Working toward a new era
On Feb. 20, 1968, gunshots were fired at a club in Shimizu, in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. The incident resulted in the deaths of a Yakuza boss and a group member. The suspect, Kim Hyi-ro, 41, was a second-generation Korean in Japan. The Yakuza threatened him over money he had borrowed, and when they insulted his ethnicity, he snapped.
The incident appeared to have been motivated by a combination of discrimination, violence and the unfair treatment from the police he had put up with all his life.
Armed with a gun and explosives, he dodged police and hid at Fujimiya Ryokan in Sumatakyo, just 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from the crime scene, where he took the owners and its guests hostage for 88 hours. He called in reporters for interviews and conducted a live phone interview. News teams sent helicopters to broadcast the hostage situation in real time.
Today, the incident is remembered as the first “theatrical crime” in Japan, and the story was made into a movie in Korea, “Kim’s War” (1992).
Kim claimed his actions were intended to denounce discrimination against the Korean people in Japan and demanded an apology from the police.
In the end, Shizuoka Prefecture’s police chief publicly apologized, and the hostage situation came to an end as cops posed as reporters made their way inside and arrested Kim.
He was sentenced to life in prison and released on parole in 1999 after serving 31 years. Afterward, he moved to Busan, where he died in 2010 at the age of 81.
In 2006, Eiko Mochizuki met Kim in Seoul, 38 years after the incident, to tell him she forgave him.
“He was a murderer, but he didn’t harm my family. He gave 2,000 yen to each of my three children as an allowance and said he was sorry.”
In 2010, Mochizuki set up an archive of the incident in the corner of the inn. However, the number of guests to the ryokan dwindled and it eventually closed in 2012. She recently sold the building.
Half a century has passed now, and the club where the murders occurred is now gone. Discrimination has also noticeably decreased.
Yet, Koreans in Japan are still threatened by hate speech.
In Shinjuku, Tokyo, radical right-wing activists frequently hold rallies urging Koreans to go back home, and last month, United Nations Special Rapporteur Rita Izsak-Ndiaye visited Japan and urged the government to consider laws banning hate speech. For more than three years, Anti-Discrimination Tokyo Action has fought against hate speech. Its PR manager, Yusuke Ueda, emphasized that the group was working to create a society in which discrimination is prohibited.
Crimes like the one carried out by Kim Hyi-ro should not be repeated. Discrimination leads to anger. Let’s strive for a new era of peace.
The author is the Tokyo correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 20, Page 26
by LEE JEONG-HEON