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EDITORIAL | Removal of the Monument to Korean Wartime Laborers Teaches Promises are Important

Gunma prefecture removed the monument after the association broke its promise and defied the Supreme Court order to remove the politicized statue from the park.



Gunma Prefecture official announces the removal of the memorial monument for Korean workers from Gunma no Mori prefectural park. (© Gunma Prefecture)

Gunma Prefecture has removed a memorial monument for Korean wartime laborers from the Gunma no Mori prefectural park in Takasaki City. It was removed because the group that owned the monument violated regulations and used it for political purposes.

Specifically, at the annual memorial ceremony held in front of the monument, participants repeatedly broke the rules by employing expressions like "forced recruitment," while demanding an apology and compensation from the Japanese government. 

Seeing as how the group owning the monument had broken its promise and threatened the neutrality of the park, removal of the monument by the prefecture was to be expected. 

Background of the Monument

The monument in question was built in 2004 by the Tsuitohi o Mamoru Kai (Monument Preservation Association), the predecessor of the present group. At that time it was co-led by Yoshikazu Tsunoda, former deputy speaker of the House of Councillors. The monument was meant to mourn Korean workers who died from accidents or disease while working as recruited laborers at factories and other workplaces within the prefecture during World War II.

Lawful conscription of workers was carried out in many countries during that conflict. Such conscription did not constitute illegitimate or forced labor. Conscription of Japanese citizens in Japan's home islands also occurred. Therefore, the Japanese government takes the position that the term "forced labor" is inappropriate.

On the other hand, the current group drafted an inscription using the expression "forced abductions" and blatantly critical of Japan. Gunma Prefecture then imposed several conditions before approving the erection of the monument in the park. One required that the wording be changed and another specified that no political activities be conducted at the monument.

Compliance with these conditions was essential to preserve the neutrality of the prefectural park. And the promise by the group was considered firmly binding. 

Extension of the approval for installation of this Korean memorial situated in a prefectural park in Gunma Prefecture was not approved due to violation of the terms of the installation agreement. (© Sankei Shimbun, photo by Kazuhiko Hashizume)

Promises Ignored

Nevertheless, the prefecture confirmed that anti-Japan demonstrations were repeatedly staged in front of the monument between 2016 and 2024. Therefore, it decided that the ten-year permission for monument installation would not be renewed when it came due in 2026.

The monument group then filed a lawsuit claiming that the prefecture's decision was illegal. Subsequently, the court of the first instance in Maebashi City agreed. However, on appeal, the Tokyo High Court dismissed the association's claim. It concluded, "Due to the political comments made at the memorial ceremonies, including use of the phrase 'forcible abductions,' the monument lost its neutral character."

In 2022 the Supreme Court dismissed the association's appeal and ruled in favor of the prefectural government. 

A prefectural official (far right) declares the start of executive action before the removal of a memorial monument for Korean workers installed in the Gunma Forest. On the morning of January 29, 2024, in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture provided by the prefecture)

Court Decisions Defied

Gunma Prefecture then ordered the association to remove the memorial and restore the site to its original state. However, after the association failed to respond, the prefecture itself removed the monument based on "substitute execution by administration." Gunma governor Ichita Yamamoto explained, "It all boils down to violation of the rules."

In response, the association itself, along with an Asahi Shimbun editorial, lashed out at Gunma Prefecture. They referred to the prefecture's move as an "incomprehensible outrage" and in similar language. The indisputable fact remains, however, that the association itself chose to violate the conditions under which the monument was established.

For more than a year and a half, after the Supreme Court handed down its final ruling, the group continued to defy the rules and the court decision. 

Protests that "removal is outrageous" are sorely off the mark. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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