Isamu Sasayama: Interview

General Incorporated Foundation the National Congress of Industrial Heritage
Koko Kato, Managing Director

“Invited by Li Saiwu and we ate Kimchi at the doorstep.”

Isamu Sasayama’s house is located on the mid-slope of Nagasaki city’s hill-like mountain--encircling Nagasaki Bay in a bowl-like fashion--where houses are covering the sides of the mountain. On January 5th, 2017, with the introduction of Sakae Matsumoto in Miyazaki, we met Sasayama for the first time. Since then, I frequently visited him without appointments. Despite the unexpected intrusion after dusk, he always welcomed us warm-heartedly. He is a master of gourd-making, thus, many beautiful gourds were decorating his doorstep and living room. Currently, he is at the age of 93. Even under the darkness of night with bad footing, he has given us a longing farewell at steep stairs until he lost sight of us. During the wartime, he was working at Mitsubishi Mining Machinery Work Department (Mitsubishi Kougyou Kikai Kousaku-ka) in Hashima. He was in Taiwan at the end of the Second World War. At post-war, he worked in labor-management and human resources. The most impressionable episode was the fact that he is a devoted Catholic and he typically gathered other fellow believers for a Mass in his house in Hashima. His calm, soft and humorous manner of speech has allowed us to forget the sense of temporality.

Mr. Isamu Sasayama

――“When were you born?”

Sasayama: “December 25th, 1925, at Christmas. Four siblings. The eldest and the youngest are male and the two in the middle are female. I was born beneath the church. I went to Hashima in 1931.”

――“Do you remember those days?”

Sasayama: “I remember I was a naughty little boy. I often played around taking many underlings with me. That is why I got this injury when I was 7; I got on the wooden trolley first after I told everyone to follow me on a trolley. It was around the time I graduated from kindergarten.”

――“So you went to Hashima’s elementary and middle school?”

Sasayama: “In Hashima Jinjou Higher Elementary School (Hashima Jinjou Koutou Shougakkou).”

Employment at Mitsubishi

――“In wartime, were you in Hashima?”

Sasayama: “I volunteered to enter the army after I graduated from higher elementary school. At age 16, I was employed by Mitsubishi.”

――“You worked at the labor department?”

Sasayama: “I experienced working in both labor-management (Gaikin) and human resources (Naikin). I worked longer at labor-management. It is called Tsumesho, a part of the building specifically for a department that manages employees. I was stationed there for the majority of my time.”

――“Until what year?”

Sasayama: “It’s after I returned from the army, so it was at the end of April in 1946. I came back on the 24th. May 1st is May Day, so I began working from the 2nd till my retirement. After I have completed closing Hashima’s mines—untill I was told there will no longer be any ships departing Hashima--, I was employed at Takashima’s general affairs division.”

――“According to Mr. Matsumoto, people of the labor department knows the best about what is taking place in Hashima.”

Sasayama: “We had to know and understand it.”


Sasayama (Left) and Matsumoto (Right). At times of mine accidents, Matsumoto claims that they had duties to submit a report as such on the right.

――“What do you think is the difference between naikin and gaikin?”

Sasayama: “Naikin mainly handles human resources, meanwhile gaikin manages labor by dealing with the employees and their social welfare.”

――“Then you must know the faces and names of every employee very well?”

Sasayama: “Yes. There were two tsumesho and it was responsible for managing all the island’s employees.”

――“Do most gaikin laborers know what took place at the island?”

Sasayama: “They do. Gaikin typically contacted naikin, while naikin dealt with the issues of salaries and billing.”

――“Did you survey inside the mine?”

Sasayama: “I have not been inside the mine at all. I oversaw checking the attendance of each employee every day. When I was employed at the tsumesho, workers will come to me requesting for things like day-offs. I was responsible to inform the naikin regarding the requests.”

――“Where was the placement of personnel conducted?”

Sasayama: “There was a place called Nyukousho in naikin where miners will come by to announce their attendance. In Hashima’s case, there was a mining division (Koumu-ka) on the second floor, above naikin. The first floor comprised of a lamp room where workers can borrow a lamp and issue a permit to enter the mine. In short, at tsumesho, they check which workers are absent.”

Battery room, Lamp room (Picture source: Hashima Alumni Association)

――“Labor department is on the first floor right?”

Sasayama: “Only half of the first floor is allocated for the labor department. There is also a lamp room and public baths. The second floor is the mining division. Mining operation management (kurikomi) --this was where miners were distributed into teams--is connected to the general affairs division.”

――“So both first and second floor had public baths?”

Sasayama: “Yes.”

――“Really? Both floors had baths.”

Sasayama: “Accounting department is located above the general affairs division.”

――“I see.”

Sasayama: “I also have never been outside this place. I spent most of my days going back and forth between my house and workplace.”

Hashima’s public baths (by Hashima Alumni Association; Hashima Dousoukai)

Nyukousho (by Hashima Alumni Association)

Sunday prayers were done at my house.

――“I heard you were a devoted Christian.”

Sasayama: “Yes, since I was born a Catholic.”

――“You have organized a Mass even in Hashima?”

Sasayama: “NHK came to interview regarding that matter of organizing a Mass at my house. It was covered in a TV program at 6 pm and I was told later that I was on it.”

――“It was at your house?”

Sasayama: “Although there was a church in Takashima, there was none in Hashima. We used to go to Takashima or Nagasaki on Sundays.”

――”So Sunday services were also done at your house?”

Sasayama: “There were about 28 Christians, including children.”

――“Was there a Catholic priest?”

Sasayama: “A priest came all the way from Takashima. As we gathered the island’s believers, he organized a Mass for us at my house. It was later in the 1940s. The mine closed in 1949 right? I do not know what they were doing prior to that. First of all, it started with Suekuma Yamada--who resided in No. 3 company housing —who began taking care of the churches. It began approximately from the beginning of the 1930s to the closing of the mine.”

――“Out of all the participants of Sunday prayers, were there any Koreans?”

Sasayama: “No, we started this Sunday services following the war.”

――“During the wartime, was it not difficult to practice your religion?”

Sasayama: “No, no, nothing.”

Interaction with the people from Korean Peninsula

――“How was your interaction with Korean people?”

Sasayama: “I had Koreans as my classmates like Li Saiwu, even though he was gone after I returned.”

――“Did your Korean classmates attend the same school as yours?”

Sasayama: “Yes we were in the same school. There were a few of them. I did not get to interact with them much, because many of them were in a different grade. Nonetheless, I did spend some time with my Korean classmates. We talked often. Although after we returned from Taiwan, they were no longer many left since most had been repatriated.”

――“So there were Koreans that did not repatriate?”

Sasayama: “I do not know much about them. I was working in gaikin, therefore, I had to know about it, but tsumesho only dealt with the issues of the employees.”

――“Till what year were you in the army after you left Hashima?”

Sasayama: “For 2 years since September of 1943.”

――“At Taiwan?”

Sasayama: “Yes.”

――“So until then you were in Hashima together with the Koreans.”

Sasayama: “Yes, it was when I was 18.”

――“Were you working in naikin then?”

Sasayama: “I was in the machinery work department (Kousaku-ka).”

――“Were there any Koreans in Kousaku-ka?”

Sasayama: “No, there weren’t any.”

――“So Koreans did not go down into the mine at all?”

Sasayama: “No.”

――“According to Mr. Hideshi Inoue’s account, during the wartime, you have worked with him in the mine and Korean people were in charge of pushing the mine wagons.”

Sasayama: “Ah, that may, in fact, be true. Mr. Inoue knew lots of details regarding the inside of the mine since most of his work revolved inside. I would not know much about inside the mine. I worked at the general affairs division and, in wartime, I worked at the machinery work department. Hence, I only worked on machines, which did not allow me many opportunities to interact with things outside.”

Deceased, Mr. Hideshi Inoue

――“I know you may not be aware concerning the details of inside the mine, but was there such thing as Korean people not being provided with proper working clothes? As it is stated here:
“They were only allowed to wear a piece of loincloth. They also could not stand, and so they had to dig coal by crawling on their stomach or their side.”—Gunkanjima ni Mimi wo Sumaseba: Records of Koreans and Chinese who were Forcefully Taken Away”

Sasayama: “You could not have worked like that. Jobs at coal mines were stationed hundreds of meters below the surface, so Japanese and Koreans are treated the same. I think Hashima was quite a harmonious place where Koreans and Japanese were not treated so differently.”

Book called Gunkanjima ni Mimi wo Sumaseba: Records of Koreans and Chinese who were Forcefully Taken Away

――“When working at Hashima’s machinery work department, were there any soldiers?”

Sasayama: “No, there weren’t any army on site.”

――“How about the police?”

Sasayama: “There were no police. If something happened, one came from Nagasaki. We cooperated with those police in investigations.”

――“When an accident occurs inside the mine, wouldn’t the surveying corps interfere instead?”

Sasayama: “surveying team of course interfered, but it was handled by the mining division (koumu-ka). General affairs division was also involved especially with the matter of transportation to hospitals and the processing of the aftermath.”

――“So general affairs interfered as well?”

Sasayama: “Yes.”

――“Were there any abuse?”

Sasayama: “No, not that I have noticed. After the war, there weren’t much of that.”

――“Did you get into any fights?”

Sasayama: “We had nothing to do with it, but we did notice some fights happening. Typically, police got involved in those things.”

――“Were there any large fights that police had to get involved?”

Sasayama: “When there is a skirmish, regardless of its degree of severity, police got involved to investigate.”

――“I know there was a Korean person in the position of deputy director of mine.”

Sasayama: “I think that was the one from the company housing. Their living condition was not different from that of Japan. I was invited to a Korean’s company housing as well and had the opportunity to taste a rare Korean dish.”

――“Were cooking allowed inside the dormitory?”

Sasayama: “It is not really a dormitory, but a company housing. There is also a public kitchen.”

――“Which section of the building were you residing in?”

Sasayama: “I have resided in No. 30 for a year, then moved to No. 17, and then to No. 65.”

No. 30

No. 17

No. 65

――“What age were you when you had a Korean dish served to you?”

Sasayama: “It was after I became a young man.”

――“So people on the island were like a family to you.”

Sasayama: “Yes, although I do not know how it was in other places.”

――“Which section of the building were you invited to?”

Sasayama: “I wasn’t invited inside Li’s house. Since I was only offered to taste the food at the doorstep.”

――“Was Mr. Li also residing in the building No. 17?”

Sasayama: “It was No. 19, though, at the time, I thought it was on the second floor.”

――“Was Mr. Sasayama living in No. 17 then?”

Sasayama: “Yes, on the 9th floor.”

――“And you were invited to Li Saiwu’s place for dinner.”

Sasayama: “Well I just had a tad a bit at the entrance of the house, rather than the whole dinner. They often give out Kimchi to others and I had the chance to taste those.”

――“Did you play together with Li Saiwu?”

Sasayama: “Yes, plus he was much smarter than us.”

――“He was excellent even in school?”

Sasayama: “Yes, although he was tad a bit shy. I used to do Kendo since elementary school and a few of my seniors in Kendo were Korean.”

――“Did Mr. Li also do Kendo?”

Sasayama: “No, Li didn’t.”

――“Out of all the Koreans in the company housing, were there people who used their Japanese names?”

Sasayama: “No, not that I have heard of.”

――“So they used their original name like Li or Sai?”

Sasayama: “Yes, though after the war, most of them were gone.”

――“When you were on the island, you guys were good friends?”

Sasayama: “Yes, that’s right.”

――“There wasn’t anything like abuse?”

Sasayama: “No, no, they didn’t receive different treatments from that of Japanese.”

Mr. Sasayama and the writer.

A scene of the interview

To be continued…

Koko Kato

“Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” World Heritage Council Coordinator,
Sakubei Yamamoto Collection UNESCO Memory of the World Project Coordinator
“Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” Industry Project Team Coordinator

Author and Director of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution Registration Recommendation Document”, “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution Registration Recommendation Document Digest”, and other official books, DVDs, and websites on the
Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution
Visiting Professor, University of Tsukuba (April 1 2015-March 31 2016)
Managing Director, National Congress of Industrial Heritage
Special Adviser to the Cabinet since July 2015.

Graduated from Keio University Faculty of Letters
Interpreter for international conferences, CBS News Tokyo HQ. MCRP, City and Regional Planning, Harvard Kennedy School; started own company in Japan.