Japanese Policeman Saved 300 Koreans from Massacre

    July 04, 2005 22:32

    The head a Japanese police station saved the lives of hundreds of Koreans in Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, newly published documents confirm. The Mainichi daily said Sunday records of talks between Tsunekichi Okawa, the superintendent at Tsurumi Police Station in Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama, and the local council show Okawa protecting hundreds of Koreans from a lynch mob.

    Okawa's efforts on behalf of the Koreans had so far only been reported in anecdotal form. The record comes from a memoir written prior to the Pacific War by a 55-year-old doctor who was part of the Tsurumi village council at the time and were discovered when his grandson sifted through his personal effects.

    The memoir includes accounts of rumors that Koreans were looting and pillaging in the wake of the earthquake, killing any Japanese who resisted, and of the mobs of young Japanese that formed to take revenge.

    The local council told Okawa to crack down on the Koreans instead of protecting 300 of them at the police station, saying its 30 officers would be powerless to restore order if the Koreans ran riot.

    But Okawa said the rumors of looting were groundless, and none of the Koreans under his protection had as much as a small knife. He said releasing the Koreans would lead to their immediate slaughter at the hands of the mob, and his police station would continue to protect them even if their number grew.

    Okawa told the councilmen to come to the police station and see for themselves, an offer they accepted. He died in 1940 at the age of 63. His grandson told the newspaper Okawa quit the force before retirement, perhaps because his protection of the Koreans had made his position untenable. A group of Japanese Koreans erected a memorial pillar next to Okawa’s tomb in Tsurumi-ku in 1953.

    (Jung Kwon-hyeon, khjung@chosun.com)

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