Media watch: Citizens groups seek truth about 1923 post-quake killings

Memorial to Korean victims in Sumida Ward, Tokyo

September 1, 2023, will mark the 100th year anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake, which struck Tokyo and surrounding areas, killing more than 140,000 people. In the days that followed, an additional number of Korean residents of the affected areas were murdered by vigilante mobs, soldiers, and police after rumors spread that Koreans had poisoned wells, set fires, and looted businesses and homes in the confusion caused by the quake. At the time, of course, Korea was a colony of Japan and the Japanese authorities were fearful of the Korean independence movement, and there is a great deal of testimony on record saying that the police and other public entities spread these rumors and furtively encouraged the killings.

On January 1, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that citizens groups from South Korea and Japan have jointly created a petition to demand that the post-quake massacre, which they call an act of “genocide,” be investigated thoroughly by the government of South Korea. According to one of the citizens groups, there is clear evidence that Japan’s interior ministry at the time conveyed the anti-Korean rumors to local governments throughout Japan. The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, which was in essence the government of the Korean peninsula in exile at the time and thus supportive of the resistance movement, reported that 6,621 Korean residents of Japan had been killed by military police and vigilante groups, though some reports have estimated the number killed was as high as 10,000. The Japanese government has always maintained that the number killed was only 231. 

One of the Japanese citizens groups, Hosenka, has been trying to excavate the remains of Koreans killed during the massacre since 1982. The group also began holding annual memorial services for the victims. Now, however, a representative says that many Japanese public officials, including prominent politicians, have increasingly made “revisionist statements” that suggest there was never a concerted effort to kill Koreans after the quake. The purpose of the petition is to get to the bottom of the matter in an official manner once and for all before the 100th anniversary takes place. The groups are essentially looking for the Japanese government to make a formal apology, which they think would go far to heal the frayed relations between Japan and South Korea brought about by disputes over shared history. Such a reckoning, they say, is vital for the good of eastern Asia as well as a means of avoiding hate crimes in the future, which are on the rise. 

The citizens groups are now setting up videos on YouTube for publicity purposes. So far, no mainstream Japanese media outlets have picked up the story. 

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