Japanese Occupation

On the night of signing the 1905 Eulsa treaty or so-called Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty by force, Terauchi Masadake who took the lead in the Japanese occupation of Korea said as follows: “Toyotomi Hideyoshi did not succeed in sending our troops to Joseon, but we succeeded!” He was a disciple of Yoshida Shoin. Ito Hirobumi who spearheaded the Japanese occupation of Korea and became the first resident-general ordered one of his men to pay respect to the tomb of his master, Yoshida Shoin, on his way back from signing the Eulsa treaty, which was forced upon Korea, in December, 1905. These two men who were part of occupying Korea were disciples of Yoshida Shoin who supported the Seikanron debate or the debate to conquer Korea in order to advance into the Asian continent.

Japan was forced to sign an unequal treaty by U.S. Commodore Perry commanding black ships in 1853 and to open its doors wide when it chose the path of openness and reform. In 1868, Japan resolutely carried out Meiji Restoration. However, there were incessant power struggles for leadership after initiating Meiji Restoration and daunting forces opposing the Restoration. Protecting the Japanese independence from external threats and rallying its people by overcoming internal chaos were most urgent and imperative matter for the Restoration to achieve. Exactly at the time of such needs in 1873, the Seikanron debate or the debate to conquer Korea emerged.

At the center of such debate, there was Yoshida Shoin. “The way to surmount threats facing Japan is to conquer Joseon, make it our tributary and advance into the Asian continent”, said Yoshida Shoin. There was another man who argued for conquest of Joseon. It was Saigo Takamori. In the summer of 1873, he who held real power over the government demanded that the Meiji government dispatch him to Korea as an ambassador plenipotentiary whose job is to negotiate with Korea.

He argued that once he was sent as an ambassador plenipotentiary calling upon Korea to open its doors, he would be murdered and then such murder would provide Japan with justification of sending troops to Korea with purpose of conquering Korea in the end. “Desire for internal chaos harbored by Japanese should be redirected to a foreign land, meaning Korea, for the sake of national advance”, said Saigo Takamori. The Cabinet council granted his request, and the Japanese King also approved. The tragic fact is that Yoshida Shoin and Saigo Takamori are still two of the most revered historical figures in Japan.

Eventually, Japan led its battleship Unyo and invaded Korea. After tasting its victory, Japan demanded that Joseon open its ports and sign an unequal treaty. There was a false report saying that Battleship Unyo was attacked first by Korea when it tried to cast anchor for water at Ganghwa Island. Yet, the report was proven false later by Japanese documents confirming that it was Japan who provoked first while fully equipped to stage a battle.

On August 29, 1910, Japan got hold of the Korean peninsula in the end. Intentions of Yoshida Shoin and Saigo Takamori to conquer Joseon were fulfilled. From then on, Japan began a chapter of the most brutal history of occupation rule in the world. Firstly, Japan distorted the ancient Korean history by turning the history of Dangun in the ancient Joseon into some kind of a myth. And, the Korean history once reigning over Manchuria was reduced to the one controlling the area below Amnok and Duman rivers. Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names by imperialist Japan and were banned to use Korean, which were representative ethnic cleansing policies of Japan.

In the Second World War, many young Korean girls were dragged to battlefields to be used as sex slave serving Japanese soldiers. Many Korean men were mobilized to fight in this war through conscription and drafting. Unit 731, notorious for the most inhumane war crimes ever recorded in the history of the mankind, undertook lethal human experimentations whose cruelty overwhelms that of Auschwitz concentration camp. In particular, Koreans served the Japanese King as God under coercion and saw many religious people shedding blood, which left a huge scar.

Thousands of cultural properties were stolen and many intellectuals and artists slain behind bars by imperialist Japan. Still, Japan distorts and covers up its history of aggression and occupation rule and is constantly embroiled in historical disputes with neighboring countries including Korea and China. Ishihara Shintaro, Governor of Tokyo: “The Japanese occupation rule was humanitarian and humane.” Koizumi Junichiro, Former Japanese prime minister: He paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan’s war dead.

Japan is taking an exactly opposite course of action compared to Germany that has once again become a member of Europe and the world through thorough reflection of its past wrongdoings. Of late, the part about the Seikanron debate or the debate to conquer Korea was removed from Japanese high school textbooks. The part that mentions Saiko Takamori arguing to invade Korea even by force in order to force its doors open was deleted to justify its history of aggression.

Dokdo, in particular, is an island with tragic history in that it was the first territorial part of Korea occupied by imperialist Japan. Now, the island is now formally included as Korean territory. But, Japan is trying to rewind the clock to go back to the colonial period. At the moment, Japanese students throughout primary, junior high and high schools are taught that Dokdo falls under the Japanese territory. This is indeed the repetition of its history of imperialist aggression. Compensation paid by the Japanese government for comfort women who were dragged to battlefields as sex slave serving the Japanese army was mere one dollar, which infuriated Koreans even further. This history is not a thing of the past but is shackles that fetter the relations between Korea and Japan at present and in the future.

About 100 years ago, Japans started Sino-Japanese war and Russo-Japanese war on the Korean peninsula with pretexts of protecting Korea and realizing peace in Asia. But, these wars only filled pockets of Japan with abundant resources belonging to other Asian countries, helping it amass huge wealth and thus invest in the defense industry that provided for the Second World War.

Ultimately, Japan became a nation that committed war crimes in the Second World War and its pursuit of realizing peace in Asia presented misfortunes to Asians. Even today in Jeju island of Korea, there are military facilities from the era of the Second World War, which were used by the Japanese army for the Pacific war. And, throughout Asia, there are vestiges of Japanese imperialism.

Now, after 100 years, the cyber diplomatic mission VANK is nurturing young Korean people to be Asian peacemakers with an aim to realize true peace in Asia in the 21st century. These people trained by VANK will make Korea an Asian hub of peace and lead changes in the world.

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