Gov't admits POWs worked for Aso family's mining company

TOKYO —

Allied prisoners held by Japan during World War II dug coal for Prime Minister Taro Aso’s family mining company, the government said Thursday for the first time. Aso, who has long avoided the sensitive topic, hails from a wealthy family that run Aso Mining Co and cement interests in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka.

The welfare ministry released documents showing that 300 British, Dutch and Australian prisoners of war worked from May 10, 1945 until Japan’s surrender on Aug 15 at the company’s Yoshikuma coal mine.

The documents said two Australian POWs died during the three-month period but the ministry blacked out the causes of their deaths as well as other personal information, citing privacy.

The ministry released the documents on request from the opposition, which is hoping to oust the unpopular premier’s long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party in elections next year.

Yukihisa Fujita, the opposition lawmaker spearheading the issue, said he would press for further answers including on how the mine treated prisoners and whether they worked against their will.

“Since this concerns the prime minister, he has the responsibility to verify the labor conditions of the prisoners of war as well as the cause of their deaths,” Fujita told reporters.

Questioned by the opposition, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said that the foreign ministry had deleted a passage on a website that declined comment on questions about the Aso mine’s treatment of prisoners.

“We decided to erase the remarks from the website after the labor ministry brought to light new information,” Nakasone said.

The remarks were posted in 2006 on the website of Japan’s consulate general in New York when Aso was foreign minister.

Aso’s company is also widely believed to have used Korean forced laborers who were brought during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Aso has tried to steer clear of discussion on whether his company used wartime prisoners or Korean laborers.

“No facts have been confirmed,” Aso said during a parliamentary hearing last month. “I was four, maybe five at the time. I was too young to recognize anything at that age.”

The opposition said it found in the U.S. National Archives a 16-page company report to Japan’s POW Information Bureau detailing prisoner conditions at Aso’s Yoshikuma mine.

According to the document, prisoners of war were better fed, clothed, and housed than Chinese and Korean laborers. The POWs engaged in coal-mining, farming, cooking and digging air trenches.

During World War II, Japan was not a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war. It ratified a later convention in 1953.

Aso has throughout his career come under fire for sympathetic comments about aspects of Japan’s past colonialism.

But since taking office in September, Aso has tried to be conciliatory about wartime history, a topic that continues to test relations with other Asian nations.

Aso invited Chinese and Korean leaders earlier this month to Fukuoka for a first three-way summit.

AFP

  • 0

    proxy

    My wife's grandfather was a guard at Yoshikuma. One day after the war a long line of jeeps arrived in front of his house. He thought that the Americans were coming to arrest him. Instead they came to deliver food and candy as thanks for the "good" treatment shown to the POWs. Mt wife's grandfather turned down the food saying that all he had done was treat then fairly and that didn't deserve a reward. But my father-in-law still talks about the candy and how impressive the Americans were.

  • 0

    irishhighlander

    Weither they worked against their will? Yeah right, I dont think these POW wanted to go down in dangerous dirity coal mines. Prisoners of War are not to be used as slave labor. Cause of death deleted to cite privacy concerns? Whos privacy? Aso`s?

  • 0

    pathat

    A man like Taro Aso has no business being Japan's prime minister, and not just for the reasons outlined here.

    Japan just never gets it.

  • 0

    JeffLee

    "Worked"? As in paid employmnent? Or are we talking about enslavement?

  • 0

    thepro

    Aso has no chance in an election

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    "The documents said two Australian POWs died during the three-month period but the ministry blacked out the causes of their deaths as well as other personal information, citing privacy."

    Ummm... whose privacy?

  • 0

    Potsu

    Umm..PRIVACY ? People died...in Japan privacy = can't/won't give an answer.

  • 0

    SumoBob

    Prisoners of War are not to be used as slave labor. Cause of death deleted to cite privacy concerns? Whos privacy? Aso`s?

    Indeed. This is a standard Japanese bureaucratic ploy to withhold information they don't want released. Citing "privacy concerns" meaning the family of the victims might feel distraught over the public learning on how they died (even if actual names are withheld) allows them to hide under the threadbare blanket of tatamae "concern" for others' well-being, all the while protecting the Japanese "system".

    It's well documented that the bureaucracy will even refuse the release of documents related to complains against the government by a citizen, again, citing "privacy concerns", even though the person asking for the documents is the complainant themselves!

    See:

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20030708zg.html

  • 0

    Statistician

    If evidence isn't produced to the contrary, we are entitled to assume the worst.

  • 0

    medievaltimes

    Indeed. This is a standard Japanese bureaucratic ploy to withhold information they don't want released. Citing "privacy concerns" meaning the family of the victims might feel distraught over the public learning on how they died (even if actual names are withheld) allows them to hide under the threadbare blanket of tatamae "concern" for others' well-being, all the while protecting the Japanese "system".

    It's well documented that the bureaucracy will even refuse the release of documents related to complains against the government by a citizen, again, citing "privacy concerns", even though the person asking for the documents is the complainant themselves!

    See:

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20030708zg.html

    Very well put.

  • 0

    bebert

    Two out of three hundred died? Oh the humanity! I bet the German POW's in Soviet Russia would have liked those odds during their years of enslavement after the war ended.

    I've got news for those outraged - most POW's were forced to do labor during their captivity, including the Italian and German POW's the Americans kept prisoner in the United States. And the Americans executed prisoners for bad behavior after the war was over and also put some of them on 800 calorie/day rations, which is only 200 more than the Jews got at Auschwitz. Both of which I believe violate the Geneva Convention.

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    bebert: so show us whom you mention in the above are leaders of G-8 nations. I can show you who is leader in Japan.

  • 0

    franz75

    Aso is no way responsible for did his grand father or even father.

    As for the proofs, I think it was better to destroy it before US get a hand on it.

  • 0

    presto345

    “Since this concerns the prime minister, he has the responsibility to verify the labor conditions of the prisoners of war as well as the cause of their deaths,” Fujita told reporters.

    Bloody nonsense. This all happened 2 generations ago.

  • -1

    kakikaki

    franz75 at 06:05 PM JST - 19th December

    Aso is no way responsible for did his grand father or even father***

    You are spot on with that and I doupt that Aso clearly has any evil thoughts or spirit towards POW of that time. He is just a puppet , a rich boy who made it prime minister (the biggest testosteron venture for japanese politicians) . . . I doupt that he has any deep rooted racist and anti-rest of the world thoughts. too simple man.

    The only problem is that Aso has to clearly condem his family, if asked by the oposition on the issue and that is were he will show his real face. . . thought he is just a "kanemochi-namaiki-osan"

  • 0

    kaminarihito

    Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention of 1929 that regulated the use of POWs in labor. Therefore, as a sovereign nation, Japan's use of POWs as slave labor was not technically a contravention of international law, despite it being inhumane and unethical (especially from the POV of the victors). The real problem in this situation is that the prime minister (despite the fact that no rational person could hold a 4 or 5 year old personally culpable for the actions of his family) insists on the Japanese tradition of refusing to face up to the country's actions during the war by hiding behind technicalities. Much better if he simply said "My family's business used POWs as labor during the war, which, while regrettable, was not a crime given that Japan did not ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention governing the employment of POWs." Done, get on with digging the Japanese economy out of its hole (without slave labor, one hopes).

  • 0

    pathat

    "Much better if he simply said "My family's business used POWs as labor during the war, which, while regrettable, was not a crime given that Japan did not ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention governing the employment of POWs."

    So, by your rationale, kaminarihito, it would also be just fine for Aso to say that Japan's use of chemical and biological weapons in China during WWII was no big deal because Japan had not signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and did not do so until 1970.

  • 0

    flugelschmidt

    two Australian POWs died during the three-month period but the ministry blacked out the causes of their deaths as well as other personal information, citing privacy

    Aso should just admit they were hungry.

  • 0

    GW

    Jpns use of slave labour & forcing POWs to work is common knowledge everywhere but here in good ole Jpn, this is just one of the many issues Jpn as a country doesnt have the nads to really admit & this is what holds Jpn back from being what it thinks it wants to be in the world

  • 0

    OssanAmerica

    Who cares? POWs were used as forced labor everywhere, in Axis countries AND allies countries. The Russians kept Japanese POWs working in Siberia for 4-5 years after WWII ended! Besides, this has nothing to do with Taro Aso who obviously wasn't old enough to have anything to do with it anyway.

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