NHK’S FABRICATION OF HISTORY AS MALICIOUS AS ASAHI’S
Unsubstantiated reports about the so-called “comfort women” started circulating globally in 1982 when a Japanese con man named Seiji Yoshida claimed he had rounded up young women in Korea’s Cheju Island for the Japanese military during World War II. The more recent lies about wartime Korean laborers having been coercively recruited for unpaid slave labor for Japanese corporations can be traceable to a TV documentary aired in 1955 by NHK, Japan’s sole public media outfit.
In 2014, the liberal mass circulation daily Asahi Shimbun retracted all of its articles written by or attributed to Yoshida, admitting that they had been based on unverified information. But to this day, NHK has refused to take corrective measures, despite its 20-minute documentary Island without Trees continuing to be a major cause of the lingering strain in the Tokyo-Seoul relationship. The program depicts life on the off-shore coal island of Hashima in Nagasaki Prefecture.
Koko Kato, director of the Industrial Heritage Information Center and an expert on the history of Japan’s industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, including the Hashima mine, has this to say about the documentary made nearly seven decades ago:
“The footage shot inside the Hashima coal mine is clearly a setup. I assume NHK came up with a dramatic narrative script to match the fake images.” The footage to which Kato is referring to would look curious to anyone’s eyes. First it shows miners entering the mine one after another, all wearing work clothes, helmets with headlamps, and sturdy working shoes.
But the men are next shown digging coal stark naked except for loin cloths. Here, they are wearing helmets without headlamps, but have watches securely fastened to their wrists—a puzzling combination. Kato continues:
“Under the safety standards enforced at the time by Mitsubishi Mines Co., which ran the Hashima mine, entering the mine without a headlamp was strictly prohibited. It would have also made no sense to have anyone digging coal naked. The mines were dug deep undersea and were pitch dark. It would have been impossible to work without headlamps. Also, wristwatches were simply too expensive for the average Japanese worker to own in the mid-1950s when the documentary was created. Taking personal belongings, such as wristwatches, into a coal mine would have also been taboo.”
The documentary also shows miners working on all fours in shafts without sufficient height, but this is also not realistic.
Fabrications Originating in Japan
As mentioned earlier, Hashima was an undersea coal mine. It was in operation 1890-1974, with shafts dug diagonally 1,100 meters (approximately 3, 600 feet) below sea level. Mitsubishi’s in-house rules called for shafts to be at least 1.9 meters (6.2 feet) high, but the documentary shows semi-naked workers operating in shafts that were not high enough and dug horizontally. Available documents show that there actually were no such horizontal shafts at Hashima.
Clearly, the footage shown in the documentary is not Hashima. Kato is correct in asserting that this footage was a setup by NHK. In point of fact, all former residents of the island have testified that this “is not Hashima, where we actually lived and worked.”
The fabricated footage NHK aired was quickly transmitted to South Korea, leading to the “recognition” of the alleged fact that Korean workers in Japan were put to such egregious slave labor during the last war. Take, for example, one of the photos displayed at the South Korean National Museum, which shows a man naked above the waist digging coal on his stomach in a low shaft. It is purportedly a photo emblematic of the slave labor wartime Koreans were subjected to in Japan. But the truth of the matter is that the man in this photo isn’t Korean. He has been confirmed to be a Japanese whom a photographer caught stealing coal in a deserted mine after the war. A contact print is available in Japan today.
In its documentary 66 years ago, NHK is guilty of creating a falsified footage of miners at work in a mine which clearly could not have been Hashima, where strict safety management was observed. The falsified footage has taken on a life of its own, becoming the basis for South Korean claims of slaver labor. The aforementioned photo was displayed along with anti-Japanese slogans in Times Square in New York in 2015 amid a campaign to prevent Japan from registering Hashima and 21 other Japanese industrial sites on a UNESCO Word Heritage list as proof of the rapid industrial revolution Japan achieved during the Meiji era. (UNESCO did eventually recognize these sites.) Then in 2018, the Supreme Court of South Korea ordered a Japanese steel firm to compensate four wartime Korean workers, despite the 1965 Japan-South Korea normalization treaty.
The footage NHK fabricated 66 years ago in its documentary is linked closely to today’s existing problems. “Not only that,” points out Tsutomu Nishioka, an expert on the Korean Peninsula who serves as a professor at Reitaku University in Tokyo, explaining:
“In 1974, the Tokyo headquarters of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were bombed by young Japanese terrorists, leaving four dead and nearly 400 others injured. The culprits had read Records of Japan’s Abduction of Koreans during Annexation by Park Kyung-soo (Mirai-Sha Publishing Co, Tokyo; 1965) at college. The book claims Koreans were subjected to cruel treatment during the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula. They thought that, to avenge the tragedy of the Koreans, they must carry out a terrorist attack on a big Japanese corporation. So they targeted Mitsubishi Heavy Industries because the firm had hired a large number of Korean laborers as a leading Japanese corporation.”
The attack on Mitsubishi took place on August 30. Initially, the terrorists planned to carry it out on September 1 to take revenge for the deaths of Koreans allegedly murdered during the Great Kanto Earthquake on that day in 1923. But the day in 1974 happened to be a Sunday, when only a small weekend crowd would be expected near the Mitsubishi headquarters. So they chose Friday August 30. Nishioka explained:
“In other words, the culprits genuinely believed Japanese corporations had put Koreans to slave labor. I believe NHK is accountable for creating the image that left a strong impression of Japanese cruelty against Koreans. That is to say a fabrication about our past that began in our own country 66 years ago has been handed down over the years, spreading across the seas and being amplified further. It’s the same as the “comfort women”—a fabrication started by our own people.
Image as “Villains”
Thanks largely to Kato’s hard work, the Industrial Heritage Information Center opened in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward last March, with a host of records about life on Hashima exhibited along with the testimonies of the island’s former residents. The images and voices on VTR enable visitors to come to grips with the fact that on this island Japanese and Koreans lived happily together and cooperated with each other harmoniously.
The exhibits may have rubbed NHK the wrong way, as the broadcaster aired a new documentary on Hashima in the Kyushu and Okinawa areas last October 16 under the title: Documentary: Island of Remembrance. Kato and former residents answered an interviewer’s questions but were offended that NHK failed to address their remarks properly in the documentary, portraying them as “villains” for assuring—against the broadcaster’s obvious expectations—that there was no slave labor on the island and that Japanese and Koreans formed a big amicable community.
Last November, the former residents sent NHK a letter of protest together with a request that the broadcaster: 1) conduct a probe into the grossly misleading mine footage; 2) inform the whole world, including South Korea, of the critical flaws in the documentary; 3) completely withdraw the documentary along with all of its existing copies; and 4) apologize for trampling on their pride and self-esteem.
As expected, NHK gave the former residents only a curt reply, saying: “We have been unable to establish your assertion that the footage was filmed at a coal mine other than Hashima.”
“That’s ridiculous,” fumed Kato. “All of the former residents who saw the documentary testified that that isn’t Hashima. If NHK as a responsible media outlet wants to deny our claim that the images were a setup, they should come up with clear and convincing proof.”
I find Kato’s anger justifiable and wonder why we should allow ourselves to be compelled to pay monthly viewing fees to NHK just because it is Japan’s only public broadcaster. We should deal more strictly with the broadcaster for continuing to impair our national interests and honor as Japanese citizens through such fabricated programs over the years.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 941 in the March 11, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)