Octogenarian recalls days of forced labor in Japan

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Octogenarian recalls days of forced labor in Japan


Yang Geum-duk, center, who was forced to work at an aircraft factory in Nagoya during World War II, poses with 11 Japanese students from the Japanese port city during their four-day visit to Gwangju on Dec. 28. By Choi Kyung-ho

Eleven middle and high school students from Nagoya, Japan, visited an NGO center in Gwangju on Dec. 28 and heard the tales of hardship endured by an 83-year-old Korean woman as she recounted her experiences in their country during World War II.

“When I was 13, I was promised I could go to middle school and also find paid work if I moved to Nagoya,” recalled Yang Geum-duk. “But it turned out to be a lie. Please let your friends know of the suffering and exploitation many Koreans had to face during the war.”

Instead, Yang was forced to work without pay at an aircraft factory in Nagoya for 19 months in 1944-5, when Japan was fighting a losing war with the United States, she told the students, who were on a four-day visit to Gwangju.

“I will not forget to tell my friends this heart-rending story,” said a 15-year-old named Senda Dakeiro, who was on his second visit to Korea. He said he used to have a negative image about Korea due to its territorial dispute with Japan over the Dokdo islets (known as the Takeshima in Japan) and the controversial issue of “comfort women,” or Korean women forced into sexual slavery during the war. “But having participated in this program and learned what really happened, my thoughts about Korea have changed,” he said.

The four-day exchange program between students in Gwangju and Nagoya started in 2010 when a Japanese civic group called Litigation Support Group for Nagoya-Mitsubishi Comfort Women invited the students to go to Japan.

This year marks the third reciprocal visit by Japanese students.

The Nagoya-based civic group was founded by high school teacher-turned-activist Takahashi Makoto.

It now has over 100 members working to promote awareness about the wartime atrocities carried out by Japan’s Imperial Army.

“More exchanges [like this] will lay a foundation to resolve historical and diplomatic conflicts between the two countries,” said Hisada Mitsumasa, a high school teacher who was chaperoning the 11 students.

By Choi Kyung-ho [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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