Japan's Industrial Exhibit Skirts Forced Labor Atrocity

  • By Lee Ha-won

    June 15, 2020 12:51

    The Japanese government is opening an exhibition center on Monday featuring World War II industrial facilities without any reference to the brutality forced labor from Korea had to endure there.

    In 2015 when 23 industrial facilities that played an important role in the industrialization of Japan were granted UNESCO World Heritage status, the Japanese government admitted Koreans were forced to labor at some of them during the 1910-45 occupation and promised to commemorate the victims and set up an information center about the brutal history. One of the most notorious places is a coal mine on Hashima Island.

    But the Industrial Heritage Information Center set at the Tokyo metropolitan government building in the Shinjuku district makes no reference to the atrocity. It is entirely funded by the Japanese government.

    The center was temporarily closed since opening in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But when reporters were allowed in on Sunday, it became clear that it is an unabashed celebration of industrial development during the Meiji Restoration.

    In fact there are clear signs of a deliberate whitewash. The exhibits feature interviews with around a dozen people who worked on Hashima Island and glorify its history. Pay envelopes are also on display in an attempt to prove that Korean laborers were rewarded properly.

    At the Hashima coal mine, which was first developed by Mitsubishi in the late 19th century, some 1,000 Koreans were forced to labor in miserable conditions and more than 100 of them died.

    This is not the first time that the Japanese has broken its promise to UNESCO. When it submitted its first report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2017, it omitted the words "forced labor," and they were also absent in a second report submitted in 2019. UNESCO reminded the Japanese government of its pledge and pointed out that visitors should be informed of everything that happened in the facilities' history.

    The whitewash has not gone down entirely well with Japan either. Kyodo News reported that many Koreans suffered "inhuman treatment" on Hashima Island and added that the whitewash "could invite criticism for encouraging historical revisionism that hides the reality of the past."

    The Foreign Ministry plans to summon a senior official from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Monday to lodge a formal protest and demand revisions to the exhibition. It will also report the matter to the UNESCO.

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