World War II:
From 1939 to 1941, private Japanese companies’ recruitment staff went to the peninsula for “recruitment.”
From 1942 to September 1944, the then-governor-general of Korea allocated mobilization number to municipal governments and handed over mobilized workers to private Japanese companies in an “official arrangement” practice.
From September 1944 to around March 1945, some Koreans were subject to “requisition” under the National Requisition Ordinance.
Under all three types of arrangements, Koreans were employed by private Japanese companies and paid for their work under fixed-term contracts. Their treatment was generally good.
Recruited workers received a monthly payment of JPY140, compared to a starting monthly salary of JPY45 for a policeman, an average monthly salary of less than JPY10 for a lance corporal or lower-ranked soldier, and a monthly salary of JPY70 for a lieutenant. (See my articles in the second and third issues of Historical Awareness Research.)
Nevertheless, the South Korean Supreme Court concluded — more than half a century later — that the Japanese companies’ wartime recruitment of Koreans was inhumane and illegal.
Japan Should Invest in Correcting This Misperception
In Japan, meanwhile, the government, along with many media organizations and experts, have failed to criticize the ruling for misunderstanding facts. Even after the parliamentary statement by Prime Minister Abe, the use of the false term “requisitioned laborers” has remained unchecked.
The international community is already under the wrong perception that Koreans were forced to provide hard labor in Japan. Some leading American newspapers have used the phrase “slave labor.”
The international community mistakenly thinks Tokyo and Seoul are in a dispute over whether compensation for the labor had been settled by the 1965 bilateral agreement settling all claims.
While that is partly true, the important point should not be overlooked that the South Korean court’s misrepresentation of the facts of Korean wartime labor is also at issue.
Here I reiterate a proposal for Japan’s public and private sectors to cooperate in investing funds and personnel to publicize the facts about Japan’s wartime labor mobilization and the resolution of Japan-South Korea war compensation issues. To this end, a public research organization should be established first.
A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, Speaking Out #553, on November 5, 2018.
Author: Tsutomu Nishioka