Castella and Mitsubishi

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Castella and Mitsubishi

Castella is a soft baked cake, and while one may think it is a European delicacy, it was actually a Japanese product modeled on a Portuguese treat. Nagasaki is known for Castella cakes, and Hashima Island, the controversial site where Korean forced labor was used, is off the coast of Nagasaki.

There is infinity in a speck, and the Castella cake has many stories. Ryoma Sakamoto was a prominent leader of the Meiji Restoration and one of the most respected historical figures in Japan. In 1865, he established the trading company Kamayama Shachu, and the recipe for Castella cakes can be found in the company records. It is presumed that when he was hard pressed for money, he must have made and sold Castella cakes.

Sakamoto’s friend Yataro Iwasaki worked as a bookkeeper at the company, and later founded Mitsubishi. He bought two ships and established the company that grew to be a conglomerate in 1873.

Iwasaki was a greedy man. When he learned that there was an uninhabited island in the East Sea, he brought lumbermen on a steamboat, thinking that he would log the trees from the island to sell. But when he arrived at the island, he found people and houses. When he asked where he was at, the residents replied that it was Ulleung Island. He was so frustrated and angry that he set the houses on fire and ran off.

Thus, the ill-fated relationship between Mitsubishi and Korea began.

With the backing of the government, Mitsubishi rapidly grew, helping the expansion of Imperial Japan. Mitsubishi oversaw transportation in the Japanese expedition to Korea in 1894 and built the world’s largest battleship, Musashi, and the fighter aircraft Zero-sen, which struck Pearl Harbor during World War II. The company was the leading weapons manufacturer for Imperial Japan. As a result of fueling Japan’s war effort, Mitsubishi’s production of warships and tanks increased tenfold and then by 200 times more after the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, and its market capitalization grew 2,000 percent.

It also used the most forced labor. In 2010, the Office of the Prime Minister analyzed the reported cases of forced labor, and among the top three Japanese conglomerates, Mitsubishi used 3,355 forced laborers, more than twice the number of the other groups (Mitsui, 1,479 and Sumitomo, 1,074).

While Mitsubishi is notorious for its involvement in war crimes, Iwasaki is considered one of the most respected businessmen in Japan. He is known for thorough management and care for his employees. He was the first Japanese businessman to pay a bonus, and the family motto is, “Be generous to those working for you.”

Mitsubishi is under fire for excluding Koreans when it apologized to American prisoners of war and Chinese forced labor victims. That is unworthy of a world-class business leader. If Mitsubishi respects its founding values, it must take ethical responsibility and apologize to and compensate the Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, July 27, Page 35

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