The Hanaoka Incident: 
Corporate Compensation for Forced Labor
UCHIDA Masatoshi, Attorney.
    Uploaded on 2 May 2001.

[Editor's Note]

The Japanese government, including the judiciary, has been known for its unwillingness to take steps toward offering official apologies and compensations to the non-Japanese individual victims of war, particularly the sex slaves called "comfort women" and the forced laborers transported to Japan mainly from Korea and China. The court, for the first time, played an active role in facilitating a compromise, though between a private corporation and the victims, which was reached in November 2000, to establish a Fund as a compensatory project for a group of Chinese forced laborers. 


On November 29, 2000, the Tokyo High Court announced that a compromise had been reached to the effect that the Kajima Corporation, a major construction firm, will offer 500 million yen to establish a "Hanaoka Fund for Peace and Friendship" as a token of its condolences to the victims of the Hanaoka Incident.

What is the "Hanaoka Incident"?

In 1942, the then Tojo Cabinet planned to forcibly bring Chinese people from the continent to Japan in order to engage them in forced labor at mines and dam construction sites, with the aim of offsetting the shortage of domestic labor caused by the war continuing to drag on. In consequence, approximately 40,000 Chinese were forcibly transferred to Japan by May 1945.

These Chinese forced laborers were sent to 135 sites all over Japan, of whom ninety-eight were placed at the Hanaoka branch of Kajima-gumi, the predecessor of the Kajima Corporation, which was located at the Hanaoka Mine in Odate City, Akita Prefecture. The laborers were forced to engage in repair work on the Hanaoka River Being subjected to cruel working conditions without enough food, many of them collapsed. Finally they "rioted" when they were no longer able to endure such slave labor. 

The  uprising, which was a lost cause, was immediately suppressed by the military as well as civilian police. 

This is the "Hanaoka Incident." After all, 418 forced laborers, which amounted to about half of the people attached there, died at the Hanaoka branch in less than a year between the time they were forcibly brought and the defeat of Japan. This death rate is unusually high, much higher than at other branches. There is a report titled "On the Riot by Chinese Workers of Kajima-gumi (July 20th, 1945)," which was submitted to the Intelligence Bureau from the head of the Sendai POW camp, who was ordered to investigate the causes of the Hanaoka riot. The report found the causes and motivations of the "Hanaoka Riot" to be the extraordinary workload, the scarcity of food, and the delay in the payment of wages. On top of that, the report states "they were treated like animals and beaten whenever they stopped working for a pause…"

The Joint Statement with Kajima

As regards this Incident , the survivors who had gone back to China and the relatives of the deceased made a claim in 1989, demanding an indemnity of five million yen each, totaling five billion yen, and the construction of a memorial hall so that the Incident would be remembered. After this claim was made, the survivors and relatives issued a joint statement with the Kajima Corporation on July 5, 1990.

In this statement Kajima held, "It is an historical fact that the Chinese workers were victimized at the Hanaoka Mine branch, due to the forced migration and forced labor effectuated by a Cabinet Decree. The Kajima Corporation admits this as fact, recognizes its corporate responsibility, and thus expresses a sincere apology toward the Chinese survivors and relatives concerned."

The negotiation between the survivors/relatives and Kajima did not advance smoothly, however. On June 28, 1995, the survivors and relatives filed a suit asking for compensation by the Kajima Corporation. It was a representative suit by eleven plaintiffs. On December 10, 1997, the Civil Department of the Tokyo District Court which took charge of the case dismissed the claim without even hearing testimony. The reason for the dismissal was the elapse of the statutory deadline by which their rights had to be exercised, twenty years in this case since the occurrence of the damage. Subsequently, the arena of the suit moved to the Tokyo High Court. On September 17, 1999, the Court recommended a settlement by compromise in the course of oral pleadings. Since then, several negotiations were held between the parties, with the Court being the mediator, yet the gap between them was not narrowed. 

While the negotiations were underway, it was decided that the Chinese Red Cross Society participate in the lawsuit as an interested party. The Red Cross Society was expected to lend support to the survivors and relatives as well as assuring the Kajima Corporation with regard to the management of the Fund which was to be expended after reaching a compromise. 

Presentation of a Compromise Plan by the Court

On April 21, 2000, the Court presented a compromise plan toward both parties with the following statements: "Many kinds of difficulties surround the settlement of the so-called post-war compensation; therefore it is inevitable that the agreement among the parties cannot easily be obtained." Also, "From the social and historical points of view, The Court sincerely calls upon both parties to pass a sound judgment in recognition of the said significance as well as the deliberateness of the Court, particularly in this memorable year 2000, which marks exactly ten years after the presentation of the joint statement." The suggested amount for the compromise was 500 million yen. 

The Chinese Red Cross Society accepted the plan immediately. Some of the survivors and relatives voiced, however, concerns that 500 million yen was too small an amount. The appellants' representatives conveyed to them the Court's statement word by word and tried to persuade them by explaining the thoughtful intent of the Court and the significance of reaching a compromise, such as the encouraging effects toward other wartime compensation claims, as well as the contribution made towards the amity between Japan and China. As a result, the survivors and relatives decided to accept the compromise plan presented by the Court. 

What impressed me most was the comment made upon acceptance of the compromise by Mr. Yang Yent'ieh who lost his father at Hanaoka: "We have had meetings on this case time and again, but this meeting (in which the compromise plan was presented) offers me the greatest satisfaction ever."

However, as Kajima balked at the compromise suggested by the Court, it took six more months to reach a final one. Kajima strongly insisted that the word "responsibility" in the joint statement which read " (Kajima) recognizes its corporate responsibility" was meant to admit its moral responsibility alone, not legal responsibility. The company also demanded that this point be made clear in the document of compromise. There remained a sharp antagonism between the two parties over this point until the last stage of the negotiation, but finally it was settled by means of inserting a sentence which states that the survivors and relatives took note of Kajima's insistence to that effect.