Private group repatriates remains of Korean conscripted laborers

Posted on : 2010-03-11 13:59 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
More remains are expected to be repatriated in 2010, which marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s forcible annexation of Korea
 in Cheonan City
in Cheonan City

“I feel comfort in being able to bring home all of you who were so lonely there in a foreign land. May you rest in peace...”

Eighty-two-year-old Gu Yong-seo’s voice trembled as he stood before the small granite marker bearing the words “Burial Site for the Remains of Koreans in Japan without Surviving Relatives.” Gu is currently serving as an adviser for the Committee for the Repatriation of the Remains of Koreans in Shimizu, which formed in March of 2008 to repatriate the remains of 94 Koreans stored at the Enshrinement Hall for the Remains of Koreans in the city of Shimizu in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture.

The committee brought the remains back from Japan on March 8 and held a repatriation ceremony Wednesday morning at the National Mang-Hyang Cemetery in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province. A party of twelve individuals from the committee, which is made up of leaders from the Shimizu chapters of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), placed a white chrysanthemum above the stone and observed a moment of silence. The edges of the grave were covered with the previous night’s fall of March snow.

Previously, three repatriations of the remains of soldiers and civilian military workers interred at the Yutenji Temple in Tokyo were carried out at the government level following the launch of the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization Under the Japanese Imperialism (Gangje) in 2005. But the March 8 repatriation marked the first time the remains of people believed to be company laborers were repatriated by a private group since the large-scale repatriation of remains in the 1970s and 1980s. The committee itself also paid the expenses, without any support from the South Korean government.

In the port city of Shimizu, where the remains had previously been kept, there were reportedly as many as 3,000 Korean workers at one point performing physical labor at sites such as shipyards and cargo bases. After the war, Inou, the head monk at the Kokai Temple in Shimizu’s Kitayabe area, collected the remains of Koreans who were spread out among 34 nearby temples and notified Koreans from the local community. When the temple was closed down in 1956, Chongryon’s Shimizu chapter petitioned city authorities to create an interment site for the remains. When the facilities became decrepit, the city of Shimizu respectfully accepted a May 1991 petition by Chongryon and Mindan and built a new interment site.

Seventy-two-year-old Haruda Michisaburo, who was serving as head of the Shimizu City Council at the time, said, “There were no voices of objection to building an interment site for those who died in a foreign country.” Haruda added, “I am happy that the hopes of all those people who have worked for decades to bring these people home have come to fruition.”

The repatriation process was not simple, as it was essentially impossible to find any relatives of the deceased. Of the 94 individuals repatriated on Wednesday, twenty-nine, or less than a third, have been identified by name, while addresses, which provide the decisive clue for tracking down relatives, are extant for only ten of the deceased. Additional identity confirmation required the cooperation of the companies where the individuals worked, but the companies involved, including Nippon Kokan and Nippon Light Metal, refused to provide the information. In the end, the repatriation committee obtained the help of Gangje and was able to confirm the surviving family for two individuals, Lee Mal-sik (born in 1917) and Ra Gyeong-ho (born in 1911), but it was forced to give up tracking identities for the remaining 92.

For 2010, which marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s forcible annexation of Korea, the South Korean government plans to pursue the repatriation of 219 deceased soldiers and civilian military workers currently stored at the Yutenji Temple in May, and of a currently confirmed 2,601 private workers in the latter half of the year. Jeong Hye-gyeong, director of Gangje’s second investigation bureau, said, “The Shimizu case is a meaningful instance in which Mindan, Chongnyon and a Japanese local government joined forces to bring about the repatriation of remains.”

Jeong added, “The government is also carrying out discussions with the Japanese government from various angles to enable the rapid repatriation of the remains of our ancestors who passed away after lives spent in suffering.”

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