[EDITORIALS]A lingering imperial remnantThe last enclave of Koreans who were brought to Japan as conscripted laborers, Utoro, located in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, is under imminent threat of forced eviction. The Japanese military-industrial complex, that possessed the land where the enclave is situated, sold the real estate to a third party behind the backs of the residents of Utoro, and the new owner sold the land on. The problem was sparked when the present land owner demanded the eviction of residents.
If it were not for the history of Japanese imperialism, that enormously damaged its Asian neighbors as well as world peace, and the fact that the compensation rights of Korean residents in Japan were not included in the negotiations between South Korea and Japan for normalization of relations in 1965, this incident couldn’t have attracted much attention.
Unresolved historical problems are part of the incident, which goes far beyond the conflicts between the land owner-developer and poverty-stricken urban squatters. The history of the Utoro enclave is directly related to the Japanese imperialists’ forced conscription of laborers from neighboring countries.
The site of the present enclave was where 1,300 Korean workers who were forced to build the Kyoto military airbase were housed. After the war, it became a Korean enclave where Koreans forced to work in Kyushu, Fukuhoka or the South Pacific islands gathered. The Japanese military-industrial complex that conscripted the Utoro residents still exists, even though some companies changed their corporate names after the war. But they never gave jobs to the laborers. Ultimately, the Utoro residents became urban destitutes who collected garbage and waste.
The situation surrounding Utoro reveals the grievances of Asian neighbors who were made victims of Japanese imperialism, the Japanese discrimination against them and the “history of grief and exclusion” they had to suffer through being refused acceptance. Japan also reflects on its past. Japanese civic groups and intellectuals formed a “Keep Utoro Meeting” in 1987 and have demanded a solution. The governments of Japan and Korea must step forward to solve the problem they neglected. Cooperation and trust between the two leading free democracies of East Asia, Japan and South Korea, will start with the solution of a small issue like Utoro.