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Yoshiko Sakurai

【#446】S. Korean and German Propaganda Involving “Battleship Island”

Yoshiko Sakurai / 2017.06.28 (Wed)

June 26, 2017

     On June 15, South Korean film director Ryoo Seung Wan announced the completion of a film titled “The Battleship Island” at a press conference in Seoul. The film, which is to be released in late July, is explained as depicting “Koreans’ desperate efforts to escape coal mines on Japan’s Hashima Island where they were sent after forcibly requisitioned.”
     Ryoo explained that he produced the film to express the “pains of forcible requisition” while challenging to “the maximum that can be produced in Korean films today” and adding “cinematic imagination.” The distributor of the film vowed to make the movie a hit, aiming to mobilize more than 20 million viewers among total South Korean population at 50 million.

Unreasonable story on Süddeutsche Zeitung
     Hashima Island, nicknamed Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) in Japan, was registered as part of the “Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution” in the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites on July 5, 2015. Despite the fact that the island had nothing to do with “forcible requisition of Koreans” or “slavery treatment,” South Korea has continued propaganda linking the island to “coercive recruitment,” “slave labor” and “cruel death.” As a result, unreasonable media reports have been made, including a story on the online edition of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper dated July 6, 2015.
     The story reported (1) that laborers subjected to coercive recruitment were abused on Hashima Island, (2) that during the World War II, Japanese workers were moved to safe places while only Chinese and Korean forced laborers were made to work, (3) that more than 1,000 Chinese and Korean forced laborers died on the island, and (4) that their bodies were abandoned into the sea or dead mines.
     Angered by this unfounded story, former Hashima residents created the “Association of Hashima Residents Pursuing True History” on January 23 this year, making a protest against the story. They in their 80s or 90s had lived on the island until 1974 when it became uninhabited because of the closure of coal mines.
     The former Hashima residents sent a protest to the German newspaper, noting that Koreans, both living alone and with families, acted as Japanese citizens and lived in harmony with Japanese in the same community; that Korean women wore the Chimageogori traditional dress and performed ethnic dances pleasantly; that Korean and Japanese children studied together at school; and that given the small size of Hashima and the residential environment there, it was absolutely impossible to do inhumane acts like the abuse of Koreans without Japanese women’s or children’s knowledge living on the island.
     The German newspaper’s first, second and fourth counts represented extremely heinous lies. If the third count were true, a quarter of total Hashima population at that time should have died. On the island, even one person’s death was mourned by all others on the island. The Association asked the German newspaper to give the ground for the claim that more than 1,000 forced laborers died, calling on the newspaper to carry a correction within a month. There has been no response from the newspaper.

Problematic weakness of Japanese Foreign Ministry
     The “Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution” have had nothing to do with the requisition of Koreans that started in 1944. Furthermore, even the leftist Roh Moo Hyun government viewed the requisition of Koreans as a resolved problem and concluded that South Korea had no right to claim any further compensation from Japan.
     Nevertheless, Japan’s Foreign Ministry described Koreans as “forced to work” at some of the “Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution” including Hashima Island, bowing to pressure from South Korea. The ministry has shelved immediate diplomatic frictions by accepting easy compromises. Such Japanese diplomatic approach has caused real damage represented by the “Battleship Island” film. From this summer, South Korea could ask Japan to apologize over the requisitioned laborers.

Yoshiko Sakurai is President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.