The inscription of a site on the UNESCO World Heritage List signifies that it has been recognized as a common heritage of humanity with ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. This implies a special designation as a heritage not exclusive to one nation or people, but one to be cherished and protected by all of humanity and which should be passed down to following generations.
During the inscription of the Japanese industrial heritage sites at its 39th session, the World Heritage Committee recommended that Japan should prepare an interpretive strategy that allows an understanding of the "full history" of each site. In response, Ambassador Kuni Sato, Japan's representative made a statement that the Japanese government would take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought "against their will" and "forced to work" under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites. These remarks are a promise made by the Japanese government to the international community and further referred to in the footnotes of the WHC decisions.
General Assembly at the 39th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany 1
General Assembly at the 39th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany 2
Recommendations displayed onscreen in the conference hall
Statement made by Kuni Sato, Japanese representative at the WHC
Japan is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites, and that, during World War II, the Government of Japan also implemented its policy of requisition.
Japan is prepared to incorporate appropriate measures into the interpretive strategy to remember the victims such as the establishment of information center.
Scene with remarks from Kuni Sato, Japan's Ambassador to UNESCO (Afternoon Session, beginning at 31:20)
1-2-2 State of Conservation Report submitted in 2017
The Japanese government has submitted two State of Conservation (SOC) Reports since the inscription of its industrial heritage sites to explain how it has implemented the recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee (WHC). In November 2017, Japan submitted its first SOC Report to the Committee, but it turned out to have the following problems:
The phrase "brought against their will and forced to work" used by the Japanese representative at the time of inscription was changed to "workers from the Korean Peninsula who supported the Japanese industry".
In another pledged plan to establish an 'Industrial Heritage Information Centre' in Tokyo, Japan altered its purpose of establishment from a “measure to remember the victims” to a “think tank to preserve and raise awareness of industrial heritage.”
Statement by Japan in 2015
Japan’s SOC Report of 2017
… there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.
… there were a large number of those from the Korean Peninsula who supported Japanese industries before, during, and after the War.
… to incorporate appropriate measures into the interpretive strategy to remember the victims such as the establishment of information center.
… planning the establishment of the Industrial Heritage Information Centre … as a think tank that contributes to dissemination and enlightenment for industrial heritage conservation...
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2020.6.15)
After reviewing the 2017 SOC report submitted by Japan, the World Heritage Committee requested the Japanese government to faithfully implement the WHC decision made in 2015. The Committee further encouraged Japan to continue a “dialogue between concerned parties,” and take into account best international practices for interpretation strategies to provide the full history of the sites. The “concerned parties” here refers to not only the relevant ministries, local governments, property owners and managers, but also related countries, domestic and foreign experts, and local communities. The World Heritage Committee reiterated that Japan should prepare an interpretive strategy in an effort to allow the full history of its sites through active consultation with various stakeholders of the industrial heritage.
1-2-3 State of Conservation Report submitted in 2019
In December 2019, the Japanese government submitted its second SOC Report. However, this report also failed to present the follow-up measures promised by Japan regarding at the time of the inscription in 2015. Japan also misrepresented “concerned parties” as its domestic partners only, excluding the Republic of Korea, a major concerned party. Neither of the two reports contain any measures initially promised by the Japanese government.
WHC Decision of 2018
Japan’s SOC Report of 2019
Strongly encourages the State Party to take into account best international practices for interpretation strategies when continuing its work on the interpretation of the full history of the property
An Interpretation Strategy was drawn up and submitted November 30, 2017 … As for the overall interpretation, this will be reported anew upon completion of the Industrial Heritage Information Centre.
Encourages continuing dialogue between the concerned parties
Active efforts have been made to provide opportunities for dialogue among concerned partners in the relevant ministries, local government organizations, owners, managers, and local communities
Requests the State Party to fully implement Decision 39 COM 8B.14
A SOC report was submitted November 30, 2017 covering the matters …
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2020.6.15.)
1-2-4 Industrial Heritage Information Centre, and Denial of History
Upon the inscription of its industrial heritage sites in July 2015, the Japanese representative made a promise before the international community in a statement that an information Centre would be set up as an “appropriate measure to remember the victims” and to present that “a large number of Koreans and others were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions.” However, the Japanese government immediately took a different route in action by refusing to recognize forced labor victims. Since 2016, the National Congress of Industrial Heritage, a general incorporated foundation has been commissioned to gather information on workers, including Korean workers, but the foundation mostly collected testimonies in favor of Japan’s intention to deny the existence of forced labor.
The National Congress of Industrial Heritage is an organization working in concert with the Japanese government to promote the inscription of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution as World Heritage Sites. In December 2017, it launched a website, "The Truth of Gunkanjima: Testimonies to Conscripted Korean Workers," to solidify Japan’s assertion that there was no forced labor within the sites. The Japanese government has even entrusted the organization with the exhibitions and operations at the Industrial Heritage Information Centre.
The Industrial Heritage Information Centre was established in Tokyo, far off from the Japanese industrial heritage sites, and opened to the public in June 2020. The Centre holds an exhibition based on the testimonies from former residents who lived at the Hashima Island (Gunkanjima) to conclude that Koreans also "lived together like one big family" without racial discrimination or forced labor. This is the result of the Japanese government's activities done in concert with the National Congress of Industrial Heritage to deny the history of forced labor.
At the Centre there is no explanation of the history of forced labor on Koreans, Chinese, Allied POWs and others at the Yahata Steel Works, Nagasaki Shipyard, and the Miike Mine, nor that such victims exist. Neither is there any content made in honor of the victims. The promises made by the Japanese government to the international community remain unfulfilled.