Japan Seeks to Glorify Another Forced-Labor Site

  • By Choi Eun-kyung

    December 29, 2021 12:43

    Korea on Monday protested again Japan's plan to list another site where masses of Koreans were mobilized as slave labor during World War II as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    On Tuesday, the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs announced its plan to register a mine on the island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture on the UNESCO World Heritage list. About 1,000 Koreans were forced into hard labor in the mine during World War II, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

    This is only the latest attempt by Japan to glorify its industrial heritage by glossing over its reliance on Korean slave labor in wartime and the suffering of the forced laborers. In previous listings it has blatantly ignored UNESCO stipulations to prominently document the troubling history of industrial sites.

    Japan will decide by Feb. 1 whether to formally recommend the Sado mine to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which will make a decision in 2023 based on results of a review by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a non-governmental international organization advising on the matter.

    The Sado mine was the biggest gold and silver mine during the Edo period in the 17th century, but it was used to produce war materiel like copper during the Pacific War. 

    A tunnel at the preserved mine on Sado Island in Japan /Yonhap

    Many Koreans were mobilized into hard labor there in this process but there are no verbal testimonies from survivors. In 2019, the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan in a report said at least 1,140 Koreans were pressed into forced labor at the Sado mine, but the documentations remains sketchy.

    Since 2005, Niigata Prefecture and Sado have pushed the UNESCO project. But they purposely restricted the timeframe to the Edo period, which sparked criticism that they are attempting to cover up the dark side of its wartime history.

    Back in 2015, Japan also caused conflict with Korea when Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island where many Koreans were forced into hard labor at a coal mine, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    At the time, Japan pledged to "take follow-up measures to specify the history of forced mobilization of laborers and memorialize victims." But the Industrial Heritage Information Center in Tokyo, a facility that opened as part of the pledge, instead downplayed their suffering and displays documents purporting to show how well they were treated.

    The Foreign Ministry here on Monday urged Japan to retract the plan. "It's deplorable that Japan is pushing for another World Heritage designation of a wartime forced labor site when it has not kept its promises at other modern industrial sites," such as Hashima Island, a ministry spokesman said.

    The ministry also called in Kazuo Chujo, the head of the Japanese Public Information and Cultural Center in Seoul, to protest. 

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