Saturday, March 24, 2007

Korea-Japan Relation Saga, Part IV – Post-WWII

[Series Index]

-WARNING- This post will make an analogy between what imperial Japan did to colonial Korea and the crime of rape. If you had read Part III, you would know it is in fact worse than that. But the Korean understands that many people are uncomfortable with a discussion of rape. If you are one of those people, you might want to skip this post. But the Korean promises that this post will be interesting, and hopefully enlightening.

Imagine two criminals committed a horrendous crime against someone. The victim’s injury has been more or less healed after a long time, but there are many scars remaining, reminding him/her constantly of the crime. What should they do? Any decent human being would answer in the following: “Find ways to atone for your crime. Apologize sincerely, and support that apology with action. Then, perhaps, the victim might find ways to forgive your crime.”

One of the criminals of World War II – Germany – did exactly that. In December 1970, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt went to Warsaw, Poland, and sent an unmistakable image out to the world when he fell to his knees before the monument at the site of a concentration camp. Since the end of World War II, West Germany and unified Germany have spent $104 billion for restitution of the victims of its war crime. Denying the existence of Holocaust is a crime in Germany, freedom-of-speech concerns aside.

What did the other criminal do? To its credit, Japan did officially apologize for its colonial past several times, including at the level of the Japanese Emperor and Prime Minister. In fact, especially in the 1990s, Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa and his successor Murayama both apologized pretty sincerely, acknowledging Japanese Imperialism to be “invasions”.

Problem is that unlike Germany, Japan somehow has trouble maintaining that party line. Each time there is an apology from Japan, there are two Japanese politicians who say such things as “the Imperial Japan in fact did a lot of good to Korea, like modernizing it.” Well, that claim is somewhat true, but consider the following. Suppose there is a woman who wished to have a child. She then becomes a victim of rape, and gives birth to a child. It is true that without the rapist, the woman would not have gotten her child. But should we recognize the commendable behavior of the rapist of granting his victim’s wish? Of course not.

Another issue along the same line is paying respects to Yasukuni Temple. At Yasukuni, 14 top war criminals of Japan, including Tojo Hideki, are buried. (If you don’t know, Tojo is to Japan is Mussolini to Italy and Hitler to Germany.) Since 1996, on every End of War Memorial Day of Japan (which is Liberation Day for Korea, making it doubly insulting,) Japanese Prime Minister would visit Yasukuni Temple and pay his respects. Imagine the uproar if Angela Merkel (Prime Minister of Germany) paid respects to Hitler’s tomb every year!

One argument that Japanese people make is that Yasukuni has more than the 14 war criminals – it in fact memorializes over 3 million war deaths, and visiting Yasukuni simply has the meaning of commemorating the dead. But in that case, why not move out the war criminals’ tomb out of the temple? We know where Hitler is buried in Berlin – it’s underneath a random parking lot, and there is no marker for the place, so that it cannot become a shrine for Neo-Nazis.

Still another issue is that when a new war crime comes up, Japan refuses to recognize its role in the crime. The current row over Comfort Women is a really good example of this. (See the earlier post for the short discussion.) This issue was not really made public until late 1980s~early 1990s, and Japan initially dragged its feet, saying it was merely private contractors recruiting women for the military. Finally, in 1993, Kono Yohei, then-Minister of Defense, admitted that the Japanese military was involved in recruiting the women through force, lies, and deception. Since then, Japan’s position has been admitting moral culpability, but not the legal one. Accordingly, in 1994, Japanese government set up a private fund in order to compensate the victims. Naturally, no victims of Comfort Women took the money.

(More on why Japan can take such a position a little later, but talk about splitting hairs! Recalling the rapist earlier, it’s as if the rapist is claiming clean hands because he did everything but forcible penetration. Some nerve.)

Things were unsatisfactory to Koreans even then, but recently Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made it worse. As U.S. Congress is trying to pass a resolution urging Japanese government to apologize to the survivors of Comfort Women, Abe bluntly refused to apologize, and hinted at backtracking on the involvement of the Japanese military in conscripting the women by re-investigating the issue once again.

Just compare this to what Germany did. Amazing, isn’t it? Instead of treating its war crime as a clear evil that must not be repeated ever again, the Japanese government seems to see them as a matter of opinion.

Naturally, the amount Japan paid in restitution to Korea is nothing compared to $104 billion that Germany paid. Japan paid exactly $500 million to the Korean government in 1965 – less than 0.5 percent of what Germany paid. Korea was desperately poor at that point, and in exchange for $500 million, the Korean government decided to extinguish all of its claims against Japan regarding its past. It’s a complex issue in the international law as to whether a government may enter into such a pact. But since 1965, every time a new and horrendous war crime is uncovered, like Comfort Women and Unit 731, Japanese government repeats its argument that it paid all of its obligations in 1965. That may be arguably true, but it surely is not the way to make yourself appear to be atoning for your crimes.

Finally, the most egregious form of not atoning is that, certain history textbooks in Japan minimize its war crimes in World War II. The Korean actually saw one such textbook. The biggest section on World War II was how Japan was the only country in the world which was nuked. There was no mention of Comfort Women, Rape of Nanking, or war crimes in general. Only description of Japan’s imperialism was how Korea, China, and Southeast Asia belonged to Japan’s “sphere of influence”, like the ones other imperialist countries had. Beyond any absence of apologies, this is appalling and sickening. Japan is trying to erase its colonial past, and it’s working – many young Japanese have no idea why Korean people hate them so much, because they have no idea what Japan has done to Korea only 60 years ago!


This concludes the saga that is Korea-Japan relations. There are still a lot of things that have not been discussed yet, but the Korean thinks the series more or less covered why Korean people hate the Japanese so much.

Personally, this is how the Korean feels about this issue. Many Koreans will never forgive Japan, and they are entitled to such a feeling. But vast majority of Koreans, over time, would be willing to forgive Japan, as long as Japan makes all appropriate motions such as: apologizing, sticking by it in all levels of the government and the society; making appropriate reparations; and vowing never to repeat the tragic history. Until that happens, Koreans will continue to hate the Japanese.

-EDIT- Actually, the Korean decided to extend this series by one more part. Please check the "Series Index" link on the top to read Part V of the Korea-Japan Relations series.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. For more information on comfort women, you might also want to check out this site:

    There was a free screening at Berkeley (Go Bears!) last Wednesday and hopefully some more publicity can push this through to other college campuses.

  2. poor japanese they were hated a lot by country around japan. china + korean they hate japanese too.

  3. I don't think that one shall bare the punishment done by another. A newborn Japanese shouldn't be hated for it's ancestors actions, for it is innocent. I felt untiring grief after I read your articles on the negative relationships between Korea and Japan. I wish that our(my) generation will not dwell on the past sufferings of their kinds. But all this is complicated . . . I cannot say. It's as if I was to ask for the whole world to change. It's like asking for heaven.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Kisho3,

    Korea has sent its army to Vietnam war to support USA in past. (

    Most Koreans are numb to this historical event. It is a matter that is being forgetten.

    However in early 2000's (I think), this became social issue by the HanKyoReh newspaper. It continually published articles on the background, involvements, and actions of the Korean troops in Vietnam. Korean army fought fiercely againt Vietnamese army and they reputation was infamous not only for their combat but also their brutality.

    In Korea, those so called "conservatives" argued that they were patriots making precious, back then, dollors and that HanKyoReh is devaluating the glorious forces who fought against the expansion of communism.

    Sad thing is Korea, in this case, shows same face as the Japan. It is true that all men are alike, but this is not my point.

    My point is that should I encounter any Vietnamese from that point on, what should be my actions regarding the war?

    While it is true that Korean troops supported the USA invasion to Vietnam, am I totally free from evil deeds because nothing there is done by myself?

    My conclusion was that there are things I should never say. Plus, sometimes I should not speak up whether I think it was glorious crusade to anihilate communists or whether I think it was a shameful historical flaw in modern Korean history. Why? It's because I am a Korean and
    lots of cruel things were done to Vietnamese people under the name of ROK Army.

    What pisses me off is when I see very few Janpanese who say very similar thing like yours.

    To me, it is like saying
    "I know my father killed your father, raped your mother, sold your aunt as prostitude, but it is all past thing and was not done by myself."

    Although I agree with the logic, being punished by his/her own deed, I guess I am pissed of by the ignorance behind such quotes, in this case.

  6. i am fortunate for being raised by a family that has always had great sympathy for those who suffered under japanese rule in the past. i am japanese, but that does not in any way mean that i nor my family defend nor agree with any of the actions taken by the japanese government in the past. my parents were always honest in telling me what things thought to be indigenous to japan were in fact taken from korean culture. they have also always made sure that i was aware of the attrocities committed by the japanese government during WWII. and in my studies i have found that most politicians and military leaders who opposed aggressive action towards korea were always promptly murdered "mysteriously" since the 17th century to the 20th.
    i know many japanese people (even much older ones who lived through WWII) who condemn the japanese government for their actions and lack of effort to try and mend relationships between korea and japan. we do blame the government for the tension, the lack of education about what really happened in WWII, and the stubbornness on their part to "save face".
    even with these feelings, i cannot help but notice the clear grudge towards me (as if i don't feel guilty enough already for crimes i did not personally commit but wish with all my heart could go back in time to somehow prevent). to say it is okay for koreans to not like normal japanese people (like myself) will continue to perpetuate the idea that korea and japan are enemies. this is as absurd as saying, the british have a strong stance against the war in the middle east, therefore they believe everyone in america is a war supporter, therefore the british shouldn't like any american. this statement is particularly irrational knowing that a large portion of americans are strongly against the war.
    lastly, it is a grave mistake to throw around the myth of "cultural superiority". why? because that idea is what made the japanese government think it's ok to try and invade korea in the first place! this in sociology is called cultural relativism. cultural relativism is the idea that one's country/culture is superior to another's solely based on differences in custom and how developed economically, militarily, artistically, and structurally a country is. is it ok to say because america makes cars and spaceships, it is superior to a developing country that does not? or that america is better than mongolia because 98% of americans have a flushing toilet? cultures are not in a contest. it's not about who's better, who's more popular, who's richer, who's bigger, who has more gun power, and who has a longer history. we should be embracing and respecting everyone's differences. not using those things to attack each other.

  7. I admire your writing in the other articles, but for this one I have to point out one crucial inaccuracy with regards to the Yasukini Shrine - a very important one which explains why this issue is so difficult to resolve. You mention that the controversy can be easily resolved if the remains of the 14 war criminals are removed from Yasukini, thereby making the shrine an "acceptable" place of rememberance for the rest of the fallen soldiers. This would certainly be true if Yasuniku Shrine is a tomb. However, no one is actually buried there - it is a shrine, not a tomb or a grave. There are no remains to remove. Enshrinement was only a matter of religeous rituals, conducted by shinto priests in weird consumes waving wands about. The priests argue that it is not possible to ritually separate the spirits of the 14 war criminals, because all spirits enshrined there are considered to have merged as one. Moreover, the shrine is a private religious organization, not a government one, so the government cannot "force" the shrine to somehow force through this separation (in the same way the US government cannot force the catholic church to excommunicate a particular individual). The shrine has a museum that presents a version of history which even most mainstream Japanese will find extremely questionable, but again the government has no control over it although plenty of Japanese politicians have expressed disquiet over the issue. Perhaps the only way to resolve this problem is for the government to forcibly nationalize the shrine so that it comes under public control, which would also inevitably result in secularization of the shrine (as the Japanese constitution forbits state control of religion) - a drastic move which would be extremely difficult as you can probably imagine. Until that happens, Japanese politicians are stuck in a limbo, having two difficult choices - neglect remembrance of the 2.5 million war casualties for the sake of 14 war criminals, or risk the wrath of Korea and China by paying a visit. Some choose the former, and some choose the latter. And of course, to the outside world, this merely makes Japan as an entity is yo-yoing over the issue.

  8. Peros,

    Or, the Japanese government can do what Yukio Hatoyama, leader of Japan's Democratic Party, suggests: not visit Yasukuni. The current Prime Minister Taro Aso is not visiting Yasukuni this year either. Link. Prominent Japanese politicians already recognize that there is no need to visit Yasukuni to pay respect to Japan's war dead. There is no real dilemma.


    Japan is a democracy. Ultimately, the Japanese people are responsible for what the Japanese government does.

  9. Comparing Togo to Hitler is not right.
    Hitler's goal was genocide. Togo was a military commander and a great one at that. His goal was to win the war and gain natural resources which Japan lacks.

    Yes the Japanese soldiers committed atrocities in Korea, but they weren't trying to exterminate the Korean race. Horrible things happen during wars, that is inevitable.

    Back to the point, do not compare Togo to Hitler.

  10. pete,

    Rather difficult to take you seriously when you are mixing up Hideki Tojo's name with the name of a sandwich store.

  11. Nate

    Dear Korean,

    I can understand korea's hate for the japanese. I'am a Chinese myself and u cannot begin to imagine how furious it is to know that an entire nation is trying to rewrite its past mistkes and crimes by generating a false image of "heroical imperialism" on to its next generation. How can they ever atone for their deeds in burying the hapless children of Nanjing alive, whilst China had granted them an unconditional apology at the end of WWII for the Japs?

  12. Here's an example of a REAL conversation I had in Japan when I lived there.

    Japanese young person: Wow, you look swell!

    Me: Swell, wow, we don't really use that word so much anymore. It's from the postwar era.

    JP: Post.. war? Which war?

    Me: Ah, World War II...

    JP: ...

    (conversation switches to Japanese)

    Me: World War II.

    JP: What's that?

    Me: You know, the war that Japan fought against America?

    JP: Why would we fight a war against America? They are our friends!

    Me: What? You didn't know that America and Japan fought a war against each other?

    JP: B..but, Japan's such a peaceful country!

    Me: That may be true now, but it wasn't always that way. Japan made colonies in Korea and Manchuria, then attacked Pearl Harbor.

    JP: So that movie is real?

    Me: Well, no, the story in the movie is not real, but the historical events are.

    JP: So, who won?


  13. Thanks for writing this series! As an ABC, I've always wondered about the Korean perspective on WWII and about the oppression that Korea suffered under Japan (I'm afraid most Chinese are too wrapped up in our own wounds so we barely hear anything about the Korean side of the story).

    In response to what Kisho said, I also agree that the modern generation of Japan shouldn't "suffer" per se for their ancestors' crimes. However, similarly, the modern Japanese individual shouldn't be mystified or insulted if people of Chinese and Korean heritage may sometimes feel uncomfortable around them.

    Saying that we should just forgive and forget and be friends with the Japanese is like saying African Americans should just let the United States' long history of slavery slide. Or that the Jewish people should forget about the Holocaust. It's asking for the impossible - when a wound that deep is inflicted, even if it heals, it will still leave an ugly scar. Furthermore, many of those who suffered under the Japanese are still alive today (read, my grandmother's generation).

    Simply being in the presence of an individual of Japanese heritage can bring uncomfortable connections to a Chinese or Korean person. We may not resent them for what their ancestors did, we may even be friends with them, but it's there, and it takes more than two generations to take it away.

  14. In response to the "I feel for Koreans, and what Japan did was wrong, but modern Japanese took no part in that" sentiment, let me point you to Edmund Burke. Burke pointed out that each individual is a member of society, and that the individual is thus a product of that society's history - and the effects, both good and bad, of that history. If you're an American, you inherit strong legal, educational, economic and cultural institutions which will help you greatly in succeeding in life. There is nothing wrong with Americans taking advantage of these institutions. However, to then turn around and say "I took no part in slavery, thus I don't have any responsibility for righting slavery's legacies" is cowardice. You want to take part in the positive consequences of America's history but not the negative! If you want to refuse taking responsibility for American slavery, then don't take advantage of America's institutions either. Same goes for the Japanese - or ANYONE from ANY background, for that matter. A Japanese person lives a good life thanks to decisions and efforts made before he/she was born, and that Japanese person deserves a good life as much as the next person. However, if that Japanese person is going to claim the proud moments of Japanese society and heritage, the Japanese person must also embrace the low moments.

  15. The Korean Said


    Japan is a democracy. Ultimately, the Japanese people are responsible for what the Japanese government does."

    I agree with you up to a point, TK.

    I see where you're going, but, as an American, I must say then, that until you are prepared to take FULL responsibility for the War in Iraq, this statement cannot fully stand, as by this logic, America is also a democracy in which ultimately, the American people are the ones responsible for what the United States government does. That means you, too.

  16. until you are prepared to take FULL responsibility for the War in Iraq, this statement cannot fully stand...

    What makes you think the Korean is not prepared to do so? The Korean denounced the war in Iraq, was involved in protests, penned many objections of it and recognize it as one of the many injustices that America carried out. A huge number of Americans did the same. Does the same proportion of the Japanese denounce WWII, publicly object and recognize it as their crime? Like hell they do.

  17. Lol I don't think the average korean would feel "uncomfortable" around the average Japanese. i'm actually somewhat of an anime junkie anyway. that would be those radical racist koreans out to hate on anything japanese and are considered to be a joke by any sane korean.

    What DOES /enrage/ us, and rightly so, are when a Japanese would PURPOSEFULLY fudge to downright ignore historical facts in order to make their country look better. But I heard, and hopefully it's true, that it's mostly due to heavy censorship the Japanese government does....

    we don't "hate on the modern-day japanese people," we don't expect them to walk with their heads bowed to us whenever we cross paths, but we want them to ACKNOWLEDGE what's wrong and what's right at the very least.

    anyway thanks for this post, this whole site! i feel better informed - before, i've only had my grandmother's stories to go by about this.

  18. Why is anti-Japanese sentiment remaining from the World War II era almost non-existent in countries like Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia, unlike in China and South Korea?

    The question is misleading. Anti-Japan sentiment in China and South Korea is rooted in events dating all the way back to the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, not just from the World War II era. It's really very personal for many people in those two countries, for Japan effectively overturned a centuries-old hierarchy in NE Asia which had seen China on top and Korea occupying an honored place at the table as the most loyal of vassal states in the Sinocentric world order. Japan had always been aloof and apart from this order, and therefore seen as being ranked lower in the scheme of things. Was this a mistaken view on the part of Chinese and Korean elites? Absolutely, their disdainful view of Japan proved to be totally off the mark in the 19th century.

    But what made everything much worse, I suppose, is how Japan became the apple of the ignorant Western observer's eye in an era of dog-eat-dog Social Darwinism, as bigots like Theodore Roosevelt and others egged on the Japanese to treat Chinese and Koreans in the exact same way that Europeans and white Americans treated people in Southeast Asia. Too many Japanese at the time lapped up this pseudo-scientific garbage being fed to them by racial theorists from the West. The entire national histories and cultures of China and Korea were suddenly and retroactively classified as abject failures since immemorial relative to Japan. This was a gross exaggeration of the distance separating Japan from China and Korea, but many people still buy into such nonsense even today. Southeast Asians never had to contend with these types of issues relative to another Asian people. They were deemed failures relative to Europeans only.


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...