A Tale of Two Islands: Tsushima and Hashima

As Kushibo notes:

If you have been deluded into believing it is only whacky Koreans that have a stick up their arse about Japan, and not the other way around, look again. Japanese nationalists frequently talk up the danger of zainichi Korean restaurants in their midst — especially those associated with “pro-North” organizations because they provide something of a lifeline to their relatives in the DPRK — but this occasionally extends to tourists, especially those on Tsushima.

As evidence, Kushibo points to this stinker in the Japan Times: “Tsushima’s S. Koreans: guests or guerrillas?

In 2008, 72,349 South Koreans visited the island, thanks to the won’s strength against the yen, before falling to 45,266 in 2009 due to the global economic crisis and the won’s subsequent sharp fall.

Even though these visitors contributed an estimated ¥2.1 billion to the local economy and generated 260 jobs on an island struggling with depopulation, word that a plot next to a Maritime Self-Defense Force facility is occupied by a lodge that houses mostly South Korean fishermen has irked local residents and conservative politicians.

“Although the MSDF says the presence of the lodge does not present any problem with its activities, we feel as if we are being kept under surveillance” by the South Koreans, said Masayoshi Matsui, who heads the local chapter of the Japan Conference, a group of conservatives.

Kept under surveillance!


Anyway, to readers of the Marmot’s Hole, the Korean invasion of Tsushima is old news.

What isn’t old news, though, is this story (Korean) by Jeon Eun-ok on Japan’s Hashima — perhaps better known as Gunkanjima, or “Battleship Island” — which the Japanese are trying to registers, along with other modern industrial heritage sites in Kyushu and Yamaguchi — as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jeon’s piece looks at the history of Korean laborers on the island and takes the city of Nagasaki to task for its failure to tell the whole story about the island, a complaint heard elsewhere. When you read something like this, of course, you can see where the complaints might be coming from:

What could have been written in the inscription that would cause someone to act in such a hostile manner bearing a grudge? The original text consisted of two paragraphs. The first said that those honored had made great contributions to the development of the Japanese economy and the promotion of the local community, but that they were unable to deal with the flow of the times and had lowered the curtain on a glittering history lasting over a century. It is the second paragraph that clearly shows Mitsubishi‘s understanding of conscripted labor. The somewhat lengthy paragraph reads as follows.

“We long for the days in which many workers and their families, including people who came from China and the Korean Peninsula, transcended race and nationality to share one heart in tending the flame of coal mining and sharing joy and sorrow together, and we pray for the eternal rest of those who lost their lives during their work or perished on this land by erecting this monument to comfort all their souls.”

When the contents of the inscription became known, ethnic Koreans who had endured harsh treatment at the site during the Japanese Empire were unable to conceal their anger. There was nothing written to indicate that Korean and Chinese workers had been brought there against their will. The people who were brought to the Ghost Islands endured harsh labor, beatings, and punishments, and a number of them died in accidents or from malnutrition. Japanese civic groups protested, charging that expressions such as “sharing joy and sorrow” flew in the face of historical fact, but the company refused to modify the inscription, claiming that it had already passed through prior discussions with the local headquarters of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon). It was in the midst of this controversy that the destruction of the inscription took place.

  • cm

    Japan has never really acknowledged their historical role with their forced laborers. So nothing new there too.

    What I find more interesting are the Japanese not being able to accept Kim Yuna’s gold medal win. I wish they just get over it. It’s becoming really annoying.

  • http://ghosttreemedia.com hoju_saram

    Jeon Eun-ok makes a fair point. But I don’t quite understand what the Japanese civic groups were getting at when they say that,

    “sharing joy and sorrow” flew in the face of historical fact

    Are they agreeing with the Koreans, i.e., that the story of the indentured workers should be told truthfully?

    Another point — why on earth would anybody – Japanese or otherwise – consult the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) on anything? They openly bankroll the the Kim regime (using capitalist-funded Yen) and wonder why they’re discriminated against. The Aquariums of Pyongyang gives you a good idea of exactly how insidious 총련 is.

    Interestingly, when I went to the DPRK I took this picture – of young people dancing under a 총련 banner.

    Struck me as odd at the time – maybe they were visiting from Japan on a sort of homeland tour? From what I’ve read, it seems that 총련 does this occasionally.

    Anyway, interesting post :p

  • silver surfer


    To drag people to work as slave labourers in your mines, kick them and beat them, and work them to death…and then to have the balls to write this sugary pablum on the memorial! They should take that memorial and shove it you know where.

  • slim

    For all his strengths and his generally useful perspective as a Korea-watcher and blogger, Kushibo too often does readers a disservice by finding or creating equivalence between what are arguably MAINSTREAM Korean nationalist views and actions, and decidedly FRINGE behavior across the Sea of Japan. (He also committed the false equivalence error with Western press coverage of Ohno’s Korean troubles in Vancouver and its Korean media equivalent.) I’m not saying Tsushima/Taemado here is a mainstream issue in South Korea, but Dokdo/Takeshima is one in a way that it simply is not in Japan — even though Korea actually has possession and control of the islets in question there.

    So on Tsushima, the Kyodo report in the Japan Times dutifully finds some far-right figures to utter anti-Korean paranoid crap, but also includes for the reader the actual reality of the situation, which is vigorous local efforts to promote tourism from Korea:

    “Tsushima officials take a more sanguine view. They continue to promote the island as a tourist destination to South Koreans, hoping to raise the number of visitors to 100,000.

    Kenichiro Motoishi, head of the city’s tourism and industry promotion office, pointed out that the central government has tried to support the economy of remote islands to maintain the country’s territorial integrity since the 19th century, but has failed to do so because of its weak financial base.

    “If (tourists) spend money here, we don’t care if they are Japanese or South Koreans,” Motoishi said.

    “We cannot overlook transactions concerning national sovereignty, but otherwise they are welcome. What’s the difference between the Korean property purchase and the Japanese acquisition of Rockefeller Center?” Motoishi said, referring to the outcry in the United States over the purchase of the landmark building in New York in the late 1980s by Japanese real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate Co.

    About a dozen South Korean veterans demonstrated in front of City Hall in July 2008 to claim territorial rights over the island, but such people are rare, he said.”

    If the ownership/tourist nationalities on Tsushima were reversed, would Yonhap include such comments, if they could find a Korean official willing to utter them?

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  • babotaengi

    “If the ownership/tourist nationalities on Tsushima were reversed, would Yonhap include such comments, if they could find a Korean official willing to utter them?”

    You don’t understand Korean mind.