[Meanwhile] A symbol of true reconciliation

Home > National >

print dictionary print

[Meanwhile] A symbol of true reconciliation

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I am not good at Korean. Do you speak Japanese?” The voice over the phone was clear. Eighty-five-year-old Woo Pan-geun is the head of the Omuta, Fukuoka branch of Mindan, the Korean Residents Union in Japan. He is one of the so-called Zainichi, ethnic Korean residents in Japan. His family moved from Geoje Island to Japan when he was four.

When he was a senior in a high school in Japan, Woo had a job interview. But he did not get the job because he was Korean. When he told his Japanese teacher about the episode with teary eyes, the teacher said, “Don’t be defeated. You must not be defeated by these things.”

An old man he met at a bar one day in his early 20s changed Woo’s life. Drinking alone in distress, the old man said he only survived after all his colleagues taken into a mine had died. Upon returning home, Woo could not forget the story. He thought, “Where did they come from and where are their remains?” The questions continued.

When he became an executive in Mindan, he set a goal to build a memorial monument in Japan. He searched for the list of the Japanese mining companies and contacted Korean ward offices to trace the victims. After 10 years of research, he started negotiations with the three Japanese companies where the forced laborers had worked.

Things that seemed impossible began to unravel like a miracle. The memorial monument was to be made in Yeoju, Gyeonggi, the hometown of most of the forced laborers. The city of Omuta offered to cover the site for the monument for free. Three companies, including Mitsui Coal Mining, agreed to pay for the construction cost.

That’s how the memorial monument in Amagi Park in Omuta City was built in 1995. The inscription reads, “We console the souls of those who were forcibly taken to Japan during World War II and died after suffering from harsh labor.”

As memorial ceremonies began to be held annually, the mayor, local councilors and representatives of the companies attended the event in memory of the victims. “No matter how bad the Korea-Japan relationship became, the memorial service never stopped,” said Woo. In a recent visit to the memorial monument, Korean Ambassador to Japan Yun Duk-min called it “a true symbol of reconciliation.”

What President Yoon Suk Yeol said on the March 1 Liberation Day — “Japan is a partner” — is being highlighted in Japan. The Cabinet minister, who serves as the Japanese government’s spokesman, said he is well aware of Yoon’s comment. He has repeatedly said that Korea is an important neighbor.

But some Japanese media even published a nuanced editorial on the compensation for the forced labor. The editorial said, “The Japanese Prime Minister must display leadership this time.” Why can’t the Japanese government promote reconciliation even when Omuta — a small city with a population of 106,000 — has been doing so for almost three decades?
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)