Emerging from a meeting with a Japanese Consulate official Thursday, So-Do Kim, a resident of a small Korean enclave in Japan whose people are facing eviction, smiled and said: "It was worth coming all the way to America."
For Kim, 67, and Akiko Tagawa, members of a delegation from Utoro, the 100-minute session with Deputy Consul General Makoto Ito in Downtown Los Angeles marked the first time they have been able to explain in person the grievances of Utoro residents against the Japanese government and Nissan Shatai Co., a member of the giant Nissan Motor group, which once owned the land on which they live.
Utoro's 380 residents--survivors, spouses and descendants of Korean laborers conscripted during World War II--scraped and saved to send their representatives to the United States to carry their fight against eviction proceedings. Although the land on which they live has been sold to a developer, the villagers say the Japanese government and Nissan have a historic and moral duty to them because they profited from their labor.
Kim said Ito promised to forward a set of nearly 20,000 petitions addressed to the Japanese prime minister as soon as the request is made in writing. The petitions were collected throughout the United States. They urge the Japanese government to admit "injustices committed against innocent civilians" and to follow the lead of Germany, the United States and Canada by providing reparations.
Another set of petitions will be sent to Nissan Shatai in Japan after the group refused Wednesday to leave them at Nissan USA headquarters in Carson.
The meeting with Ito was closed to the press. Consul Masataka Yokote, who stood outside to keep an eye on about 40 demonstrators, said the Japanese Consulate had no comment Thursday.
Kim and Tagawa said Ito listened to their grievances and promised to convey the information to the Tokyo government.
"He shook my hand and promised me," Kim said.
Tagawa, who is a Japanese national, said she pressed the official to respond to persistent charges about Japanese discrimination against Koreans. "He said personally he was embarrassed by it," Tagawa said of Ito. "I thought it was a Japanese-like answer."
Among those demonstrating with the Committee to Support Utoro were members of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparation, a Japanese-American group that won reparations for those interned during World War II.
Another group at the protest was the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.