The Fabrication of “Forced Conscription”
Admiration for Japan
Professor Chung: The most common motivation for coming to Japan can probably be explained in terms of economic conditions: poverty and hardship. There are, for example, oral accounts like the following:
“We were so poor, always fighting. I came here because I couldn’t go on. Even if you got a job all you could eat was rice bran, pumpkin or radish leaf dishes. I had nothing to give my little brother and nothing myself. There was nothing but this miserable life for me in Korea so I came to Japan.”
“The crops had failed for about 4 years and there was nothing I could do about that. I came to Japan because I couldn’t eat in Korea. My parents were in Hiroshima at the time. They didn’t want me to come to Japan but I couldn’t eat at home so I came to Japan without telling my father.
There are also those who relate that they came to Japan seeking to create wealth or admired Japan:
“Life was hard and we peasants were limited by having to farm small lots.. In the circumstances I was jealous of the way the Japanese lived and decided to go to Japan, so I had the Principal at my school give me sponsoring certification and came to Japan on the pretext of getting a higher education. It was difficult to come to Japan at the time. There were quite a number, even in my village, who were wanting to go to Japan because life was hard, but their sponsor’s credentials were not recognised and it seems they never came.
“I came to Japan on my own. Someone I knew in Korea used to talk about Japan often so I admired the country.
Interviewer: What we can draw from these oral accounts is that, whilst there were various reasons such as poverty or wealth creation, they made their own choices to come to Japan, is it not?
Professor Chung: That’s right. It’s not so much as they were forcibly conscripted but that there is even an account of a person being assisted in their journey by the Japanese police, who were said to have been responsible for forced conscription at the grassroots level. That person said the following:
Korea was in deep recession. There were 2 lessons of roughly 2 hours each week at school on the Korean language (using Korean language readers). The school Principal was Japanese, the other teachers were Korean. I had a station sergeant from Kagoshima Prefecture who was posted to Chollanamdo Sungjyu-kun, accompany me to Shimonoseki.
If we look at it this way, you could even say that there are no accounts that lead to “forced conscription”. Whilst editor of this report supposes accounts of forced conscription and seeks to wrap things up by saying that the Korean residents are the victims of the same, a number of conflicting arguments have arisen from those who gave the accounts. This trend is a special characteristic of not only this report but also a point held in common by almost all the documents collating these kinds of accounts. This means the forcible removal by truck story told by the editor, is, in the end, something not learned through this kind of fact-finding survey but something read in books and appropriately seen as discourse.
However it is the first generation Korean residents themselves who know best of all that they are not the victims of forced conscription. The first generation comprises those who have been able to tell their own stories by comparing themselves to their friends and acquaintances in their hometowns. “Why am I living in a strange land while my friends stayed in my hometown?” This is no doubt because the person made a decision due to some circumstance or because the person, for some reason, chose to remain in Japan rather than return home.