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Credibility of Gunkanjima Footage Crumbles Under Expert Scrutiny

Experts and former miners have found discrepancies in alleged footage of Gunkanjima, used by some South Korean media to back wartime forced labor claims.



Koko Kato, former Cabinet Advisor and the Executive Director of the National Congress for Industrial Heritage, addresses the Industrial Labor Study Group investigating the NHK documentary "Greenless Island" at the Parliamentary Museum in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Shinpei Okuhara)

Purported footage of a coal mine on Hashima Island, also known as Gunkanjima, in Nagasaki, was featured in Midori Naki Shima ("Greenless Island"), a documentary produced by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK in 1955.

To investigate the authenticity of the footage, an industrial labor study group of the National Congress for Industrial Heritage (NCIH) held its first meeting in Tokyo on May 9.

The footage contradicts the testimonies of former islanders and regulations governing the mines during that period. Nevertheless, certain South Korean media organizations have exploited the footage to support allegations of the Japanese mistreatment of Korean workers during World War II.

The study group hopes to restore the dignity of the former residents of the island, whose homeland has been tarnished by these accusations.

The study group, chaired by journalist Yoshiko Sakurai, will compile an investigation report by the summer of 2023. Approximately 40 experts in coal mine history, former miners, and legal professionals have closely reviewed the disputed footage. 

A view of Gunkanjima, showing a cluster of ruins, in Nagasaki on December 20, 2020. (© Sankei)

Inconsistent With Reality

Motoki Yamada, the assistant director of the Omuta City Library in Fukuoka Prefecture, suggested that NHK "used a reenactment video," considering the difficulties of bringing filming equipment into the mine during that time.

Jitsuo Tanaka, an 88-year-old former Gunkanjima miner, also affirmed that the depicted work environment is inconsistent with reality. 

Experts and former residents have voiced concerns about the purported footage, highlighting substantial differences between its content and the actual working conditions within the mine. Among the discrepancies were scenes showing workers crawling in a tunnel, wearing loincloths, and wielding pickaxes without using safety lights. 

Misuse by South Korean Media

But several South Korean media, including TV stations, have been misusing the footage to support claims of forced wartime mobilization of Koreans by the Japanese.

When questioned by the Diet, an NHK executive acknowledged that the Japanese public broadcaster had provided the footage used in Greenless Island to South Korean public broadcaster KBS in 2010. Since then, the footage has been used for "purposes beyond the original intent" by other South Korean media outlets.

At the NCIH meeting, Shunsuke Mutai, a representative of the Liberal Democratic Party, urged NHK to address the situation. He stated, "NHK asserts that there are no legal concerns since the copyright [of the footage] has expired. However, there is a moral problem because the footage is being used in a way that hinders national interest." 

Furthermore, Executive Director Koko Kato of NCIH said, "Ignoring what happens to the footage is tantamount to leaving it open to misuse [by countries such as South Korea] to back political claims."

She added, "The elderly former residents have a strong desire for this issue to be resolved within their lifetime. We have a responsibility to clear up this misunderstanding."

Photos of former residents of Gunkanjima in Nagasaki at the Industrial Heritage Information Center in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on March 30, 2020. (© Sankei)

Lacking Conclusive Evidence

Since November 2020, NHK has been conducting an investigation into the footage of Gunkanjima in response to demands from former residents. 

In December 2021, NHK compiled a report on its findings based on interviews with experts and retired NHK employees. The report acknowledged the lack of conclusive evidence regarding the authenticity of some parts of the footage, but it did not outright dismiss its connection to Gunkanjima. 

Furthermore, the report quotes an expert who said, "I have heard that pickaxes were used as a supplemental measure," contradicting the former residents' claims. 

However, it also includes statements that question the authenticity of the footage. For example, the footage depicts the use of light bulbs without explosion-proof covers. But an interviewee remarked that using exposed light bulbs would have been highly unlikely during a period when safety precautions to prevent accidents were rigorously enforced.

NHK has yet to comply with the former islanders' demands for another investigation.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. B Hayashida

    May 14, 2023 at 10:16 am

    Japan did not "force" Korean workers to work for Japanese companies. Koreans were happy to have paid work during WW2. Koreans even stowed away on ships to come to Japan to work. Koreans could be promoting the positive things about Korean culture (food, the cosmetics, hanboks, etc.) INSTEAD they seem to have settled on pulling the wool over the world's eyes by claiming perennial VICTIMHOOD! I am so sick and tired of hearing LIES about how Japanese forced Koreans to work for Japanese companies during WW2l and how Korean women were FORCED to be sex workers (COMFORT WOMEN) for Japanese soldiers during WW2! Truth is during the annexation period (1910 to 1945) Koreans VOLUNTEERED to work those jobs!! Truth is the Korean comfort women's parents were the one's who traded their daughters into brothel work to pay for a loan financed by the brothel owner. Presumably the parents were financially desperate. But while I can have some sympathy for the Korean comfort women's life circumstances; the outright lies of the comfort women today just make me furious! Furthermore, Koreans themselves petitioned Japan in early 1900s to ANNEX Korea in the hope that Korea could modernize as quickly as Japan had after Japan decided to open to western trade and learn about western society. Japan's taxpayer money was used to modernize Korea! So KOREA should show thanks and gratitude to Japan!!

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