Government downplays forced labor concession in winning UNESCO listing for industrial sites


Staff Writer

Japan has won UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Status for 23 industrial sites after conceding to South Korea’s demand that the registration make clear that some of the locations used forced laborers from the Korean Peninsula.

But in their official remarks and statements, Japanese officials avoided using the phrase kyosei rodo (forced labor), and instead used hatarakasareta (were forced to work), which is a more colloquial Japanese expression.

By using this phrase for the domestic audience, Japanese officials were apparently trying to dilute the impression that Tokyo bowed to pressure from South Korea.

Many former forced labors in South Korea have called for compensation from Japan, while the Japanese government has maintained all compensation issues have been settled with the 1965 Japan-South Korea Basic Treaty and an attached accord.

Tokyo had argued that the historical value of the industrial sites, built between 1850 and 1910, has little to do with the wartime recruitment of Korean laborers in the 1940s.

But in an apparent political compromise, at Sunday’s UNESCO committee meeting in Bonn, Germany, Japanese representative Kuni Sato acknowledged that some Koreans “were brought against their will and were forced to work under severe conditions” at some of the industrial sites.

Sato said a large number of people from the Korean Peninsula were forced to work at some of the facilities against their will during the 1940s.

In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Monday that “this phrase (hatarakasareta ) does not mean kyosei rodo.”

Kan Kimura, a professor at Kobe University and a noted expert on Korean affairs, said in a phone interview with The Japan Times that the phrasing represents “a play on words.”

The use of a less official phrasing would likely be lost on diplomats at the UNESCO committee who would be reading it in English, Kimura said, adding that the Japanese officials probably chose the wording for the sake of their domestic audience.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, Japan has avoided using the phrase “forced labor” because it is the term employed in the 1930 Forced Labor Convention, which Japan ratified in 1932.

The convention bans “forced or compulsory labor.” However, work or services undertaken in an emergency, including during a war, is considered an exception.

A senior Foreign Ministry official claimed that Japan’s compulsory labor service fell within this category of exception and thus was not illegal under the convention. That was the reason Japanese officials preferred to use the phrase “forced to work,” the officials said.

During a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan’s position on the compensation issues has not changed.

He also claimed that “high-level” South Korean officials had promised not to capitalize on the wording of Sato’s statement to push its claims for compensation issues involving Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule.

The UNESCO committee’s decision covered the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution,” facilities in eight prefectures that are supposed to symbolize Japan’s rapid industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by adopting Western technologies.

“I am extremely happy that the roots of Japanese manufacturing have been listed as World Heritage,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, thanking companies and locals who have worked to preserve the sites.

Historical sites in South Korea, including the Gongsan-Seong Fortress of the Baekje Dynasty, will also be added to the list, the UNESCO committee decided.

South Korea had for years opposed Japan’s UNESCO bid, saying it overlooks the suffering of Koreans at seven of the sites, including a mine on Hashima Island, nicknamed “Battleship Island.”South Korea’s backing of Japan at the UNESCO meeting could boost momentum for a thaw in relations between the two neighbors. Their leaders last month exchanged visits to each other’s embassy on the 50th anniversary of the treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two nations.

In May, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an expert advisory panel under UNESCO, recommended that the sites should be registered as World Cultural Heritage as witnesses to Japan’s rapid modernization.

At meeting June 21 of their foreign ministers, Japan and South Korea reached a basic agreement to cooperate on heritage listings of each other’s sites.

The UNESCO committee had been scheduled to decide on the new listings Saturday, but it postponed any decision to Sunday to give Japan and South Korea time to coordinate their positions.

The Japanese sites approved Sunday include some facilities that are still at least partly in operation, such as the Nagasaki shipyard.

Next year the committee will consider whether to add churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures. In the past two years, both Mount Fuji and the Tomioka Silk Mill in Gunma Prefecture were added to the list of World Heritage sites.

The council also asked Japan to report on measures to preserve Hashima and other deteriorating facilities by Dec. 1, 2017.

Historical tensions stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula have undermined ties between the two U.S. allies in recent years, weighing on their trade and strategic cooperation. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to hold a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Japan does more for Korean females forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers during the war. Some of the former “comfort women” are threatening to sue Abe in the U.S. if Japan and South Korea fail to reach a satisfactory deal for compensation.

Information from wire reports added

  • Rebane

    Money is always decisive, you know.

  • Oliver_K_Manuel

    The UN was established on 24 Oct 1945 and has successfully prevented nuclear war for the past seventy years.

  • tisho

    I wonder how much money Japan used for briberies and lobbying.

  • wrle

    Why has kyodo not mentioned that the decision was finally settled when japan agreed to include “forced labor” into the description of the sites?

  • Liars N. Fools

    The Japanese right wing lost. Japan did what many people demanded, which was to tell the whole truth about these site.

    This is from Yonhap:

    “There was a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites,” Japan’s ambassador to UNESCO Kuni Sato said at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee under way in the German city of Bonn.

    Good win for truth. A good precedent for Abe Shinzo. Tell the whole truth. Then you will be wholly set free.

  • taitai

    in the past,the Korean Empire and the Empire of Japan established a new unified political body together and created a new empire by equal merger of both Empires.Korean became First-class people in Japanese Empire.From the legal position,Korean and Japanese were equal.Korean men had eligibility for election in
    Japanese islands and Korean formed their own Party and participateded in Japan’s governmental affairs.In addition,police officers inthe Korean Peninsula were almost Korean(the percentage of Korean police officers were more than 80%).Under this situation,How did Japanese forced Korean to bring to Japan or compulsory labor?If Japanese should do so,Japanese must to to Jail by the law.

    • The Truth

      So do you accept 20% of the police officers in Japan today are CIA officers working for the US government?

    • Kyle

      Nothing was created together between the Korean empire and the Empire of Japan. It was done by force, the Queen of Korea was murdered because she opposed Japan’s efforts to annex Korea. Moreover, the King of Korea had to take refuge and live for an extended period of time in the Russian Legation Building in Seoul, in fear of his life. King Gojong also sent a secret delegation to the League of Nations attempting to inform the international community that Korea did not willingly accept Japan’s suzerainty on the Korean peninsula. Does this sound like legal cooperative relations between Korea and Japan at the time? No, it was illegal colonization, that perpetuated cultural genocide on the Korean peninsula, in which any Korean who joined Japan was rewarded. But it is important to point out, they had to become Japanese. For example, speak Japanese, have Japanese names, etc.

    • GGboyz

      Not sure where you got your information but I really suggest you read the proper history books. Everyone, be it Japanese or Koreans, deserves to know “right” history to ensure the people learn from the past and block them from repeating the same errors they made in the past. What Japan is doing now is really blocking a productive relationship with other countries around the region (versus the amount of admiration the Germans are getting). There are certain parts of history that Japan should be admired/acknowledged for, however, there were things done that were not “politically correct” in the past (which is true for most of the empires in the past). The part that is different versus the other “empires” is that the Japanese government is officially involved in manupilating and hiding some of those wrongdoings (i.e. getting involved in changing the contents in the history textbooks…), which is perceived as a threat to the neighboring countries since the younger generation is not fully aware of what happened in the past.
      Personally, I wish Japan would stand up and admit some of the there wrong-doings in the past and step up as a leader in Asia. That takes courage; every leader needs that courage to get the admiration to lead to productive relationships for the future.

    • Pique Ewe

      First Class Citizens?

      Well, these so called First Class Citizens were outright ROBBED OF THEIR ANCESTRAL LANDS THEY HAD FOR MANY GENERATIONS by hook and by crook by the Japanese colonizers. These so called First Class Citizens had to give up their treasured sons for cannon fodder, and their daughters (some of them under the age of 15) for sexual slavery, not to mention “mobilized” labor. These First Class Citizens were outright TORTURED WITHIN AN INCH OF THEIR LIVES like my paternal grandfather of Gyeonggi, for daring to own a lot of land, and he was one of the handful of lucky ones who returned alive. These First Class Citizens were used as live bayonet targets for the military cadets, like Generalissimo Park Chung Hee, who sold his own people out, before and after The Forced Occupation and Genteel Mobilization.

      Stop making me laugh. And thanks for your Miura Goro, who came in the disguise of a diplomat (namely the Japanese Ambassador to Korea) and then had the cheek to rape and murder and mutilate the corpse of our august Empress Myeongsung, an enlightened monarch and a hero to shine for the ages.

      Go buy yourself a clue, please. And then go protest to your own government that CHOOSES to educate their children into such ignorance. You were victimized during WWII by your deluded, dishonest government, and are STILL victimized by its dishonest textbooks and disrespectful attitudes to your people’s intelligence. It really is an insult to intelligent, informed citizens around the world, including your own, and you do have some among you, I know. I feel sadness for an honorable people who do deserve better. Really you do. You are not a bad people, but keep getting duped by your own government.



  • 151E

    Many Japanese are tired of repeatedly apologising, but this kind of carefully crafted and deliberately ambiguous language – with one message intended for an international audience and quite another for the domestic one – only serves to undermine official Japanese war related apologies and allow distrust and resentment to fester.

  • Toolonggone

    This is very much predictable if you let J-government officials have stakes on the national cultural heritage project. It’s like listening to G.W. Bush’s speech on Gorée Island(which is also listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site)– a clear attempt to dilute the colonial discourse of Atlantic slave trade for the affirmation of civilization and cultural prosperity.

  • Ron NJ

    Japan whitewashing history again, who would have guessed!

  • Mohamed Boussetta

    The japanese right wing is not as strong as it seems in fact it’s weak they can fool the weak minded japanese but not the world so the outside world should put more pressure on Abe and his allies to stop whitewashing history and hiding the facts

  • Richard Solomon

    Once again Japan admits to its historic misdeeds only under pressure and only in a very general sanitized kind of way! Rather than see this as an opportunity to come clean with S Korea and improve relations Abe, et al did their best to sustain their delusions of grandeur about a ‘beautiful Japan.’ Too bad the S a Koreans did not drive a harder bargain.

  • Bruce Chatwin

    With the USA not paying its dues at UNESCO, it appears that Japan now contributes the most to the UNESCO trough. A cynic might argue that this has something to do with the designation of these Japanese sites as World Heritage sites.

  • Kyle

    Yes, you mention some improvements that came during the Japanese Colonial Period. This is a period from 1910 – 1945, though some would say by 1905 Japan controlled Korea fully (35-40 years). Japan which is a developed country by the late 19th century naturally brought elements of development to the Korean peninsula. This is true with most colonies. The British built railways in India, the Spanish built churches in the Americas that “educated” the indigenous population, and Japan built some of Korea’s earliest modern infrastructure. Yet, you assume Korea would never have done this by themselves? You also assume this helped Korea purposefully? I’ve been to Gunsan, an important port city created by Japan. It was used primarily to export rice from Korea to Japan, this was a Japanese operation, local Korean’s got next to nothing. In fact, 50% of Korea’s rice cultivation was exported to Japan in the 1930’s.

    You promote the false proposition that the colonizer brought civilization, therefore they were “good” and “decent”. How mistaken, ignorant, and disgusting this notion truly is. Were the 500+ Native American tribes in North America unintelligent because they did not attend European schools? Moreover, you did not dispute that murder and coercion took place when Japan established their control over Korea. You also ignored the fact that Koreans were often forced to bow at Shinto Shrines daily, that schools were no longer allowed to teach in Korean for much of the Colonial Period. By the way, the only reason Japan allowed newspapers to publish in Korean is that the majority of Koreans at the time could not read Chinese characters!

    Japan is not particularly worse or better than many colonial nations, some of them were a great deal less cruel, but the colonization of Korea was a crime, it was illegal, and it almost destroyed Korean language and culture. Go to the Tokyo National Museum and ask a docent how many Korean artifacts they have, not on display, but in the archives.

    You are incredibly hypocritical. You use various facts to justify Japan’s Colonial rule of Korea. You mentioned George Akita, here is a quote from him that I think you should take to heart. “I have no desire to “justify (Japan’s) history of invasion and occupation,” let alone “its intention to realize its hegemonism again,” as Korean President Roh Moo Hyun put it in an address to his nation last March 23.” Akita quotes Roh at the start of his essay. He also quotes Jung Suk Koo, who asserted that the Japanese fail to understand “the deep scar that the country suffered over the 36-year-long colonial rule.” – Japan Times

    If you wish for me to keep educating you, feel free to keep posting. My services are of no charge, vanquishing ignorance is reward enough.

  • Kyle

    I say congratulations to Japan (and Korea) for another World Heritage site inscription, thank you to the Korea delegation for taking the high road and making an acceptable compromise. Lastly, an acknowledgment that the Japanese delegation at the world heritage conference admitted more, (ambiguous language or not) concerning the forced labor issue than any Japanese politicians ever has.

  • 龍誉紫暮

    Force labour, what like the Africans kidnapped from their homes shipped off to the U.S. force to work as slaves, beaten, raped or murdered… Try looking at the human violations by whites before attacking Japan, racist fools.

  • Bruce Chatwin

    Brandon Palmer, co-author with George Akita of “The Japanese Colonial Legacy in Korea: 1910-1945: A New Perspective”, accepted the 2014 Japan Study Encouragement Award from the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Palmer’s co-author, George Akita, sat on the board recommending the 2014 award. Henry Scott Stokes also sat on the board. The board recommending the 2015 award included Akita, Stokes, Palmer, and Kevin Doak. The right-wing, revisionist Japan Institute for National Fundamentals is chaired by Yoshiko Sakurai and Shinataro Ishihara is a director. Many of the board members are also members of the right-wing, revisionist organisation Nippon Kaigi.

    Kevin Doak, who writes the forward to Akita and Palmer’s book, is also the winner of a prize awarded by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Doak’s chair at Georgetown is paid for by the Nippon Foundation which traces its history back to self-declared fascist Ryoichi Sasakawa’s Sasakawa Foundation.

    I believe that Rhee Yong-hoon is a professor emeritus of at Seoul National University. Funny that you should make that distinction with regard to Akita but not Lee.

    BTW, nice cut and paste from the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals website.

    Here’s another quote from Alleyne Ireland, the scholar you and Yoshiko Sakurai like to quote so much: “The measures taken (by the Japanese) to stamp out the (Korean) Independence Movement of 1919, stupid, cruel, and unjustifiable as some of them undoubtedly were, accomplished their purpose.”
    You mention Saito’s time as Governor General of Korea, but fail to mention anything about the two Governors that came before him or the seven who came after. How about Kuniaki Koiso?

  • Bruce Chatwin

    Are you claiming that the Kempeitai did not terrorize the Korean population after Saito, as you claim, abolished the organization (which is frequently compared to the Gestapo)?

  • Kyle

    Concerning the “Rape of Nanking”, the civilian casualties are placed between 50,000-300,000 by most scholars in Japan, Korea, and internationally. Even if choose to believe the lowest casualty amount its still a terrible atrocity.

    Unit 731 has several accounts by Japanese officers, as well as Chinese and Korean victims. Recognition by Japan is spotty, with some levels of acknowledgement of its existence, but little agreement in Japan about what occurred there. There is also archeological evidence of the complex, but unfortunately the Japanese army did destroy most of the site before vacating it.

    In regards to the “comfort women” issue, “The top human rights official at the United Nations delivered a scathing criticism of Tokyo’s response to the issue of so-called “comfort women” drafted into sexual slavery to the military under the Japanese imperial government. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay went on to urge Japan to produce a “comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution” to the issue.”

    Concerning forced labor, this is a little chunk of text from wikipedia that you can choose to research into with the various links on the page. “In the first half of the Shōwa era, as the Empire of Japan annexed Asian countries, from the late 19th century onwards, archaic institutions including slavery were abolished in those countries. However, during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, the Japanese military used millions of civilians and prisoners of war as forced labor, on projects such as the Burma Railway. According to a joint study by historians including Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyoshi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie, more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilized by the Kōa-in (East Asia Development Board) for forced labour. According to the Japanese military’s own record, nearly 25% of 140,000 Allied POWs died while interned in Japanese prison camps where they were forced to work (U.S. POWs died at a rate of 27%). More than 100,000 civilians and POWs died in the construction of the Burma Railway. The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: “manual laborer”), were forced to work by the Japanese military.About 270,000 of these Japanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death rate of 80%.”

    I would point out, there is certainly enough evidence to point to Imperial Japanese guilt on all of these fronts. Now when it comes down to clear and irrefutable evidence to the full extent of these crimes, is when the historical record becomes someone limited or partially lost. However, I would argue it is highly illogical to claim these crimes against humanity are without any basis, since there are very very few mainstream historians (either within Japan or outside it) who are willing to do so.

    Once again, there are other colonial powers in history that have committed equal crimes, worse, or in some cases less. I do not wish to single out Japan as the only brutal colonizer in history. But it is more than biased to actually believe that Japan really didn’t commit any of these crimes, and that all the witnesses whether old women in Korea/China/Philippines/Netherlands, or forced labor survivors, or Japanese officers are not credible. This is a terrible act within itself. Human recollection and witness testimonies are not the greets historical evidence when taken in isolation, but when there are a considerable consensus between survivors its shameful to ignore the truth.

    I do not wish to continue this argument forever, since the topic is now being changed and expanded rather dramatically since this article is about a Japanese world heritage site, that I actually supported!

  • Toolonggone

    >Don’t forget, whether it was illegal or not, it was void completely in 1965.

    Also, don’t forget that the treaty was made in rash due to the suppressive political pressure of Cold War. It had already been two decades–long enough to wash out the entire picture of crime against humanity in colonialism and two World Wars.

  • timefox

    Recruited you to have become a hot topic , but forced conscription does not exist .
    This is a fabrication of Korea . In addition , recruitment of wartime does not also violates international law .
    South Korea , ” Japan was forced to work in South Korean beat the international treaty . Korean in the international crime of Japan has become a victim . ” I’d wanted to produce .

    And this international law is that of ” Forced Labour Convention ” in the ILO.
    However, in this law case at the time of labor , war or disasters caused by military service , trial results , are not included in the ” forced labor ” .
    Information possible to the warship island center will to me this historical fact .

    This is the recruitment of reality and legitimacy .
    1. At that time, Koreans Japanese = Korea -based Japanese .
    2. migrant workers also legitimate that recruitment was also carried out as a Japanese .
    3. poor of the working environment but there should be sympathy , it is in the ” hotness of slavery ” but , the same as other Japanese workers ” hotness as a Japanese worker .”
    4. Thanks to the effort as well Japanese Koreans , in full security surface Korean peninsula escaped the Russian advance and prosperity in economic and cultural aspects .

    Koreans of delusion is this .

    1. position Koreans had ignored the history of invalid annexation itself . It is lost in delusion to deny in from the 1 .
    2. rather than Japanese because invalid annexation Koreans , it is crowded I think not undertake national obligation .
    3. As a result , have been converted in the brain as the ” fulfillment of obligations as a Japanese ” is “forced entrainment that slaves a stranger .”