Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tsutomu Nishioka

【#553】South Korean High Court Ignores Wartime Facts

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2018.11.07 (Wed)

November 5, 2018

     At the House of Representatives Budget Committee on November 1 just after the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japan’s Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. should compensate four South Korean plaintiffs for wartime labor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “The government calls them ‘former workers from the Korean Peninsula’ rather than ‘requisitioned laborers.’ The four simply responded to job offers.” The Japanese prime minister thus raised opposition to Japanese and South Korean media’s description of the four as requisitioned or forced laborers.

Plaintiffs were not requisitioned
     In fact, I made the same point in a Sankei Shimbun newspaper column on the day. For readers who may be unaware of details, I here describe how the four Koreans traveled to Japan.
     Plaintiffs A and B responded to a job advertisement published in Pyongyang by Nippon Steel (the predecessor of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp.) in September 1943. They passed job interviews and traveled to Japan, accompanied by a recruitment staff of the company. They became trainees at Osaka Steelworks.
     Plaintiff C joined the Hokoku (patriotic) Corps for labor services at the recommendation of the Daejeon mayor before traveling to Japan in 1941, accompanied by a recruitment staff of Nippon Steel. He then became a worker at Kamaishi Steelworks.
     Plaintiff D responded to a job offer as instructed by Gunsan authorities and traveled to Japan in January 1943, accompanied by a Nippon Steel recruitment staff. He then became a worker at Yahata Steelworks.
     There were three ways for mobilizing workers on the Korean Peninsula during World War II. From 1939 to 1941, private Japanese companies’ recruitment staff went to the peninsula for “recruitment.” From 1942 to September 1944, the then governor-general of Korea allocated mobilization number to municipal governments and handed over mobilized workers to private Japanese companies in an “official arrangement” practice. From September 1944 to around March 1945, Koreans were subject to “requisition” under the National Requisition Ordinance. The four plaintiffs who traveled to Japan before September 1944 were not requisitioned at all.
     For any of the three ways, Koreans were employed by private Japanese companies for paid work under fixed-term contracts. Their treatment was generally good. A requisitioned worker received a monthly payment of 140 yen, compared with an initial pay of 45 yen for a policeman, an average pay of less than 10 yen for a lance corporal or lower-ranked soldier, and a pay of 70 yen for a lieutenant (see my articles in the second and third issues of Historical Awareness Research).

Fight against misperception of slave labor
     Nevertheless, the South Korean Supreme Court concluded Japanese companies’ wartime recruitment of Koreans as inhumane and illegal. In Japan, however, the government, many media organizations or experts have failed to criticize the ruling for misunderstanding facts. Even after the parliamentary statement by Prime Minister Abe, the false word of “requisitioned laborers” has remained unchecked.
     If no measures are taken, the international community could establish a wrong perception that while Koreans were forced to provide hard labor in Japan, Tokyo and Seoul are disputing over whether compensation for the labor had been settled by their agreement in 1965. Some leading U.S. newspapers have already used the word of “slave labor.”
     Here I reiterate a proposal for Japan’s public and private sectors to cooperate in investing funding and personnel to publicize authentic facts about Japan’s wartime labor mobilization and the resolution of Japan-South Korea war compensation issues. To this end, a public research organization should be established first.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He specializes in North and South Koreas.