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(Yonhap Interview) Seoul man enraged at being wrongfully enshrined among war criminals in Japan

All Headlines 17:43 July 22, 2011

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- The bizarre saga of an elderly South Korean man counted mistakenly as Japanese war dead and enshrined at a controversial memorial reached the public on Thursday with news of a Tokyo court decision.

"I am neither a war criminal, nor a dead man," Kim Hui-jong, 86, told Yonhap News Agency on Friday, referring to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a monument that counted him among millions of fallen Japanese, including Class-A war criminals.

Kim, who was forcibly conscripted into the Japanese colonial military during World War II, said he has been enshrined for the past six decades at Yasukuni due to an administrative mistake after the war's end.

A Tokyo court on Thursday dismissed Kim's five-year legal battle to have his name removed from the nameplate at the shrine, saying "it was an unavoidable mix-up by the shrine, and does not infringe upon his human rights and moral interests."

"It is greatly deplorable that the shrine put me on the list of the war dead with Japanese criminals," he said in the interview, barely able to contain his anger, following what he called a "flatly biased ruling" by the Tokyo court.

Kim, a Seoul resident, launched the suit in 2007 against the Yasukuni Shrine and the Japanese government.

The Yasukuni Shrine honors a number of convicted World War II criminals and has frequently made headlines due to Japanese leaders' regular visits, triggering concern among South Koreans that Japan lacks remorse about its past atrocities committed during its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

"I don't know why exactly my name was included on the list of the war dead from the onset, but the Japanese officials concerned said it was just an 'administrative error,'" he said, adding, "I heard that some 11 South Korean former draftees, together with two Britons, who were not killed during the war, are also enshrined there."

Kim was drafted into the Japanese military when he turned 18 and served as a civilian worker in the navy until he returned home in 1946.

"Even reminding myself of my memories in the service is painful," he said. "As part of basic military training, drill sergeants often struck me in the face as they mistook me for being lazy. But I simply couldn't understand them due to my poor command of Japanese."

"While serving in Saipan, I suffered serious hearing loss due to U.S. call-fire on the island," he said, recalling the most desperate moment of his life. "I was even in a POW camp in the U.S. and Hawaii for two years."

He added that he had been so isolated and in dire condition that he was ignorant about his homeland's independence. It was only after he returned home in 1946 with dozens of comrades that he learned of Korea's freedom from Japanese colonial rule.

Korea achieved liberation from Japan's 36-year colonial rule in 1945 when the island country was defeated in World War II.

Learning the embarrassing news that his tablet was enshrined at Yasukuni with millions of Japanese war dead in 2006, he launched his legal battle the year after, the first such case for a living man, with the help of several South Korean civic groups. In his preparations, he visited Japan three times and held a press conference there in spite of his delicate health.

"When I visited the Yasukuni Shrine, I asked officials there to show me my tablet. But they barred me from even entering the temple," he said. "I was so furious that I wanted to blow the shrine up."

The former draftee also expressed regret at lukewarm responses from the South Korean government, as well as the lack of "any plausible reasons" explaining Japan's response.

"The government has dragged its feet," he groaned. "If then-President Syngman Rhee had rolled up his sleeves to deal with such cases, it would have made a difference."

Rhee led South Korea for 12 years from 1948 as the nation's first president.

"The Japanese court just seems to be simply ignoring me even though it fully knows that every single statement I've made is true. It is nonsense," he said, with tears welling up in his eyes.

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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