122 Korean laborers died on island during Japan’s colonial rule
Some 122 Koreans were confirmed dead after being forcibly taken to coal mines on Hashima Island, or Battleship Island, in the Nagasaki Prefecture and working under terrible conditions at the height of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, according to the report drawn by the forced laborer investigation commission under the Prime Minister’s Office. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910-45.
The victims were among 800 Koreans forcibly drafted to work for the Japanese military during the Pacific War, the report showed. The Pacific War refers to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean.
The report was written based upon Japanese documents about deaths of the forced laborers on the island and interviews with survivors, the commission said.
Located some 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Nagasaki, the now-uninhabited island was known for its coal mines during the industrialization of Japan. Japanese firm Mitsubishi bought the island in 1890 and began the project of retrieving coal from undersea mines, where thousands of forced laborers from Asian countries including Korea worked under terrible circumstances, according to the commission.
“Koreans were generally sent to underground shafts more than 1 kilometer [3,280 feet] long despite the imminent danger of them collapsing. The shafts were too cramped for workers to stand upright, and temperatures there used to soar over 45 degrees Celsius [113 degrees Fahrenheit],” a survivor told the commission, requesting anonymity.
The island was completely isolated from the outside world, and anyone attempting to escape was caught and subjected to harsh torture, the report said, citing survivors’ accounts.
“Due to my extreme pain there, I even thought of cutting my body parts myself to be expelled from the island,” another survivor said.
Most of the Korean laborers on Hashima were also exposed to radiation as they were mobilized for restoration work in Nagasaki regions after the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945 at the end of World War II, the commission said.
“Closing mines on the island, Mitsubishi destroyed charnel houses there and arbitrarily disposed of remains, which keeps us from even getting picture of those who suffered there,” commission official Yoon Ji-hyun said.
After petroleum replaced coal in the 1960s, Mitsubishi officially closed the mine in 1974, which has since been so deserted as to be called Ghost Island, before trips to the island were resumed in 2009.
“Tokyo has never mentioned such appalling incidents while pushing for its designation on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage List in 2015. The government and Mitsubishi should take due responsibility for the atrocities and try to retrieve the remains,” the official added.
Historians say millions of Koreans were forcibly drafted into the Japanese workforce during its colonial rule from 1910-45.