Collection of 1923 Japan earthquake massacre testimonies released

Posted on : 2013-09-03 13:53 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
90 years since the Great Kanto Earthquake, deaths of massacred Koreans still haven’t been investigated
 59 years after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake
59 years after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake

By Jeong Nam-ku, Tokyo correspondent

“They tied Koreans up in groups of ten, and the soldiers mowed them down with machine guns. The ones who didn’t die were put on train tracks, doused in petroleum, and burned.”

“It was midday on Sept. 3. I remember seeing a bunch of vigilantes tie up a bunch of Koreans, take them under a bridge, and kill them by slashing them with Japanese swords or stabbing them with bamboo spears. One of the women who was stabbed was pregnant, with a big, swollen belly. I saw about 30 people killed like that.”

These accounts were among those published in a recent collection of eyewitness testimony on the massacre of Koreans that took place in Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. They were compiled by the Association for the Exhumation and Commemoration of Koreans Massacred after the Great Kanto Earthquake, a Japanese civic group.

After the devastation of the earthquake, despairing Japanese victims heard wild rumors about Koreans, including claims that they had poisoned local wells. This past Sept. 1 marked 90 years since the disaster that led to the tragic slaughter of thousands of Koreans in Japan by soldiers, police, and vigilante groups.

But the souls of the victims have yet to find rest. The Japanese government has never identified who was killed or made any attempts to determine who was responsible for the killings. Seoul has never demanded an investigation or apology from Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japanese conservatives are busy trying to cover up and erase the unsavory history. A section on the “Memorial to Korean Victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake” in “From Edo to Tokyo,” an auxiliary Japanese high school history textbook, originally noted that “many Koreans were massacred in the chaos after the earthquake.” But for the 2013 edition, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Board of Education changed it to read, “The stone describes how ‘Koreans lost their precious lives’ in the chaos after the earthquake” - making it unclear just why or how they died.

Similarly, the Yokohama Board of Education changed a passage in its middle school auxiliary textbook “Understanding Yokohama.” In the 2012 edition, the passage on the earthquake stated, “soldiers and police persecuted and massacred Koreans and killed Chinese.” The 2013 version omits the reference to military and police participation and substitutes the words “killed” and “massacred.”

But calls for remembering the tragedy and ensuring it is never repeated are ringing louder than ever 90 years later.

On Sept. 1, the Yokohama YMCA and Kanagawa Human Rights Center held a memorial at Yokohama’s Kuboyama Cemetery, where a memorial to the victims now stands. They were calling for steps to prevent the slaughter from disappearing from historical memory. The city of Yokohama also held a lecture meeting and screened a record of the atrocities. A day earlier on Aug. 31, a combined memorial/conference/rally was held at Meiji University in Tokyo organized by the Executive Committee for Memorial Events on the 90th Anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake.

Ethnic Koreans in Japan (Zainichi) have also been hard at work. The History Museum of Zainichi Koreans, under director Kang Deok-sang, is holding a special exhibition titled “Ninety Years after the Great Kanto Earthquake: Unresolved History” at its special gallery in Tokyo’s Minami-Azabu district from Aug. 31 to Dec. 28.

The central offices of the Korean Residents Union in Japan also staged a memorial on the morning of Sept. 1 for the Zainichi Koreans who were killed. At last year‘s event, the General Consul in Tokyo attended, but this year it was South Korean ambassador Lee Byung-kee who visited personally to offer a tribute of flowers.

Around 105,000 people died in the earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and struck Tokyo, Yokohama, and other parts of the Kanto region on Sept. 1, 1923. In the wake of the disaster, Japanese soldiers and police orchestrated a massacre of Koreans in the area by spreading rumors that they had started riots.


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