View Full Version : Mitsubishi's 'not comfort' women

Rising Sun*
07-24-2010, 12:10 PM
Mitsubishi's WWII victims keep fighting

* Rick Wallace, Tokyo correspondent
* From: The Australian
* July 24, 2010 12:00AM

WHEN Makoto Takahashi stumbled across some Korean names in a list of earthquake victims in Nagoya, the history teacher had a hunch he'd latched on to an interesting story.

He didn't realise it was the start of a mission that would come to dominate his life and see him bring one of Japan's most famous industrial powerhouses -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- to the brink of making amends for its wartime use of forced labour.

Takahashi's curiosity about these mystery Koreans, all of whom were teenage girls, led him to unearth a dirty and long-buried secret about his city. He discovered the teenagers were part of a group of 289 Korean girls brought to Japan to labour in Mitsubishi's aircraft factory.

"They were only 13 and 14 years old," Takahashi tells The Weekend Australian. "I felt bad because they were just one year younger than my students. We started researching on them in 1986, and we discovered they were part of a Korean "teishin tai" (or "voluntary" corps) for MHI."

Two years later, Takahashi made a monument to the girls, which was backed by locals in spite of the reluctance in Japan to look into the country's colonial and wartime past.

"One of the locals whose family ran the Mitsubishi dormitory brought in 60 pictures from that time, which eventually helped the victims to identify themselves," Takahashi says.

In 1988, after finding a list of the girls' addresses,Takahashi visited South Korea and tracked down several of the women.

After hearing their stories of mistreatment, he undertook to lead their efforts in seeking a settlement, first through the courts, and then by direct negotiation with the industrial behemoth.

Lured to Japan from impoverished occupied Korea with false promises of schooling and good pay packets, the women instead found themselves trapped in a dormitory and forced to toil on empty stomachs in aid of Japan's war effort.

" 'You'll get to go to high school if you go to Nagoya, you'll get a salary, you'll get to eat delicious meals' ": that was what those girls were told when they were brought here, but none of it was true," Takahashi says.

"Their access to the outside world was limited. They worked painting aircraft, and some of them damaged their health by inhaling paint thinner and other chemicals."

While ill-health would claim several of the girls' lives when they returned to Korea after the war, life was tough even for the healthy ones. Although they were not sexually abused, they were ostracised by their compatriots as "comfort women" -- the legions of women forced to sexually service the Japanese military during the war.

The teishin tai title given to the group was the same as that which applied in Korea to the Japanese military's "comfort women".

In 1999, Mr Takahashi sued MHI on behalf of eight of the surviving women, alleging they were lured into gruelling forced labour as children.

The women's testimony -- provided by Takahashi -- is tragic. One tells of a broken marriage due to the teishin tai stigma, while others complain of lung disease and a lifetime of pain, medication and contempt from Korean society.

"I cannot earn money for myself," one says, "However there are two things I would like to fulfil. One is to make a monument to my parents, who died still racked with guilt that they sent me to Japan. The other is to use the money to buy a warm bowl of rice for my son, who grew up proud of me despite the stigma of the teishin tai."

Takahashi says that despite the Nagoya High Court acknowledging the forced labour, the claim, like almost all others on this issue, was eventually rejected on the basis that the 1965 treaty between Japan and Korea ruled out compensation beyond the $US800 million agreed at the time between the two countries.

The women then turned to direct action, visiting the Tokyo headquarters of MHI five times despite their old age and waning health. The company received their visits and eventually opened talks on compensation.

"This year marks 100 years since Japan's annexation of the Korean Peninsula, and I think this helped," Takahashi says.

"I remember at the Mitsubishi shareholders' meeting one of the managing directors mentioned that they were aware of what the year 2010 means. I think this influenced them a lot. It is also the result of plaintiffs' persistent efforts to directly convey their message.

"They kept coming to Japan despite their poor health to report the seriousness of their long-lasting damage."

However, their battle has yet to be won. MHI stresses the talks are non-binding with no timeline decided -- a blow for the 80-year-old plaintiffs, three of whom have died awaiting compensation. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/mitsubishis-wwii-victims-keep-fighting/story-e6frg6so-1225896277456

I assume that Mitsubishi will drag it out until all claimants are dead, as is the custom of other major companies faced with good claims by old people.

The Historian
08-21-2010, 08:45 PM

Have you read Girocho by John Henry Poncio? Forced labour was all the rage in Imperial Japan