800 Koreans forced to work in colonial-era coal mines
Hashima Island where Japan exploited Koreans for coal mining during its colonial rule is seen in this file photo. On Thursday, a fact-finding committee under the Prime Minister’s Office released a report that an estimated 800 Koreans were mobilized as forced labor on the island between 1944 and 1945. / Korea Times
By Kim Bo-eun
A government investigation committee, Thursday, unveiled a report on Japan’s forced mobilization of Koreans on Hashima Island during its colonial rule (1910-1945).
The findings of the report is the culmination of research carried out by the Commission on Verification and Support for Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism, an affiliate of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The research, which began in May, highlights the inhumane conditions under which Korean laborers worked in coal mines on Japan’s Hashima Island.
Located some 18 kilometers from Nagasaki, the coal mines began operation in the late 19th century.
The commission found that an estimated 800 Koreans were forced to provide labor on Hashima Island from 1944 to 1945, based on various records and testimony from survivors.
“We were able to verify through cremation-related records that poor working and living conditions caused frequent fatalities and scores of diseases that increased the mortality levels amongst the laborers,” said Yoon Ji-Hyun, a member of the commission.
According to survivors’ testimony, the coal mine reached a depth of 1,000 meters, allowing seawater to sometimes seep into the pits where they worked, consequently exposing them to skin infections.
Various gases including methane accumulated and condensed in the mines further exacerbating the already hazardous terrain. Even more worrying was the fact that Korean and Chinese laborers were often assigned to the most toxic gaseous sections.
On several occasions the roofs of the mines caved in, amidst unbearable underground temperatures, according to the report. The island was completely isolated from the outside world. There were instances of laborers attempting to escape from the intolerable conditions, but unsuccessful escapees were subjected to extreme torture.
Following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in August 1945, scores of workers were ferried to the scene to clean up the rubble of the bomb attack. Most of those involved were consequently exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Hashima was owned by the conglomerate Mitsubishi, one of the prime companies that mobilized forced labor during the colonial period. However, as the coal mining industry started to decline the company closed down the mine in 1974 and handed Hashima over to local authorities in 2001.
The Japanese government is currently in the process of registering Hashima Island and other modern industrial facilities for recognition as UNESCO World Heritage sites by 2015. However, Tokyo has remained quiet about the darker sides of the history of forced mobilization associated with the site, said Yoon.
She further alluded to a misrepresentation of facts by one Japanese civic group advocating for the UNESCO recognition. She claimed that the group wrongfully said there was a mass migration of Korean laborers to the area, when truthfully the migrants were taken there against their will. On this Yoon said, “the Japanese government and Mitsubishi must begin with a commitment to verifying facts in order to resolve the issue.”