Connect with us


In Hiroshima, Memorial for Korean Hibakusha has a Tale to Tell

An estimated 20,000 Koreans lived in Hiroshima and were victims of the A-bombing. This is the story of the cenotaph erected for them inside Peace Memorial Park.



Mr Kwon Juno, second-generation Korean resident in Japan, stands in front of the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb in Hiroshima. He is part of a Korean group supporting A-bomb survivors in Japan. On May 18 (© Sankei by Yuki Ishikawa)

During the G7 Hiroshima Summit, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol made a joint visit to a monument in Peace Memorial Park dedicated to Korean victims of the atomic bomb dropped there in August 1945.

This cenotaph was also a topic of much discussion when former US president Barack Obama visited Hiroshima several years ago. The visit this time got tied up with controversies over the "wartime labor" lawsuits in South Korean courts and how Prime Minister Kishida's positive attitude toward the unfortunate "past" in bilateral relations is being evaluated in South Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife, alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, lay flowers at the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb in Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on May 21, 2023. (Pool photograph)

For 20,000 Korean Victims

An estimated 20,000 Koreans living in Hiroshima at the time are believed to have become victims of the A-bombing. The Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-Bomb was established in 1970. This was primarily at the initiative of the Hiroshima Prefecture Headquarters of the Korean Residents Union of Japan (MINDAN). 

Originally, the memorial was located outside the grounds of Peace Park. However, some parties in Japan began saying that it was "discriminatory not to locate the monument within the par.k" And the South Korean government responded to this call. It was then moved to inside the park in 1999.

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol, his wife, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, bow as they lay flowers at the cenotaph for Korean victims of the A-bomb on May 21, 2023. (© Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via REUTERS)

Having lived in Hiroshima, I am familiar with the history of the monument. And I know for a fact that when first built, the City of Hiroshima had a blanket ban on the establishment of any new monuments within the park. So, the Minkan Hiroshima Prefecture Headquarters was fully aware that the issue had nothing to do with "discrimination." It was out of consideration toward South Korea and the spirit of "good will" that the relocation took place.

I heard the following from Mr Takashi Hiraoka, a former reporter for Chugoku Shimbun, the local newspaper. He has covered the issue of Korean hibakusha sufferers of radiation aftereffects from early on. Also, he has advocated that these victims receive assistance. 

In fact, Hiraoka later became mayor of Hiroshima City. He was also the one who approved the relocation of the monument to Peace Park.

Fate and Friendship of a Korean Prince

The inscription on the memorial mentions Yi U, who was a prince in the last ruling family in Korea, namely the Yi Dynasty. Like male members of Japan's ruling family, Prince Yi served in the Imperial Army. He was posted in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing, serving as a staff officer with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in charge of education at the headquarters of the Second General Army. 

Yi was on the way to work when the bomb was dropped on the morning of August 6 and severely injured. He died the next day at the Imperial Army's temporary first aid station on Ninoshima Island in Hiroshima Bay. 

Since Yi U hailed from a royal family, he had a military aide assigned to him. That aide, Lieutenant Colonel Hiroshi Yoshinari, feeling ill, did not head to work that fateful morning. He deeply regretted that fact, and committed suicide on August 8, the day following the wake for Prince Yi. 

Prince Yi U's body was immediately transported by military plane to Seoul, where his wife was living. Then, on August 9, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. That, in turn, was followed by Japan's surrender on August 15. 

Prince Yi U's funeral was attended by many important figures from various walks of life. Among them were the Governor-General of Korea and the commander of the Japanese Korean Army (Chosen Gun). The funeral was held with full military honors as scheduled on August 15 at Gyeongseong Stadium (later renamed the Dongdaemun Stadium) in Seoul.

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands during a visit to the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb on May 21, 2023. (© Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via REUTERS)

Surrender and Independence

The Showa Emperor's recorded message announcing Japan's surrender was broadcast at noon that day. And the funeral service took place at 1:00 pm. Demonstrations celebrating Korea's liberation from Japanese rule broke out on the streets of downtown Seoul the following day, August 16. There were growing crowds of jubilant Koreans shouting "Mansei." 

Ironically, at the same time that Koreans were celebrating the collapse of Japan's empire, Japan was demonstrating sincerity in honoring the passing of Prince Yi U. He was the only member of the Korean royal family to die in the war.

The original Korean hibakusha memorial was erected about 100 meters west of the current site. It was situated at the foot of Honkawa Bridge, said to be the very spot where the badly wounded prince was discovered on the day of the bombing. 

Incidentally, I have heard that after the war, the widows of Yi U and Lieutenant-Colonel Yoshinari remained in touch, exchanging New Year's cards each year. 

The Yi Dynasty came to an end when Korea became part of the Japanese Empire in 1910. The inscription on the memorial may be viewed as symbolic of that tragedy and the misfortunes that followed. 

Bouquets of flowers from the President of South Korea and Prime Minister of Japan rest on a table at the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb on May 21, 2023. (© Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via REUTERS

Success of Hibakusha Humanitarian Assistance 

However, those hibakusha who chose to return to South Korea after the war have received humanitarian assistance from Japan. In fact, both the public and private sectors have provided various forms of support. They are treated on a par with Japanese citizens in this assistance. That means they are issued A-bomb survivor identification cards and free medical care. 

In this, the Japanese government's assistance to South Korean hibakusha might be termed a successful example of humanitarian assistance provided to South Koreans. 

I hope that the joint visit to the memorial for Korean victims in Hiroshima by the leaders of Japan and South Korea will serve to confirm that "postwar cooperation" between our two nations is now ready to go beyond apologies and expressions of remorse.


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Katsuhiro Kuroda

Katsuhiro Kuroda is a visiting editorial writer in Seoul for the Sankei Shimbun.

Our Partners