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Tokyo gov. skips 1923 Korean massacre anniv. eulogy for 2nd year, raising denial worries

Kim Do Im holds a book containing the story of her uncle, who disappeared in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and is believed to have been killed in a massacre of Korean residents due to malicious rumors, in Tokyo's Ota Ward, on Aug. 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Gov. Yuriko Koike has declined for the second consecutive year to send a eulogy for the victims of a massacre of Korean residents here following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake on the disaster's Sept. 1 anniversary.

Koreans living in Tokyo during the disaster were massacred by Japanese residents after unfounded rumors circulated that they had poisoned well water following the quake. A second-generation ethnic Korean woman residing in Japan who has lived in the shadow of the brutal act said, "I wish we could create a society that faces its own history head-on and works toward mutual acceptance."

Kim Do Im, an 81-year-old housewife in Tokyo's Ota Ward, was 5 years old at the time of the estimated 7.9 magnitude earthquake. She remembers hearing the story of her uncle from her mother, who worked nights as a seamstress: "After the earthquake, we didn't know where he was. I think he was caught up in the incident." Kim will never forget the look of despair on her mother's face.

Her uncle, who worked as a civil engineer in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, made his way to the capital after the quake to search for a subordinate who had gone missing. Those around him told him not to go, saying that Koreans were being killed amid the post-temblor chaos, but her uncle, who was fluent in Japanese, told his family that he would be fine and set out. He was 33 years old. There was no reason that he would abandon his wife and three children.

In a government central disaster committee report, the number of those who died or went missing in the disaster is estimated at 105,000 people. Of them, those Japanese and Koreans killed in the massacre are thought to make up 1 to several percent.

When Sept. 1 approaches each year, Kim now has dreams she is being cut down by a Japanese sword. When she lived in Yamanashi Prefecture west of Tokyo just after World War II, a rumor spread that Japanese soldiers who had suffered injuries on the Korean Peninsula were seeking revenge, and her body shook in fear that she might be murdered as well.

Kim holds no ill-will toward Japanese people. She knows that there were also Japanese who sheltered Koreans after the earthquake to save them from being killed. "I have pride in being an ethnic Korean, but I also like Japanese people," she emphasized. "But no matter what country you are from, it is the duty of those left behind to memorialize victims of past events."

Each time she hears that hate speech and fake news aimed at damaging ethnic Korean residents of Japan or others has spread, she becomes uneasy that it is "just like the misinformation in the aftermath of the earthquake." With natural disasters occurring one after another, she feels that "sometime, somewhere, it wouldn't be strange for the events of 'that day' to happen" again.

Past Tokyo governors, and Gov. Koike during her first year in office, have sent eulogies to a ceremony for the Korean victims of the massacre that is held in a park in Tokyo's Sumida Ward and organized by the Niccho Kyokai (Japan-Korea association) and other groups. However, this year, Gov. Koike announced on Sept. 1 that she would not be sending a message for the second year in a row.

Koike said of her reasons for not sending a eulogy to the Korean memorial, "I am expressing my condolences to all of the people who fell victim to the Great Kanto Earthquake disaster" in her eulogy sent to a large memorial ceremony held by the Tokyo Irei Kyokai (Tokyo Metropolitan memorial association) in the same park. However, when pressed by this reporter about her awareness that the massacre was recognized by the central government, she avoided further explanation, saying "things such as that are for an historian to unravel."

Kim, meanwhile, said, "The governor is not only not facing up to history, but looks as if she is denying that it ever happened."

(Japanese original by Kentaro Mori, City News Department)

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