UNESCO Decision and UNESCO-ICOMOS Expert Report:
General Incorporated Foundation the National Congress of Industrial Heritage
Koko Kato, Managing Director
UNESCO Decision and UNESCO-ICOMOS Expert Report:
Six years have passed since the inscription of the "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution" on the World Heritage List, and just over a year has passed since the opening of the Industrial Heritage Information Centre. In the resolution of the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee and the UNESCO-ICOMOS expert report, it was pointed out that "the Japanese government has fulfilled many of its commitments but has not fully implemented the relevant resolutions of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee. " In particular, the report refers to the fact that the exhibition at the Industrial Heritage Information Centre "does not sufficiently describe people from the Korean Peninsula who were brought against their will and forced to work." The information displayed (at the Industrial Heritage Information Centre) gives the impression that conscripted workers from other countries were regarded and treated as Japanese nationals at the time. " (UNESCO-ICOMOS report). This is contrary to historical fact.
During the UNESCO/ICOMOS mission, the mission team used the term POW (prisoner of war) to describe people from the Korean Peninsula in a conversation. As we have repeatedly pointed out to the mission team, people from the Korean Peninsula were not POWs, they were Japanese citizens at the time and were conscripted as citizens. During the Second World War, in response to the shortage of labor in the midst of war, Japan recruited workers from the Korean peninsula through the mediation of the Korean Governor-General from February 1942 under the National Mobilization Law (April 1939), and from September 1944, under the National Mobilization Law, mobilized Koreans for labor under the National Requisition Ordinance (July 1939).
At the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (2015), a document distributed by the Korean government and civic groups spread the perception that Hashima Island was a hellish island where massacres were carried out due to forced labor, and the South German Newspaper (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and other media published information that was far from the truth, insulting many former residents of Hashima Island. After the inscription, we felt the needs to exhibit correct information on the experience of living on Hashima and working in a huge and mechanized undersea coal mine. We started to gather the testimonies of people who worked at Hashima about their lives on the island, and to compile the primary historical documents that explained how the mine and miners responded to boost production during the war. As of 2015, the memories of the workplace were not sufficiently organized, and the primary historical documents were scattered across the locations where they were kept, so the testimonies of those who knew Hashima Island during the war were not available for public presentation. In the six years since then we, together with former residents of Hashima Island, have been collecting memories of the coal mines during the war, and of the workplaces and lifestyles that supported the system of increased production demanded by the war effort. We have recorded the voices of the people who supported the workplaces during the war, tracing the threads of memory and providing to the islanders the documentary sources that relate to their experiences. The voices of those who, despite their age and often poor health, gathered their strength to tell us about their workplaces and lives during the war are a valuable historical asset to Japan. It is clear from the diaries and testimonies that in the last days of the war life and work were very difficult due to the poor food availability and the lack of other supplies, and it is also clear from the evidence that in the midst of the ravages of war, the people from the Korean Peninsula on Hashima Island worked and lived together and supported the system of increased production as a harmonious workforce like a family.
A major problem is that the word ‘victims’ used in the report and the WHC Decision is not defined, and obviously has different meanings in different contexts. We would define ‘victims’ in an industrial context as all those who suffered or died in accidents or disasters while working in coal mines, factories, or other facilities during the war, regardless of their place of origin. At the Industrial Heritage Information Centre, we refer to industrial accidents at the site, regardless of the nationality of the victim, where there is a clear record of the accident. Newspaper articles, memoirs, records of accidents, and other historical documents and testimonies with clear sources and high evidential value will be archived and reflected in the exhibition. The testimonies and diaries of former island residents of Hashima Island also contain many real stories of the coal mining accident, and the truth about the accident will also be displayed in the future. We reject the implication made at the time of listing and subsequently that Korean workers were ‘victims’ because their labor was the result of gross infringements of human rights. This was demonstrably not the case.
The interpretation of history ought to be based on primary historical documents and testimonies, not on "politics" or "movements," and if there are 100 researchers, there will be 100 different interpretations of history. The role of the Information Centre should be to provide accurate primary sources, leaving the interpretation to the individual researcher. During the mission, the mission team also observed that UNESCO could not require Japan to present interpretative material that Japan felt was not clearly supported by factual evidence. We will continue to engage in dialogue with UNESCO officials and people with different views and aim to become an information center that provides accurate and evidential primary information and the voices of the people concerned, in order to eliminate the vicious circle of political intervention in history. We take the resolution of the World Heritage Committee very seriously and will continue to implement it faithfully. We look forward to your continued cooperation and support.