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Forced Labor Propaganda: When You’ve Got No Historical Facts, Use Fake Graffiti




(Second of 3 Parts)


Part 1: Lie Debunked: Historical Data Show No Forced Labor for Koreans




On February 8, South Korean MBC TV’s Evening News program aired a special report on the Hashima coal mine, known as Gunkanjima, in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture. The broadcast was intended to refute the Sankei report on the same day that the trailer for an upcoming summer film Gunkanjima (directed by Ryoo Seung-wan) was inaccurate.



The MBC TV report—which even began by calling the Sankei an “extremist-leaning right-wing outlet”—shows Korean boys being made to squeeze into tight spaces in order to work in the mine.


The program, however, had bigger problems than just rebutting Sankei. Expert investigation showed that the photos used in the Evening News broadcast were not taken on Gunkanjima.


 A man is lying down and digging in a cramped space at Chikuho Mine in the middle of the Meiji Period (Photo above). However, the South Korean MBC TV reports that Korean labors were forced  to dig the mine.  This picture is shown at the History museum in Busan, South Korea.


Kyushu University professor Munehiro Miwa stated unequivocally that almost none of the photos came from the Hashima mine.


First, Miwa pointed to scenes of people said to have been working at Hashima: “The photos show the design of open pits a Kaijima Mine in Fukuoka Prefecture, which is completely different from the mine on Hashima.”


Next, pointing to a photo of men lying down and digging in a cramped space, Miwa said that the photo shows Chikuho Mine in the middle of the Meiji Period.



Japan University professor emeritus Naoki Tanaka, who is an expert in coal mine labor, said, “It is nothing short of preposterous that there would be digging by hand like this at Hashima, which was mechanically very advanced.”


In the Evening News broadcast, soot-blackened workers standing side by side were described as “forcibly recruited victims.” However, the photo was not of Koreans at all—it was taken from a September 1926 report in Hokkaido’s Asahikawa newspaper about a massacre at a road construction site. The 1926 report mentions nothing whatsoever about the presence of any Koreans.


The Asahikawa Shimbun's article on September 1926 (Photo above), and the picture is from the History  museum at Busan. It says that they are described as “forcibly recruited victims (Koreans).”


Evening News also showed graffiti, written in Hangul, which was found on the walls of the Hashima coal mine. The graffiti read, “I’m hungry,” “I want to go home,” and “I want to see my mother.”


However, the Nishi Nippon newspaper reported on January 3, 2000, that this “graffiti” was created by staff members during the production of a 1965 film. It was produced by an organization affiliated with the General Association of Korean Workers, which was trying to track down the traces of Korean laborers who worked in the Chikuho Mine. The movie staff wrote the graffiti in order to increase the dramatic effect of the film they were making.


Former staff who witnessed the writing of the graffiti told the same newspaper: “There are few videos of forced abduction. So the director said that it would be better if there were some kind of expression of the feelings of those [who had been abducted].”



The program remained heedless of the facts, and instead forced the conclusion that “hundreds of Koreans were forcibly mobilized and treated like slaves.” On Genron TV, the internet program which first reported the mistaken use of the photographs, journalist Yoshiko Sakurai criticized the incident as “creating [false] impressions.”


Misleading Photos at Busan Museum


When we sent MBC TV a questionnaire, their weekly news department admitted to using, on April 11th, photographs of places that were not Hashima. Along with this response, MBC TV conveyed “feelings of regret.”


However, MBC TV went on to say that the photographs, “although perhaps taken at different places [i.e., other than at Hashima], are nevertheless invaluable materials showing a particular aspect of history when considered in the context of the suffering of the forcibly recruited Koreans.”


In Busan, South Korea, there is a particularly prominent building set on top of a hill. The building’s name is the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation.



The museum opened in December of 2015. According to its Japanese-language brochures, the museum is designed to “broadly inform Korean citizens about the miseries of forced mobilization carried out by Japan, to encourage a correct historical consciousness, and to provide a space for educating Korean citizens about human rights and world peace.”


Busan was chosen as the museum’s site because, according to the brochure, approximately 22% of forcibly mobilized Koreans came from Gyeongsang-do (where Busan is located), and because almost all of those mobilized from Gyeongsang-do were brought to Japan via the Port of Busan.


There are exhibition spaces on the 4th and 5th floor of this 7-story building. The 4th floor exhibits are divided into different rooms: the “Tunnel of Memory,” “The Concept of Imperial Japan’s Forced Mobilization,” “The Reality of Imperial Japan’s Forced Mobilization,” “Imperial Japan’s Forced Mobilization is not Finished,” and “Liberation and Repatriation.” Various “materials” are on display in each section.


On the 5th floor are found a “Korean Laborers’ Lodging” and a “Japanese Military ‘Comfort Station’,” where visitors learn of the “sufferings” endured by the victims.


Upon entering the museum, visitors are first met with the same photograph of soot-blackened men standing in a row that the South Korean program MBC TV Evening News used in its broadcast.



This photograph was also used in the packet distributed by the South Korean delegation to members of the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in support of the registration of the “Legacy of the Meiji Industrial Revolution,” a legacy which is to include Hashima (Gunkanjima). In the same packet was written, in English, “Wake up! Wake up, UNESCO! Wake up, world! Wake up, humanity!”


The booklet describes the mine work depicted in the photograph as “harsh labor,” and is captioned—in Japanese, Korean, and English—“Korean laborers prostrate inside an inclined mine shaft extracting coal.”


However, upon closer inspection, the photograph appears to have been taken in the same place as the photograph used by MBC TV. Multiple experts well-versed in the history of the coal industry have said that there were virtually no Koreans in Chikuho in the mid Meiji Period.


The museum features detailed explanation of “Gunkanjima,” replete with photographs.


“The working conditions [on Gunkanjima] were greatly inferior to those at coal mines on the mainland. Gunkanjima was called ‘Hell Island’ because of the fatal accidents which occurred there. While Gunkanjima has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is essential that the history of forced mobilization which is a part of Gunkanjima be remembered, too.”




Screens at the museum display the names of some 300 companies alleged to have taken part in the forced mobilization.


There is a room at the museum which has been turned into a replica of the interior of Gunkanjima. On the wall of this replica room there is a poster, written in Japanese, which says, “Mitsubishi  Gunkanjima Coal Mine  District 58”. The museum asserts that the Korean laborers suffered even in their sleeping arrangements. According to the brochure, “Few laborers returned home safely from the coal mines.”


However, Kyushu University professor Munehiro Miwa asserts that there was almost no difference in the mortality rates for Japanese and Koreans, and that the museum’s allegation that “few laborers returned home safely from the coal mines” is clearly a lie.


Correcting History



Coming to the end of the fourth-floor exhibit, there are some photographs shown in a particularly prominent way. Under a display titled, “Japanese Voices of Conscience,” a row of photographs includes, for instance, Yasunori Takazane, the recently deceased Nagasaki University emeritus professor who had been the director general of the Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum.


The Nagasaki Peace Museum was founded in 1995 to fulfill the dying wish of Masaharu Oka, who had been involved in the issue surrounding Korean victims of the atomic bombings of Japan.


The caption reads: “The world applauds those who correct the historical record, such as by bringing to light the existence of forced labor camps in Japan and by pursuing lawsuits against the Japanese government and Japanese corporations.”


The museum brochure reads, “In memory of [their] unhealable pain. A people which has forgotten its history has no future.”


In April, Professor Miwa published in the monthly journal Rekishitsu an account of the problematic assertions and photographs which he found displayed during his observation of the Busan museum.



Miwa’s rebuttal to the brochure’s phrase about forgetting history is, “A people which forges its history has no future.”



Main contributors: Takashi Arimoto, Shinpei Okuhara, Makiko Takita, and Takao Harakawa



This article was first published at the Sankei Shimbun on April 12, 2017.


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)



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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. cassandrawasright

    August 5, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Busan seems to have a serious issue with its museums. The museum of their own local history also contains authoritarian-style nationalist cheerleading and outlandish historical claims, which probably seem fairly silly to visiting foreigners. I hope their local government eventually shifts away from propaganda and towards simply sticking to the facts.

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