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NHK's 'real time' Hiroshima Twitter project criticized for portrayal of Koreans

The profile page of the NHK Twitter account belonging to fictional middle-schooler Shun, one of three characters for the 1945 Hiroshima Timeline project based on real people, is seen in this screen capture.
The Aug. 20 tweets describing a crowd of Korean people in Japan forcefully entering a train in Osaka are seen in this screen capture of the NHK Twitter account belonging to fictional junior high school student Shun, one of the 1945 Hiroshima Timeline project's three characters.
The June 16 tweets describing Shun's anger at a group of Korean people who appear to be at ease with Japan losing World War II are seen in this screen capture of the NHK Twitter account belonging to fictional junior high school student Shun, one of the 1945 Hiroshima Timeline project's three characters.

TOKYO -- Public broadcaster NHK's popular "real time" Twitter project "Hiroshima Timeline," premised on imagining how the closing events of World War II would have been tweeted had social media existed 75 years ago, has found itself the target of criticism over its portrayal of Koreans.

    The project, operated by NHK's Hiroshima broadcasting station and launched in March, is conveyed through the accounts of three fictional Hiroshima residents whose posts are based on the recollections of three real individuals, describes the experience of living in 1945 before, during and after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the western Japan city. It has attracted a great deal of attention, and boasts over 410,000 followers across its accounts.

    The accounts have continued to update even after the end of the war on Aug. 15. But a series of tweets describing the actions of a group of Korean people in the immediate postwar period have been subject to increasing criticism for "inciting discrimination." So what was problematic about their content?

    The offending tweets have come from the account of fictional first-year junior high school student "Shun." On Aug. 20, the character posted: "Koreans! A crowd of Koreans, one of the victorious countries, is getting onto our train at Osaka Station."

    The account went on to post, "They're saying, 'We are the winning people. People from the losing country, get off!' Their strength and forcefulness is overpowering. They hit and smashed all the windows in this overcrowded train while shouting angrily, and then pulled out passengers who were sitting down. Then they all came pushing in through the broken window!"

    Another tweet said, "I feel so powerless, I can't stop crying. Demobilized, defeated Japanese soldiers are pushing aside other Japanese people, and this group of people from a victorious country is throwing people out of windows. No one can do anything to stop it. This is mortifying...!"

    In response to the tweets, other users on the platform wrote, "It may be a fact that these things happened, and that there was a person who wrote about them in their journal, but broadcasting that to today's society is not a purely factual exercise." Among the streams of criticism, another wrote, "In (comic book) 'Barefoot Gen' there were similar scenes, but across the whole work were portrayals of the oppression of and discrimination against Korean people and (the writer's) anger at this treatment."

    On June 16, there had also been a tweet that read, "There are Koreans inconsiderately saying things like, 'This war will be over soon,' and, 'Japan will lose.' I suddenly lost my temper, and angrily tried to say something back, but there were too many of them. Plus they are Koreans, so I couldn't find the words to come back with. I gritted my teeth through it."

    Diary entries by Shunichiro Arai, whose writing forms the basis for Shun's tweets, are being published on the Hiroshima Timeline official website, but there is no mention of "Korean people" in the original text. As a result, one user has commented on Twitter, "I'm not sure to what point this is historical fact, or to what point it is imagined; there also aren't explanatory notes."

    According to NHK's announcement, Shun's tweets are posted by a team of "five people from Hiroshima between the ages of 10 and 19." It goes on to say, "The key feature of this is that these Tweets aren't just straight copy-and-pastes of the diaries, but are written based on the diaries in language used today."

    Additionally, the project's website has this explanation of the production process: "The tweets are created while investigating the conditions at the time that the diaries were written, and they consider: 'What kind of things might this person have posted on social media?' When we say investigating, we don't just mean reading books and interviewing people. What's important is really trying to experience what's been written in the diaries through 'field work.' We recreated food from the time, and tried to walk along the same paths described in the diaries."

    On Aug. 21, NHK said on the Hiroshima Timeline official website that it had "received numerous inquiries and other messages" about the Aug. 20 tweets, and wrote, "To let the younger generation to come away with a real sense of the confusion at that time, we based what we're publishing on accounts and real descriptions by the people involved." The same explanation was used for the content of the June 16 tweets.

    Moon Kong-hwi, 51, a third-generation Korean resident of Japan and the secretary-general of nonprofit organization Multi-Ethnic Human Rights' Education Center for Pro-existence, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It may be true that there were people who behaved in an autocratic manner, but focusing on fragments of words and actions to talk about attributes of 'Koreans' leads to discrimination. As a post on an account belonging to national public broadcaster NHK, it throws meat to people who already engage in repeated discriminatory words and actions."

    Moon also pointed out the project's own limits, saying, "There had to be some kind of an annotation explaining why that kind of behavior took place, such as by providing information on the historical background of Korean people being oppressed by the Japanese colonizers of their land. But on Twitter that kind of thing is impossible."

    He added, "The minors involved in producing these tweets could come in for the brunt of criticism, and become secondary victims in this controversy. NHK should as the organizing body take responsibility and show that it is facing up to the criticism coming its way."

    Yukako Ohashi, a freelance writer who has published work on topics including war orphans and issues of reproduction and sex, discussed what she sees as problematic about the way Japanese media handles war topics: "I understand wanting young people to develop an interest in it, and to feel that it is relevant to them. However, there is a danger in creating a dramatic impact in which users are absorbed into the views of people at the time who were complicit in war and discrimination. People today could develop sympathy (with those in wartime) so strong that it may cause them to think that there was no choice but to invade other countries and kill people, or discriminate against and eradicate the 'unpatriotic.'"

    In response to a request for comment from the Mainichi Shimbun, an NHK Hiroshima public relations representative said, "We had absolutely no intention of promoting discrimination. Our view of the criticism received is exactly as described in the statement on our website."

    (Japanese original by Fusayo Nomura, Integrated Digital News Center)

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