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Nagasaki Pilgrimage Story #2:  Contested Versions of Truth

December 9, 2014

Hashima Island: for some a story of progress and sacrifice, for others, of violence and death

The second image that sticks with me from our recent Nagasaki pilgrimage of pain and hope is this one.  This is not a movie set.  A short boat ride from Nagasaki is Hashima Island.  Here, Mitsubishi Industries established one of the most productive coal-mining operations in Japanese history.

During our tour, the guide placed Hashima within the story of Japan’s history of industrialization—a story of hard work and sacrifice.  Yet she did not focus on two realities: First, the relationship of Hashima’s coal to Japan’s manufacturing of munitions and war materials during World War II.  Second, the estimated 500 Koreans who were forced to work on Hashima.  A number drowned trying to escape.

One survivor has said:  “The Island was a living hell. You could not dare to escape it because of high breakwaters and huge waves. By the end of the war, Koreans were involved in dangerous work and they were often vulnerable to violence of mine supervisors.”

Like many contested stories in places of deep conflict, Hashima is a sign of pride and sacrifice to some, but of enormous pain, injustice, and forgetfulness to others.  As some in our group journeyed as Korean and Japanese, we were challenged to ask:  How do we learn to tell the same story, and share the same pain?

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