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Gunkanjima Book Publisher Admits Using Unrelated Drawings to Suggest ‘Abuse of Korean Boys’

The Sankei Shimbun

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Illustrations from a children’s picture book depicting young male Korean wartime laborers being forced to work in extremely poor environment on Nagasaki City’s Hashima coal mining Island (commonly called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)), were revealed on February 25 to be strikingly similar to photographs of street children in Shinagawa, Tokyo right after the war, and of Chinese spies during the Sino-Japanese War. 

The revelation was made by the ‘Hashima Islanders’ Association for Pursuing the True History’, formed by former islanders of Gunkanjima, and The Sankei Shimbun. There is concern that false impressions were possibly created by the use of the illustrations, which were drawn based on photographs unrelated to Gunkanjima.   

Written and drawn by Yoon Moonyoung (尹ムニョン氏), the picture book, “Gunkanjima- Embarrassing World Cultural Heritage”, was published by Uri Education in 2016 in South Korea. The book emphasizes Japan’s wickedness, as it tells the story of a young Korean boy who was forcibly taken to Gunkanjima and made to work nearly 12 hours daily in 45 degree Celsius heat. There are also scenes where a Japanese soldier beats a boy with a whip and a person who appears to be from the Korean Peninsula is hung upside down. 

One of the illustrations in question depicts a scene of more than 10 naked boys jammed inside a cell as they lean against the iron bars. According to a research conducted by the Hashima Islanders’ Association, the illustration is extremely similar in composition to a photographic image of street children found in a photo book published in 1977, titled, the History of Contemporary Japanese Photography 1945~1970 (Heibonsha). The image, shot in 1946 in Shinagawa, Tokyo is explained in the book as “street children who were rounded up and housed in a juvenile shelter”.  

Original Photo of Japanese boys in a Shinagawa, Tokyo, juvenile shelter after the war.
Illustration by South Korean Yoon Moonyoung, purporting to be Korean boys made to work at Gunkanjima.

Furthermore, the composition of the illustration of a Korean boy being cross-examined by a Japanese soldier overlaps with an image taken by a military photographer in China on August 8, 1937. This image is included in 100 Million People’s Showa History 10 Unauthorized Photo History (Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd, 1977), and is captioned with the explanation: “Military police investigate a Chinese military spy. On the left, a locally hired interpreter.”   

Speaking through Uri Education, Mr. Yoon, the author of the Korean picture book, admitted to Sankei Shimbun that the book was based on materials unrelated to Gunkanjima.

He further acknowledged that it was based on photographs found in Photography Record: Invasion of Japanese Imperialism Korea and China, which was published in South Korea in 1983. Uri Education stressed that the “story is fiction”, and stated that “in Korea, it is permissible to draw illustrations based on photographs”.

Former islander, Mr. Yoichi Nakamura, 82, emphasized, “Using unrelated photographs to create a picture book, how far do they need to go to give Hashima a bad name? I want to demand an apology and a recall of the picture books.”

The government and private sectors in South Korea opposed the registration of the island of Gunkanjima as a World Cultural Heritage site in 2015.   

(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun