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08/14/2017 Special > Special


[Op-ed] The Buried Sorrows of Koreans

A forgotten island, Hashima


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On the 26th of July, a movie named Gunhamdo (Battleship Island) was released, shading a new light on the forced labor of Koreans during the Japanese colonial era. This movie is based on an island named Hashima, and focuses on the Koreans facing extreme labor dominated by the Japanese. This movie pulled out great attention towards the historical facts of Hashima island, and revealed some historical facts people should know. 

A photo of Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island.
(Photo courtesy of Chosun news)

Hashima Island, which is also called as a battleship island due to their appearance, is a small island near Nagasaki, which all 6.3 hectares were used as a coal mine. During the 1950s, this island thrived because of enormous amounts of coal mines production and thus was able to support the modernization of Japan. This little island contained the first reinforced concrete structured apartment in Japan along with various modernized recreation facilities such as theaters and restaurants. However, this island has been abandoned since 1974 when coal mines shut down. In 2015, Hashima island was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site as it was recognized as a site that contributed to the modernization of Japan. This island is now used as a tourist sight, to show the introduction of Japan’s modernization.

However, on the other side of this island, contains huge sacrifice of Koreans. A lot of Koreans, most of them fifteen or sixteen, were taken to the island and were forced to work 1000m under the ground in narrow coal mine tunnels. The average temperature exceeded 45° with excessive amounts of coal dust when the workers only had their underwear on, let alone decent working suits. They constantly suffered from the threats of methane explosions and mines caving in. Moreover, the workers only received a single chunk of the leftovers of soybean oil for their meals. A survivor Choi Jang-sub reminisced, “No one would be full even when we eat our breakfast and lunch all at once. Desperate screams were heard all day through concrete walls due to hunger. My only wish was to have a simple meal with rice and soup.” Workers who were only teenagers were forced to work for an average of 12 hours a day. If they couldn’t fulfill their quota, the supervisors would whip them and not ration their meals. If they were caught escaping, they would be beaten to death on the spot or tortured. There is a record that water mixed with coal ashes were poured into noses of people hung upside-down for this torture. The workers therefore called this island, "the Hell Island".

A photo of a Korean working in the mine of Hashima Island.
(Photo courtesy of MBC)
The mine workers didn't receive enough food to eat.
(Photo courtesy of MBC)

In 2015, a variety show in Korea, Muhandojeon, introduced a tower in Takashima Island that was erected for the souls of the Korean workers in Hashima Island. Citizens fund-raised money to modify the road to this tower, as it was shown covered with bushes, looking as if it were intended to be hidden. However, after the modification, Nagasaki hung a danger sign across the road with improvised direction boards, referring that it isn’t certain Korean workers’ remains are under the tower. As more Koreans visited this site despite this sign, Nagasaki blocked the whole road with large wooden sticks and copperplates. Japan has now completely blocked the single way Koreans could visit and pray for the workers sacrificed through forced labor.

Japan is now facing a deadline made by the UNESCO. As there were fierce oppositions made by Korea before being designated as a world heritage site, Japan has mentioned they would indicate Koreans were ‘forced to work’, and make a progress report until December this year. However, right after the designation, Japan declared that the phrase ‘forced to work’ didn’t mean forced labor, but was intended as mine workers in Japanese. Japan is currently denying all forced labor made upon Koreans and blocking all ways of approach, and therefore pulls attention on how they are going to make through their progress report. Even in the current tour course, the sites which are expected to be worksites, are blocked due to ‘restoration work’. There are still a lot of facts to be identified between Korea and Japan. What is truly needed is the interests of all global citizens to reveal what is right and what is wrong.
Messages were found on the walls of coal mine tunnels. (Photo courtesy of EBS)

On Jung-yun
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