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Memoirs describe return of mine workers to China after WWII

Shinzo Takamatsu is seen in this photo believed to have been taken while he was in Manchuria with the Japanese military. (Photo courtesy of Shinzo Takamatsu's family)

Memoirs have been discovered of a Japanese man who helped with the return of Chinese laborers to their country after World War II, providing rare first-hand insight into the thoughts of someone who was an employee of a Japanese company that used Chinese labor during the war.

    The memoirs were written by the late Shinzo Takamatsu, a former employee of Mitsubishi Kogyo (now Mitsubishi Materials Corp.) He worked on the return of Chinese laborers who had been brought, often against their will, to Japan during World War II and made to work at the Osarizawa Mine in Akita Prefecture. He died in 1992 at age 71.

    Takamatsu is thought to have written the memoirs in the latter part of the 1970s. He joined Mitsubishi Kogyo in 1938, and enlisted with the Japanese military in 1942. He was dispatched to what was then Manchuria as a sublieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. After the war, he returned to his job at Mitsubishi Kogyo.

    In 1942, during the Sino-Japanese War, Japan decided to bring in workers from China to make up for its labor shortage. Although done with a front that they were labor contracts, in many cases the workers were brought against their will. According to a Foreign Ministry report, around 39,000 Chinese were made to work at 135 locations in Japan. Also according to a report submitted to the Foreign Ministry, 414 Chinese laborers left Osarizawa Mine in November 1945, and from Hakata boarded the Enoshima Maru, which took them to Tanggu, then a suburb of Tianjin.

    The memoirs say that at the time, talk had been spreading at the Osarizawa Mine about a June 1945 revolt by Chinese laborers at the Hanaoka Mine in Akita Prefecture when the laborers there couldn't withstand the harsh working conditions any longer. Takamatsu writes that with Japan's defeat in the war "the balance of power (between Japan and the Chinese laborers) reversed overnight," and that there was an "immeasurable fear" among company employees that if they were on a ship sending the laborers back to China they would become targets of revenge.

    The memoirs of Shinzo Takamatsu. The title translates as, "Record of the return of the Chinese workers to their country -- before and after the Pacific War." (Mainichi)

    Takamatsu also wrote that, from the vacant look in the laborers' eyes and their silent demeanors he "could not think that they had heartily volunteered of their own volition." He appears to have been almost sympathetic to them.

    "The Chinese laborers were once in their households, surrounded by their mothers and fathers, their wives and children," he writes.

    At the company meeting about whom to assign the job of sending the laborers back, there was a "sunken" atmosphere, he writes. In the end, it was decided to exempt employees who had been directly involved with the forced labor or who had wives and children from the duty. Takamatsu, who was 24, single and had been in Manchuria, was ordered to the job.

    On the ship, a Chinese national who had served as the leader of the laborers at the mine was attacked by the former laborers. When Takamatsu saw the former leader come running, bleeding, he wondered if it was a sign of a riot brewing. The former leader had acted as a mediator between Mitsubishi Kogyo and the laborers, and because of this was supposedly seen by the laborers as a lapdog of the Japanese, Takamatsu writes. In the end there was no riot, however.

    Five former laborers died on the trip, and three of them had their bodies wrapped in blankets and consigned to the waters. "We couldn't put a flag at half mast, there was no funeral music, no anything. It was a simple end," Takamatsu writes.

    The memoirs also suggest that Takamatsu and the laborers connected to some degree. The day before the ship arrived in China, Takamatsu was stopped by a Chinese national who was an assistant to the laborers' leader. Takamatsu was guided to the front of the storage area on the ship. There he stood stiffly as the assistant leader said in broken Japanese, "We have nothing good to give you, but as a sign of our thanks, please accept this flour for all the (Japanese) leaders."

    The flour is thought to have been loaded as the main food source for the former laborers. Takamatsu writes that he remembers "tears faintly forming" in his eyes.

    Takamatsu finished his memoirs by writing that as he watched the former laborers going on land, carrying the ashes of their countrymen who died at the mine, he yelled in his heart, "Much fortune to you!"

    In December 1945 Takamatsu returned to Japan and reported to his company. Material such as his report was used in the creation of another report on the mining operation, which was submitted to the Foreign Ministry. According to that report, 493 Chinese laborers were forced to work at the Osarizawa Mine, and 78 of them died.

    Takamatsu wrote that, "Because of the war crimes issue (where Japanese were being tried for war crimes), all business trip reports, notes and records about Chinese laborers (at Mitsubishi Kogyo) were destroyed." This is evidence of strong anxiety among the company that its members would be accused of war crimes.

    The memoirs spread across 91 A4-size pages and are written in pen. They were found by Takamatsu's eldest daughter Kumiko Saito, 61, as she was sorting through his old belongings. Overall they cover the period from Takamatsu's time in Manchuria in 1943 to the end of the return of the Chinese laborers in December 1945. There were also two rough drafts found with the same content as the memoirs.

    Hiroshi Tanaka, visiting professor at Osaka University of Economics and Law, who is knowledgeable about the issue of the forcibly moved Chinese, says, "It is rare for the raw voice of those who were involved with the return of the Chinese laborers to be revealed."

    In 2007 the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that the Chinese laborers and their families had lost the right to sue for damages over the forced labor, but it called for efforts to aid the victims anyway. Mitsubishi Materials Corp. is moving forward with compensation negotiations with former Chinese laborers and their families, including ones who were involved with the Osarizawa Mine. A representative for the company's public and investor relations refused to comment about the memoirs.

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