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Former 'Japanese' soldiers, military workers in Taiwan seek recognition, redress

Chao Chung-chiu recalls his days as a worker in the Japanese Imperial Army. He repeatedly said during the interview, "Please listen to my story." (Mainichi)

KAOHSIUNG/TAIPEI -- It's been 73 years since World War II ended on Aug, 15, 1945, but some former Taiwanese soldiers and workers in the Imperial Japanese Army, many of them in their 90s, remain dissatisfied with Japan. They fought for and supported Japan during the war as "Japanese nationals" under Tokyo's colonial rule, but feel that they were betrayed by the Japanese government as it has offered less compensation for their sacrifices in battle compared to redress for their Japanese comrades.

"Are you saying that Taiwanese didn't do their best to serve Japan?" said Chao Chung-chiu, 90, in fluent Japanese at his home in the city of Kaohsiung in the southern part of Taiwan, which had been a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945. Chao sounded as if he was representing many of the 200,000 or more Taiwanese who joined the Japanese army as soldiers or workers. Of the total, at least 30,000 were killed at war.

Those former soldiers and workers lost their Japanese nationality after the war, unable to qualify for pensions for former Japanese soldiers and compensation programs for former military workers. They also had to endure the dictatorship of the Kuomintang nationalist party led by Chiang Kai-shek who fled from mainland China in 1949 after his defeat by the Chinese communists.

Since fiscal 1988, the government of Japan has paid 2 million yen per person for Taiwanese soldiers and workers who were killed during their service in the Japanese Imperial Army. But the amount was far less than that for Japanese nationals, and some of the former soldiers in Taiwan and others filed a lawsuit in Japan seeking 5 million yen each in compensation. Their court battle ended in defeat at the Supreme Court in 1992.

"I don't want the people of Japan to forget us," said Chao, who volunteered to join the Japanese army as a worker when he was 15. "It was for the country, for the Emperor, as a Japanese national," he explained.

Chao did construction work in Myanmar and Thailand, and marched through jungles in those tropical countries. "People were dying like flies from malnutrition and malaria," he said.

The hardships even worsened when the war was over. Chao had to survive by "eating snakes, lizards or whatever was available" for nearly three years as he was unable to come home amid postwar confusion. He is angry that the amount of compensation for military workers was less than that for soldiers. "I'm not happy because we did soldiers' work more than the soldiers did."

Liao Shu-hsia, 90, is not happy either. "I am sad having been born Taiwanese," said Liao at her home in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan in the north. She said she was forced to work as a nurse with little training when she was 16 at a Japanese Imperial Army hospital in Shanghai in eastern China where she was staying because of her father's job. Liao had to work under frequent air raids, and a Korean girl she worked with was killed in a bombing.

Liao was forced to save all her wages, meaning she effectively worked for free. When the war ended, she had 1,566 yen in her account, but she could not withdraw the money. "The amount was enough to build a house in Taiwan back then," explained Liao.

She returned to Taiwan in 1947. Efforts by former Taiwanese soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army and others bore fruit, and Liao was finally able to receive her savings in 2000. But the amount the Japanese government gave her, based on its conversion of monetary values, was just 192,340 yen, or about 1,730 U.S. dollars at today's value.

"I wouldn't demand the money if Japan was poor, but Japan is an economic power," said an angry Liao. "They are making a fool out of me."

"We were told to bleed for the emperor, and my husband enlisted with the Japanese army. Japan was successful in turning us into the emperor's people," said Liao. "War is wrong. Without war, so many people wouldn't have died."

(Japanese original by Shizuya Fukuoka, Taipei Bureau)

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