Kyodo News There is a change in the air as lawsuits filed by Asian victims of Japanese wartime conquest are receiving a more sympathetic hearing, but the government and Diet have been slow to respond.
Although 60 war damages suits have been filed in Japan, in most cases the plaintiffs have lost. However, the so-called Hanaoka incident is one of four cases that have recently reached settlements.
Major construction company Kajima Corp. agreed in November to set up a 500 million yen fund to compensate Chinese victims of a World War II labor camp in Odate, Akita Prefecture, where a major uprising took place.
In the June 1945 incident, Chinese laborers staged an uprising over cruel working conditions and torture at a copper mine where Kajima Gumi, Kajima Corp.’s wartime predecessor, had a contract to carry out a river improvement project. Five Japanese mining supervisors were killed, and in retaliation, 113 Chinese forced laborers were tortured to death.
Kajima reached a settlement with a group of Chinese plaintiffs, consisting of survivors and the relatives of the deceased, at the Tokyo High Court, ending a five-year court battle over a 60.5 million yen damages suit filed by 11 plaintiffs.
The two sides agreed to entrust the fund to the Chinese Red Cross Society and use part of the money to pay tribute to the victims of the incident.
At the end of June, the survivors and relatives of the deceased visited Japan for the first time since the settlement was reached. Their travel expenses were paid by the fund.
“My heart is at rest in visiting Japan this time,” one in the group said.
Another said: “The settlement is a great consolation. A ray of hope is shining.”
In the first court ruling in favor of a foreign national forcibly brought to Japan for labor during the war, the Tokyo District Court ordered in July that the government pay 20 million yen to the family of a deceased forced laborer from China who escaped from a labor camp toward the close of World War II.
Unaware the war had ended, Liu Lianren had hidden in the mountains of Hokkaido for about 13 years. The court said the former Health and Welfare Ministry failed to carry out its obligation to rescue him.
The government has appealed the ruling, which dismissed the government’s claim that the plaintiff had lost his right to seek compensation because he failed to file a suit before the 20-year statute of limitations expired.
“The statement in the settlement and the ruling are full of the sentiment that reparations should be made by all means possible,” said Akinori Fukuda, secretary general of a citizens’ group trying to help Chinese forced laborers.
Moves to settle other suits concerning such laborers have gained momentum following the settlement of the Hanaoka Incident.
“I hope other enterprises follow Kajima. The Japanese government and Diet should now change their attitude,” Fukuda said.
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