Truth of the Japanese-Korean Annexation Era

 Truth of the Japanese-Korean Annexation Era

-there was once a time when Japan and Korea joined hands-

My parents told me “The Japanese were very kind”

Currently in Japan, there are sad rumors going around, confusing many people. For example, “The Japanese once invaded the Korean peninsula, and oppressed, tortured, and exploited, and did many other atrocities against the Koreans” is one of them. Some of us may have even been taught that in school, as if it is the truth. Some of us were taught that the Japanese were evil during the War. However, in order to determine if this is true or false, we must turn and listen to our elders who lived and experienced those times.

There is a Korean woman named Sung Hua Oh. She has published many books on the Japanese-Korean relations and she has grown up being told by her parents that “the Japanese were very kind people.”

However, when she started going to school, the teachers taught them that “the Japanese did terrible things to the Korean people”. She was heavily educated throughout her school life of anti-Japanese ideals. As she grew up, she was forced into thinking that the Japanese did horrible things to the Korean people, as her teachers at school educated her.

Sung Hua later visited Japan and lived there for awhile. While she was living in Japan, she soon started to remember her parents words that the Japanese are very kind people.

After her temporary stay in Japan, she re-studied the history between Japan and Korea. She soon discovered that the anti-Japanese education she received at school was very biased and was far from the truth. This is how she liberated herself from the Anti-Japanese principle.  She later published a book called, “The Japanese occupation era for the consumers”(Sanko publishing Inc.). This book was based on interviews of the people, both Korean and Japanese, who lived and experienced the Japanese occupation era (1910 to 1945).

In this book, 15 Korean and Japanese people who experienced the Japanese occupation era of the Korean peninsula were recorded. All of them were of elderly age. All of them gave precious testimonies. Through their experience, Sung Hua was able to obtain a clear vision of how things were during the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Let us turn a willing ear towards their testimonies…

The Testimonies of the people who experienced the Japanese Occupation of Korea

Motoshi Abe moved to the Korean peninsula when he was the age 3 in 1920 and lived their as a student. He is one of the few living that experienced the Japanese occupation era of the Korean peninsula.

“When I was in Korea, I have never heard, even rumors, of Japanese people bullying the Korean people”. Especially when I lived in Suwon, there weren’t a lot of Japanese people, so the people of Suwon were very kind. At least in Suwon, I have never seen or heard of any conflicts between the Japanese and Korean people. Even in school, we were taught that we were visitors; so we are not allowed to bully or fight with the Korean people.” Even my parents strictly told us not to bully the Korean people. My father was a doctor and he helped the poor. He later became infected by the typhoid and dysentery and had to leave Suwon. When he was ordered to leave Suwon, the people of Suwon came to our house and pleaded with tears for us to stay. After the War, I returned to Japan I began to hear stories of the oppression by the Japanese towards the Koreans. I had no idea where these stories came from and from my experience, it was all nonsense. Speaking from my own experience, I can say with confidence that there was no oppression, not even bullying or prejudice between the common consumers.

As Mr. Abe stated in his testimony, there were no conflicts between the common Japanese folk and Koreans. Today, in Korean schools,

“Imperial Japan invaded Korea and they oppressed and exploited the Koreans all over the peninsula.” “We Korean who suffered the oppression by the Japanese, fought for our liberation and freedom.” These are things that are taught in Korean schools. If one is educated with this, they will be forced to think that the Japanese were like gangsters; they oppressed the Korean people and this lead to the destruction of the Japanese-Korean relationship. However, if you ask anyone who lived and experienced that era, one can see that the truth is a lot different.

Another example is the testimony by Kenichi Hayashi, born and raised in Shinui Province (Present day norther region of North Korea):

“There were no cases of the Japanese being prejudice towards the Koreans. The students were completely equal; there were times when a Korean senior student would call a Japanese junior student and tell him that his school uniform was crooked and fix it for him. I never thought of wanting to leave Korean and return to Japan. It was very comfortable living in Korea, and I was happy. If I were asked where I would like to be buried after my death, I would have answered, Korea/”

Tae Yoshida, who spent her childhood in Korea during the Japanese occupation, testifies:

“I played among the local children. I loved the long hair of the Korean girls and always asked them if I could touch it. They always let me. There were no barriers between us. I only have memories of having fun together. I have never seen or even heard of cases where Koreans were bullied by Japanese people. The security of Korea was very good; I’ve never heard of any burglars or thieves in our district. There was absolutely no violence. When we had to return to Japan, nobody tried to steal our furniture; we gave it to our friends. They were really happy and expressed their gratitude to us. I was very proud to have friends like them. It is said that the Koreans were forced to change their name and have Japanese names; however, everyone around me kept their Korean names and no one was forced to have Japanese names. Regarding the things that are said after the War, I think there is a lot of false information. I was born in Seoul and lived in Seoul until I was an adult and I think we should be proud that the Japanese and Koreans lived together happily during those times.

The Koreans and Japanese were living happily

A Korean man named Sung Bok Park who experienced the Japanese occupation testifies:

“At school, we were never discriminated by Japanese students or teachers. Even now, when I meet with my former Japanese classmates, they want to speak Korean with me. There are many former Japanese classmates that I am still in contact with.

There were two teachers from my commercial high school that I respect very much. One of them was Mr. Matsuo. He was the Japanese language teacher. He was a teacher respected by both the Japanese and Korean students. The other one was Mr. Yoko. He was not popular among the Japanese students; he was very strict and was not tolerant when the students did something bad. However, he was very kind to me and I consulted him various times.

After graduation, I worked at a Japanese bank; even there, I never experienced any discrimination. We went on family vacations with my Japanese colleagues. There were no barriers between us; Japanese and Koreans were living together happily.

One might argue that this was impossible during those times but excluding the extremists, there were no conflicts between the Korean and Japanese people. I have never seen or heard any cases of conflict, especially one that involved violence. Most of the Japanese were renting houses from Koreans. There were no cases where a Japanese robbing a house from a Korean. The Japanese during those time lived a simple life. I never had bad impressions of Japanese people.”

Ming Kei Shik, a Korean man who was a student at Keijo Imperial University (a Japanese university built within Korea) testified the following:

“Personally, I had many Japanese friends and never had any bad impressions towards them. I have never seen or heard any cases where a Korean was bullied by a Japanese. Never have I heard that a Japanese robbed a Korean of their home, or they exploited their land and property. Some Koreans students were taken to the Japanese shrine for prayers, but it was not mandatory. They never said anything even if you didn’t go.”

Su Yong Kim, a movie director who directed the movie “The Revelation of love” (A Japanese-Korean co-production movie about Chizuko Tauchi, a Japanese woman who adopted 3000 Korean orphans and raised them) testifies:

“The Japanese who worked in agriculture were very hard working. They were using the newest technology and agricultural methods As for the Koreans that worked in farms that were run by the Japanese, they were paid fairly for their work. The Japanese are very polite; they will never make a Korean work unpaid.”

Man Gub Lee, who went to junior high and high school in Shinui Province, says the following:

“I was the only Korean in my class but my Japanese classmates were very kind to me. There were many great Japanese teachers as well. In 1940, was when the Koreans started to change their name to Japanese ones. However, they were not forced; even those Koreans who were working at the government offices did not get fired just because they refused to change their names. No Japanese harmed the daily lives of the Koreans. They were very careful not to go against the laws the Japanese created.”

Memory of being helped by a Korean

There is a testimony of Fusako Sakuma, who was a teacher in Shinui Province who testified:

“There were many times when I visited the homes of my Korean students. When we visited them, the whole family would come out to greet us and treated us politely. We were always grateful for their hospitality.”

Shortly after the end of the War, Ms. Sakuma was sent back to Japan. But it was before she was deported back to Japan, was when she said she was helped by a Korean.

“The internment facility was very crowded; there were 8 people living in an approximately 5 square meter room. The Korean people who worked at the facility visited us and deeply felt sympathy and cried for us. When we were finally able to get on the boat to return to Japan, the Korean people bid us farewell in tears. I will never forget the kindness that they gave us.”

Not only Ms. Sakuma, but there were many Japanese people who were treated kindly by the Korean people during this period.

Yukio Tsuboi, police official who worked at the Korean Governor’s Office (the Japanese government in Korea), built friendships with his colleagues who worked in the office that were Korean. Mr. Tsuboi testified the following:

“I enjoyed having conversations with them. I have no idea how the people who claim ‘Japanese people did terrible things’ look at the relationship I have with my Korean colleagues. If what they say the Japanese did during the War was true, I, who was head of the police, would’ve been one of the most ‘evil’ and my Korean colleagues would have never even spoken to me.”

How about the view from a Christian, about the visiting the Shinto Shrines? Masumi Kudo, who was working at the Korean Governor’s Office says the following:

“In Korea, praying at Shrines were a rare custom and many regions did not even have shrines to visit. There were debates on how to worship shrines but never it never ended up with the conclusion of forcing anyone to worship at a shrine. And this was only about a year before the end of the War. In Seoul, maybe the junior high school students visited the Shrine once a month. In Pyeongyang, there was no obligation to visit shrines.”

There were many Koreans working at the Korean Governor’s Office. Mr. Kudo also testified the following:

“The Japanese and Korean workers were completely equal and worked in the office with our desks side by side. There were cases a Japanese assistant worked under a Korean supervisor. In this situation, I have never seen any conflicts between the Japanese and Korean workers. It was not a work environment where the Japanese could act as if they were superior to the Koreans.”

Michihiro Yoshida, a student at Keijo Imperial University during the occupation era says the following:

“I was the 15th generation alumni. In my year, there were 25 Japanese students and 10 Korean students. In my class, there was Yong Seon Kim, a very good friend of mine.  Yong Seon later became a member of parliament, however, the government at the time was under the Anti-Japanese president Syng man Lee; and Yong Seon remained the opposing party throughout his who political career. He was oppressed by President Lee’s government and was imprisoned but was freed due to the plead by the Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka. He later became the ambassador to Japan and lived in Japan for a while.”

The Japanese carefully obeyed the law

Mototoshi Abe, who appeared earlier in this article, also says things about the “Comfort Women”:

“It is said that the Japanese invaded the suburban areas and kidnapped women but that is impossible. First of all that would be abduction, which is a criminal offense. Even before they would be trialed under criminal law, they would be beaten up by the villagers before they could abduct the women. And if such a thing really did occur, there is no way I would have not heard of it. I have never heard such a thing, even through rumors. This issue heavily affects the honor of the Japanese who lived on the Korean peninsula during those times. The police chief was Korean and many of the judges and prosecutors were Korean. At the Korean Governor’s Office, many of the people in a management or administrative position were also Korean. They had the same rights and authority as the Japanese did. Under these circumstances, it is impossible for a major abduction of Korean women to occur without the issue being brought up. The Japanese were only 1% of the population; for their own safety, they could not do such a thing.”

Mr. Abe claims that the “Comfort Women” was something fabricated after the War. Mr. Abe also testifies the recruitment of soldiers that was done during those times:

“In 1943, Japanese students were gathered for military recruitment. The recruitment was mandatory and they were sent to the battlefield. During this time, majority of the Koreans did not have the obligation to join the army. To be honest, I was jealous of them because they didn’t have to go. I even thought, this was prejudice that only the Japanese had to go to War.

The recruitments of Koreans did not start until April of 1944. There were many Koreans that signed up voluntarily. It hurts my heart to think that there were many that died that were not volunteers.”

We have observed many testimonies, both from Japanese and Koreans. They all experienced the era of Japanese occupation. From these testimonies, we can tell that the Japanese and Koreans worked together peacefully during those times. Even at the level of common folk, the Japanese and Koreans lived together without conflicts. At the Korean Governor’s Office, both Japanese and Koreans worked in the same office with their desks side by side. It is impossible to say that there were absolutely no conflicts during the 36 years of occupation; however, compared to Taiwan, which was also occupied by Japan, they were minor and did not happen as often. Overall, one could say during the Japanese occupation, the Japanese and Koreans built a fairly good relationship and got along well. Of course, since Japan and Korea “were one”, even Koreans were recruited as soldiers or for labor and many of them died in battle. But that was the same for the Japanese; the fate of Eastern Asia was dependent on the Japanese and Koreans. That is why many Koreans volunteered in joining the battle; they wanted to fight for their country alongside the Japanese. The number of Koreans in 1942 who volunteered to become soldiers was 62 times the number they were recruiting. Many Koreans volunteered to fight alongside the Japanese. Among those who volunteered, there were some who took part in the Kamikaze attack. I was deeply moved to know that the Japanese and the Koreans share a history of living together hand in hand. Towards the end of the War, things on the Korean peninsula must have been difficult. But it was the same situation in Japan. As a matter of fact, maybe things were better on the Korean peninsula than in Japan. This is because Japan’s major cities were being air-raided by the US Air Force; Korea on the other hand, was never air-raided. And the poverty that attacked that came with the end of the War was still better than the Lee Dynasty. If Japan did not occupy Korea, the Korean peninsula would have been colonized by either China or Russia. If this happened, the Korean identity and culture would have been lost forever.

Those Korean men who volunteered for the army volunteered because they understood this. That is why they marched to the battlefield with the Japanese. Not many Koreans today know of this truth. However, I still think of this era as the “good old times” when Japanese and Koreans were living peacefully together.

Japan aided Korea in their Independence

Eventually, Japan was defeated by the Allied Forces in World War II. When the Japanese left the Korean peninsula, one man returned to Korea. His name was Sung man Lee. Until the end of the War, he was in Hawaii; he became the first President of Korea and put into office by the United States. He was originally Anti-Japanese and fled to Hawaii when the Japanese came to the Korean peninsula. Since he was in America, he has never experienced the Japanese occupation. He did not know what life was like during the annexation. When he came into office, he quickly exiled any Koreans that were pro-Japanese and created a Korea where you had to be Anti-Japanese.

Inside the household, schools, even at work, anything positive towards Japanese was banned only insults was permitted. Fake history that was fabricated began to be taught at school and children from that time received extreme Anti-Japanism. This is how Anti-Japanese Korea was built. Even today, there is no freedom of speech within both North and South Korea. And there is also no objective history education. At the very least, the Japanese should know their own true history of their grandparents and ancestors. Why did Japan occupy the Korean peninsula in the first place?

The major reason was that Korea was in a state of bankruptcy. Japan’s occupation of Korea was to rescue the nation. This is like providing welfare to a family that cannot survive. It was a like a Daily Life Security Act where the citizens of a country are protected until they are able to live independently, and also provide them a job to sustain their lives. What Japan did during this time was they protected the daily lives of the Korean people.

This occupation was done through an agreement between Japan and Korea. The international community also agreed and approved this. And Japan played a very large role in the independence of Korea. Japan never did anything to be held grudge for. It was similar to a corporation annexing another in order to save that corporation from being bankrupt. Not only did Japan support Korea economically, but sent human resources from Japan to help in the development of technology and business management. Mitsutoyo Arimura, who was head of the Japanese-run bank in Korea used to say,“We must help this nation to become strong and independent, then return it to its people” his son, Toshihiko says. Mitsutoyo’s belief was to support Korea economically and lead it to its indepence. This was a common belief among many Japanese who lived and worked in Korea during those times. Man Gub Lee, a Korean student at the time says the following:

“There was a Japanese teacher at my school named Mr. Uemura. He used to say to us ‘what Korea needs to become independent is economic power’.” Many Japanese in Korea at this time were working so that Korea can gain economic power and become an independent nation.

The True Path to the Japanese-Korean Friendship

Of course, the Japanese occupation was not perfect. There were many errors and policies that did not work out. And there were minor groups of Japanese that did bad things. It is hard to say that there were not any Japanese who acted as if they will superior because they were Japanese. There also were Koreans that did bad things as well. However, overall, the Japanese and Koreans lived together peacefully during the occupation. If one focuses on the small details, there may have been a few minor conflicts, but we must not let those minor conflicts speak for the whole.

I have spoken about the past throughout this article because knowing the truth of the past is essential for the beliefs in our daily lives today. Many people say that the “Japanese were evil”. This was what was taught even at church. We were forced to believe that that was the truth. That is why we must listen to the people who were actually there and experienced those times. It is also stated in the bible,

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7)

This is a verse said by Moses towards the people of Israel. At this time the Israeli left Egypt and were wandering through the Sinai peninsula and camping outside. Their lives were not easy; however, it was much better compared to lives they had as slaves in Egypt. A Israeli complained to Moses, “at least in Egypt we were able to eat”, “Moses made us leave prosperous Egypt and brought us out here to die. He has done nothing but bad to us.” The Israeli people started to criticize Moses. However, Moses responded:

“ Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you”

Do not get confused by rumors. Listen to your elders and ancestors who have the knowledge through experience. He said that it is important to listen to them and that way, you will learn the truth.

Knowing the truth is crucial to one’s daily belief. The biased, fabricated view of claiming that the Japanese were evil, is preventing Japan from its revival.

Article by Arimasa Kubo, Christian pastor and non-fiction writer









































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