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Ryoichi Matsuno

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70th Anniversary of Student Mobilization
—Visiting Former Korean Student Soldiers

Ryoichi Matsuno
Professor of Media and Journalism Studies, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University

Cases of student mobilization

As Japan’s military situation worsened, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo issued the Imperial Decree No. 755 on October 1, 1943. The decree was known as “Special Decree Ceasing the Conscription of Current Students” and eliminated the temporary exemption from conscription for university students, in particular students studying the law and humanities. It is also known as the “student mobilization” decree.

However, there is another instance of student mobilization which is not widely known—the mobilization of students from Korea and Taiwan, countries which were ruled by Japan at that time. On October 20, 1943, the Ministry of War issued the Ordinance No. 48, known as “Rules for Enlistment of Special Voluntary Army Soldiers.” These “special voluntary army soldiers” were recruited from among Korean and Taiwanese students. Although this was ostensibly a volunteer system, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture ordered universities to suspend or dispel students who did not volunteer. A notification including such contents from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture (dated December 3, 1943) and a response from Chuo University (dated January 14, 1944) are stored at Chuo University. Although called “volunteering,” the enlistment was essentially obligatory.

Photograph 1: Notification (excerpt) addressed to the President of Chuo University from the Chief of the Education Bureau, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture. The notification ordered the suspension/dispelling of Korean and Taiwanese students who did not comply with the system of “Special Voluntary Army Soldiers.”

Korean students underwent conscription examinations and entered service on January 20, 1944. Their mobilization was approximately 50 days later than Japanese students. It is said that more than 4,300 Korean students were enlisted.

From 2007, students at my laboratory have conducted a project which involves searching for Chuo University graduates who experienced the war and recording their testimony. Results have been published in the book Alumni who Lived through War (Chuo University Press; Two Volumes and Chuo Literary Review Special Feature No. 283). As of today, students have interviewed about 50 Chuo graduates. In our work, there is one important point which cannot be overlooked—the fact that, prior to World War II, Chuo University accepted most students from Taiwan and Korea out of all Japanese universities.

According to 100 Years of History at Chuo University, Korean and Taiwanese students composed more than 14% of all students at Chuo University in 1942. In June 1940, the Korean Alumni Association was formed, and an association newsletter was published. The family names and birthplaces of 1,086 Korean students are listed in the newsletter. This shows how Korean students comprised an extremely large ratio of the approximately 9,000 students enrolled at Chuo University at that time.

My students and I started a project to summarize the testimony of these Korean students. The project is led by Shimon Sawada (2nd year, Faculty of Policy Studies). Thanks to cooperation from the Fallen Student Soldier Memorial Society of Japan (Wadatsumi-Kai) and student Aya Akioka from the Hitotsubashi University Graduate School, we were able to contact 3 graduates of Chuo University. We conducted a survey in Korea for 4 days starting from October 30, 2013.

Testimony of a former transport soldier

Photograph 2: Kwak (left), chairperson of the 1-20 Association, and Shimon Sawada (2nd year, Faculty of Policy Studies)

Kwak Byeon-Eul (age 92) currently lives in Seoul and is chairperson of the 1-20 Association, a group composed of former Korean students. Kwak was born in Jeonju City when Korea was under Japanese rule. He attended general school and high school in Jeonju City. His family operated a rice mill and Kwak’s father wanted him to continue the business. However, Kwak dreamed to become a bank employee who earned a high salary and was considered as an elite at that time. As such, he decided to enter the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce. While studying at the university, Kwak supported himself by delivering newspapers. After successfully graduating, he entered the Korea Shokusan Bank and began working in Jeonju City.

However, as Japan’s military situation worsened, the summons for conscription reached even to Kwak.

“The number of special voluntary army soldiers produced by the Military Ordinance No. 48 of the Ministry of War was expected to be about 7,000,” explains Kwak. “However, only about 3,000 soldiers actually enlisted. Therefore, even we graduates were ordered to enlist. Every day, a police officer would come to the bank and threaten me to enroll. I explained the situation to the bank manager (a Japanese employee) and decided to hide myself.”

Photograph 3: Kwak (2nd from left) was stationed in the Truck Unit.

The deadline for special voluntary army soldiers was December 20, 1943. Kwak waited until the 21st , the day after the ordinance expired, to return to Jeonju City and attend his younger brother’s wedding. Afterwards, Kwak visited the Jeonju branch of the bank where he had worked to talk with the staff. When Kwak left from the back door of the bank, he was caught by a police officer. Kwak’s father came to the police station and persuaded him to become a special voluntary army soldier in exchange for his release. On January 20, 1944, Kwak entered the 54th Unit of the Himeji Army Corps and was stationed in the transport division responsible for the movement of supplies and troops.

“My Japanese commanding officer was a good person,” recalls Kwak. “His name was Second Lieutenant Tsuneo Hachiya, and he was a graduate of Osaka University of Commerce (currently Osaka City University). My father, wife, eldest son and younger sister came to visit me from Korea. Lieutenant Hachiya granted my 10 days of leave. He even let my family stay in his home in order to avoid expensive lodging charges. I was never discriminated against by my commanding officer.”

Following the Great Tokyo Air Raids, Kwak and his unit evacuated Himeji and went to Nagano, where they stayed in the Nagano School of Commerce. Kwak’s duties consisted of carrying charcoal from charcoal burning huts in the mountains to the urban areas. The war then ended. Kwak returned to his hometown of Jeonju City and resumed work at the bank. He retired at the mandatory age and then held positions including vice-president of a steel company and executive of the Chuo University Alumni Association, eventually becoming chairperson of the 1-20 Association. Kwak works to ensure that the history of Korean student soldiers should never be forgotten.

Testimony of a former soldier in farming unit

Next, we visited Hwang Gyeong-Chun (age 89), who also resides in Seoul. Hwang was born in Kurate County, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, and lived there until he was a 3rd-grade primary school student. His father was a labor manager at a coal mining company and would travel to the Korean Peninsula for 2 or 3 times a year, for the purpose of gathering coal miners and taking them back to Japan for work. During his work, Hwang’s father strongly felt ethnically discriminated and sent Hwang back to Korea to attend school.

“It was difficult for me to leave my mother and family behind and go to Korea,” explains Hwang. “I couldn’t understand Hangul at all, so even though I was a 3rd-grader in Japan, I was placed in the 1st-grade class in Korea. However, once I came to understand Hangul, I earned top grades in my class, and served as a class leader until I was a 6th-grader.”

In April 1943, Hwang entered the Chuo University Faculty of Law where he studied hard with the goal of taking the national examination to become an elite civil servant. However, in October 1943, Hwang was forced to become a voluntary student solder. Although Hwang tried to avoid and hide from police officers, he was served with draft papers in March 1945.

“At the farewell party for soldiers, everyone sang Noboru Kirishima’s Longing for Home,” recalls Hwang. “Actually, singing this song was prohibited because it was thought to lower fighting morale. However, considering that we were about to depart for war, no police officers stopped our singing.”

Photograph 4: Hwang (left) participates in a student interview given by Mizuki Akiyama (2nd-year, Faculty of Law).

In April 1945, Hwang was assigned to the Farming Unit No. 2 in Yagai Village of Makabe Town, Ibaraki Prefecture.

As a member of the farming unit, Hwang performed work such as transplanting rice seedling and thinning forests. Also, thanks to his proficiency in Japanese, he served as an interpreter to promote understanding among Japanese and Korean soldiers. Every day, Hwang dug a one-person foxhole called Takotsubo to protect people against air raids.

“In May 1945, the night sky was dyed red by the air raids over Tokyo. The next day, the ground was covered with ash and leaflets from the American army were scattered all over the place.”

Although the war ended on August 15, the Korean student soldiers were not told.

“On August 15, we were told that we didn’t have to do any work,” explains Hwang. “Only the Japanese soldiers went to nearby houses to listen to the radio. They didn’t say anything when they came back. From that evening, a bon-odori dancing festival was held, so we participated. However, strangely enough, no one turned off the lights at night. On August 17, when I was using the bathroom at the soldiers’ barracks, I heard a loud voice coming from a radio in the village. The broadcast was explaining that Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni-no-miya had been appointed as Prime Minister. When I rushed to my commanding officer and asked for an explanation, he told me that Japan had lost the war.”

Afterwards, Korean student soldiers left Yagai Village by steam engine and headed for Shimonoseki. When passing through Hiroshima, they witnessed the horrific power of the atomic bomb which had been dropped. From Shimonoseki, the exhausted Korean students boarded a chartered fishing boat and sailed to Pusan, making their way home.

Upon returning to Korea, Hwang became friends with an American soldier stationed in Korea, eventually working as an interpreter, an English instructor and a reporter at an American news agency.

Receiving a special diploma from Chuo University

Photograph 5: Undergraduate students listen to Kim (2nd from right) speak.

The third person we interviewed was Kim Jeong-Uk (age 92), who lives in Gwangju City. After attending general school in Korea and the Imperial School of Commerce in Japan, Kim entered the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce. While at university, Kim was conscripted as a special voluntary army soldier and entered the military. On January 20, 1944, he was stationed in the Army Unit No. 13 in Nagoya and became a transport soldier.

“While working as a soldier, I was beaten by my commanding officer and injured my lower back,” recalled Kim. “Moreover, I was told that ‘a worthless soldier like you must go to the frontline,’ and I was transferred to Pudong in Shanghai. After Japan lost the war, I somehow managed to return to Gwangju City in November 1945. Afterwards, I worked as an instructor and principal at junior high schools and high schools. As I grew older, the lower back injury worsened and became quite painful.”

At his home, Kim proudly displays the special diploma which was sent to him by Chuo University in 1998.

“During World War II, you were forced to leave our university without completing your studies. However, in recognition of your academic achievements while at university, and with the spirit of neighborly friendship and peace, we hereby present you with this special diploma. December 29, 1998. President Hiroshi Hokama, Chuo University.”

Photograph 6: Special diploma sent by Chuo University

This special diploma was presented to 119 Korean students. Hiroshi Hokama, who served as President of Chuo University at that time, was born in Okinawa and experienced the war firsthand. Based on his experiences, Hokama commented that “this graduation ceremony has come much too late” at the ceremony to commend past Korean students.

“I entered the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce in Japan and studied with the goal of taking the CPA examination or the national examination to become a civil servant,” explains Kim. “I was bitter at how my future had been destroyed and my graduation denied. I received this special diploma after returning to Korea, working as a high school instructor and principal, and reaching the mandatory retirement age. It was much too late to finally reclaim my honor and dignity.”

Kim’s expression showed anger and a hint of emptiness as he talked. However, he added the following statement.

“This is the first time that students from Chuo University have visited me,” said Kim smilingly while taking the hands of the students. “I am very happy and truly grateful.”

What the students learned

“I had always thought that Japanese soldiers discriminated heavily against Korean student soldiers,” explains Sawada after interviewing Kwak. “I was surprised to learn that some of the Japanese commanding officers showed compassion. I learned that even in the midst of war, there were some people who maintained a sense of humanity.”

“Hwang said with a smile that ‘Chuo University is my sole educational background and will always be a source of pride for me,’” summarizes Akiyama, who interviewed Hwang. “He said that ‘I am a stalwart youth from Hakumon.’ His words touched me deeply.”

“My secondary foreign language is Korean,” says Tomoya Nozaki (3rd-year, Faculty of Policy Studies), who interviewed Kim. “In this project, we worked to record precious testimony of wartime conditions to educate future generations. The objective of this project gave me a great sense of purpose. I hope to perform such meaningful work in the future.”

(All listed ages and academic years were at the time of reporting.)

Ryoichi Matsuno
Professor of Media and Journalism Studies, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Matsuno was born in 1956. He graduated from Kyushu University, and completed the University of Tsukuba Graduate School. He holds a Ph.D. (Policy Studies) from Chuo University. Matsuno assumed his current position after working as a city news reporter at Asahi Shimbun, and as a TBS producer. One of his research themes is about the relationship between media representation activities and capacity development exercises. His publications include Citizen Media Theory (published by Nakanishiya). Edited works include Studying Okinawan Issues through Testimony—For Students who only Know Tourism (Chuo University Press) and Cultivating Human Ability through Film Production (Taken Publishing). Translated works include Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox (Chuo University Press). The Ryoichi Matsuno Seminar has won numerous awards including the Good Design Award, the Podcasting Excellence Prize Award, The Age of Regionalism Video Festival Excellence Award, Hida Takayama Documentary Film Festival Grand Prize, Development Education/International Understanding Education Contest Foreign Minister Award, and the Tokyo Video Festival Tetsuya Chikushi Award. Every year, many of his seminar students join the media industry.