Nearly eight decades after leaving Japan's steelworks, Lee Chun-sik is still moved to tears by the memory of the beatings, burns, and forced labor he endured.
He left his native South Korea A colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945, when he was just 17 years old for promising to become an engineer. When he arrived in Kamaishi in 1941, he was practically a prisoner. Lee says he was beaten by Japanese guards when they were dissatisfied with his work, which he was never paid for.
"I can not think back to these days," he said. "And when I think of the past, I have to choke, be sad and cry."
Now Lee is at the center of a developing diplomatic divide between South Korea and Japan, just as the United States is working to support alliances in Asia to create a united front against North Korea and its nuclear program.
Last week, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Lee and three others were entitled to compensation of $ 100 million (£ 68 million) from Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation in a case that lasted nearly 14 years , Since the first trial, the other three men who have sued Lee together have died, a fact he had learned only on the day of the verdict. The trip to Seoul, where the court is located, was so stressful for the 94-year-old that he was too ill when he came home to talk to journalists.
The trauma of his time in Japan prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming an engineer, he said. After the war, he held various jobs, including working as a police officer during the United States military government and running a gas station and tour company.
The court's verdict led to the closure of Lee, who now lives alone in the south of Gwangju City in a cramped one-bedroom apartment filled with faded family photos and a large pile of paper bags full of recipes.
"I feel really good and refreshed – now that the decision has been made, the compensation is handed out," he said. "I can not even describe how difficult it was to wait for the decision and I can It will not be forgotten until after it has received compensation. "
Japan quickly condemned the case in the case, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warning that his government may go all the way to the United Nations International Court of Justice.
"We strongly expect the South Korean government to take positive action against the verdict," he said. A parliamentary committee added that Seoul needed to ensure that the verdict would not affect Japanese companies' presence in South Korea.
He condemned the decision of the Supreme Court considered "unbelievable" and expressed "deep regret" that negatively affected bilateral relations have been affected by the case and other events of the recent past that "conflict with efforts to build forward-looking bilateral relations".
Japan has reiterated its position that all compensation claims from the war were settled "fully and finally" by a 1965 bilateral treaty. The company also argued that it was a separate entity that forced Lee and others to work, with Nippon Steel formed after the war through mergers.
The Supreme Court dismissed these arguments, saying that the treaty does not prevent people from complaining about the "inhumane, illegal" experience they experienced. Fourteen similar lawsuits were filed against Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the large industrial and engineering firm Hitachi Zosen.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said nothing about this issue, but the Prime Minister told the government: respect the verdict of the judiciary. "
The Seoul Foreign Ministry said late Tuesday that Japan's leaders" ignore the root cause of the problem … and continue to make comments that raise public emotions. "
Lee's geopolitics His case is of little concern and he is still 75 years late in paying for his backlog.
"The other victims who filed the lawsuit died, but I'm the only survivor I can not give up," he said. "I went to Japan as a worker at a young age and have experienced a lot of suffering, and I would like that question to be completed during life."
Further coverage by Kyungmi Choi