My encounter with Mr. Sakae Matsumoto
- Honorary Chairman, Hashima Islanders for Historical Truth-

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

Mr. Sakae Matsumoto, Honorary Chairman,
Hashima Islanders for Historical Truth

Meeting Mr. Sakae Matsumoto, who will turn 90 this year (2018), was like getting a blow on my head – it made a major impact on me.
He said “I had the impression that there was a one-sided attack on Japan at the international conference. But I cannot think of any differences there were between the Korean people and the Japanese people on Hashima. The suggestion that we should swallow the insult and settle with money, just to get the World Heritage recognition, leaves us powerless... I was saddened to see that Japan’s foreign policy was so spineless. I am deeply hurt that our sacred Hashima is being tarnished by this effort to resolve matters with money. It is reckless, just as it was with the comfort women issue. On Hashima, no one made any distinction between Koreans or Chinese, or anyone else. We all needed to bond together to complete our jobs. That was the uniqueness of these coal mines.”

Mr. Sakae Matsumoto was born on February 5th, 1928, in Tsumacho, Koyu county, Miyazaki prefecture, as the third son of eight children (one older sister, two older brothers, two younger brothers, and two younger sisters). He and his family moved to Hashima when he was in elementary school. His father owned a tofu store on Hashima. Matsumoto-san entered Hashima Jinjo Higher Elementary School, and after graduating, he joined Mitsubishi Mining Company, where he worked as an engineer-surveyor in the mines. He was sent to a mining school in Chikuho at the behest of his company; upon his return to Hashima, he began working in the pits. In April 1945, he volunteered to enlist in the Oita aviation corps. He was in Oita when the war ended. In 1963, he became the Managing Director of the Hashima Cooperative Association, and at the same time took office as the accounting and salary director for the Hashima Labor Union. In 1969, he left Mitsubishi Mining Corp Hashima Mine, and worked for Satake Shoji, then subsequently for Nisshin Sekiyu. He has been in retirement since 1984.

He told me, “Kato-san, I would go anywhere, to Nagasaki, Tokyo, or South Korea. I want to ask the Korean people showing up in media that say they were there in Hashima at the time: ‘When did you come to Hashima? Which building and which floor did you live on? Who was the supervisor of your building? How many people lived there, and where did you work? Who was your group leader then? Why are you saying the things you are saying?’” He immediately ripped a page out of his notebook and began writing down, in bullet points, the questions he wanted us to ask the Korean people. He handed the paper to me.

Beginning with our first meeting on July 27th, 2016, I met Matsumoto-san a total of 10 times (7/27/16, 11/7/16, 1/5/17 [twice on this day], 1/6/17 [twice on this day], 2/24/17, 8/9/17, 12/13/17 [twice on this day]) for interviews. During this time, Matsumoto-san had read the books “Chikuho / Gunkanjima”, (written by Eidai Hayashi, Genshobo) and “If you listen carefully to Gunkanjima: - Records of Korean and Chinese forced into labor at Hashima”, (published by the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Resident Koreans in Nagasaki, Shakai Hyoron Sha), and had taken notes on his thoughts. He sent his notes to me by mail. The extensive handwritten notes included excerpts from the book on the upper half of the page, and the questions he had about each excerpt on the bottom half of the page. He said it took him days to finish creating this document. Because he worked so fervently on this document, to the extent that he was making calluses on his finger from writing, his family began to worry about his health. They said his legs were getting weaker, from spending so much time sitting in front of a desk. I did not know how to respond when I heard about the concerns of his family and began to worry that I may not be able to live up to his expectations.

After the second interview, he said, “Kato-san, these things cannot be done by a single person. We need to organize”, and he began contacting his old friends with whom he had not been in touch for a long time, calling them one by one. He eagerly made these calls and introduced his friends and acquaintances to me. I wanted to respond to his enthusiasm, so I decided to visit his old friends on his behalf to interview them myself. Although some interviewees were reluctant at first when I introduced myself by phone, those who were contacted by Matsumoto-san prior to my visit welcomed me warmly when I met them. At the end of the interviews, some interviewees even called others to introduce them to me. However, although Matsumoto-san’s friends were eager to help, some family members were worried that they might get involved in the Japan - Korea conflict, or other unexpected trouble. When I asked to film the interview, some family members refused. There were times when I had to return home without even meeting the interviewees.

As we reported back progress of interviews to Matsumoto-san in Miyazaki, he became unsettled, and began to say that he would like to visit his old friends himself in Nagasaki, where most of them live. Then one day, Matsumoto-san sent me a letter with a proposal to start an organization. As he was a director of a union, he must have been used to organizing people; his proposal was very well drafted. But he realized that his proposal would require energy and physical capacity.

Matsumoto-san said he would like to go to Gunkanjima, their home town, together with his old friends, after they meet. The distance between Miyazaki and Nagasaki may seem short on a map, but it is not easy to get to one place from the other, as the choice of transportation is limited. By car, it takes about 6 hours one way. I was worried that Matsumoto-san’s physical health may not keep up with his eagerness. As he walked with a cane and unsteady steps, we decided to provide full support for him. This was five months after I met Matsumoto-san for the first time. (continued)


 Koko Kato

 Managing Director, National Congress of Industrial Heritage,
 Special Advisor to the Cabinet since July 2015,
 “Coordinator of Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” World Heritage Council,Chair, Industry Project team, Chair, Interpretation Committee of Cabinet Secretariat,Project Leader, Sakubei Yamamoto Collection UNESCO Memory of the World Visiting Professor, University of Tsukuba (April 1 2015-March 31 2016);

 Graduated from Keio University Faculty of Litterature, Tokyo headquarters of CBS News.Harvard Kennedy School with an MCRP in City and Regional Planning (1987-1989), with special focus on corporate towns and their economic development.Since graduating at Harvard Kennedy School, Koko Kato started her own company and became involved in private activities while conducting international research about corporate towns and their industrial heritage. She authored the book titled “Industrial Heritage” (Nihon Keizai Shimbunsha, 1999), essays in “Economist” (Japan’s weekly magazine), “Gakuto”,“Shincho 45” and “Chiri” etc. Koko Kato was Director, and one of the principal authors, of the Nomination Document for the inscription of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution on the World Heritage List, and its digest edition. She is also Director of several booklets and the principal Website related to Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.