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Letter from Japanese who has become honorary citizen of Seoul

Letter from Japanese who has become honorary citizen of Seoul

Posted November. 06, 2013 08:45,   


I became an honorary citizen of Seoul Metropolitan City a few days ago. I would like to convey once again my sense of humbleness and gratitude, because I have done little to benefit Korea and Seoul. It is quite obvious that people in Japan, even including my close friends and acquaintances, have “sophisticated” feeling within their minds about me having become an honorary Seoul citizen. This is very true, because many people felt uncomfortable about me playing “Bongseonhwa (Garden Balsam) song with the flute in front of a Girl’s Statue in 2012, or mentioning “history of men’s crimes,” expressing regret for comfort women also known as sex slaves.

I am not a diplomat, a politician, cultural anthropologist, or philosopher. But there is one thing that is very clear to me. I have been constantly thinking that Japan has continued invasions of Joseon from the era of Hideyoshi Toyotomi to its colonial rule of Korea. Even after the Meiji Revolution, Japan aggressively invaded Joseon by pushing to follow propaganda slogans such as “escaping Asia to join the West” and “a rich country, strong military.”

I think that (Japan’s) disregarding, belittling and failing to sincerely reflect and make apology for those things is the reason that Korea-Japan relations have become all the more contentious.

Even after the end of World War II and Japan’s defeat, Japan did not have any sense of guilt particularly towards the Joseon people and their motherland, and the island country felt rather happier to some extent to see its economy rebound due to strong war demand in Korea following the outbreak of the Korean War. One can easily regard Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, the Cold War between the East and West, and the Korean War merely as historical incidents of the past. I also did as such. Then, when I visited Korea for the first time in 1968, I was completely shocked to visit Seoul, Busan, Chuncheon and Jecheon.

Despite passage of a fairly long time, there remained signs of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, and elderly people that I met still had memories of pain and suffering from the colonial era.

Thinking that I need to show them to my family as well, I visited Korea in the first overseas tour of my family in 1973. We visited Jeju Island, Busan, Gyeongju, Village of Jeam-ri, Dong Incheon, Seoul and Chuncheon.

Koreans were not treating us coldly. A woman at Jeam-ri Church carefully served as water with sugar, thinking we might have been thirsty after a long trip. Despite poor economic conditions, another Korean person gave us a room, and cooked rice for us.

My daughter and son say they were deeply impressed and shocked to hear old men clad in white Korean traditional jackets say “Look at here,” pointing at a wall with inscription of atrocities committed by Japanese imperialists at Tapgol Park in Seoul. My children were thus meeting with historical witnesses who were forced to learn the Japanese language.

What is important here is whether or not one can feel a historical fact as an issue that is meaningful to him or her. I think that depending on what position people have, the world could evolve toward a completely different direction. In my case, when I visited Jeam-ri Church with my family, I recognized Japanese military’s massacres that occurred there as ‘my issue,’ rather than as a matter from a long time in the past. Upon recognizing that, I came to ask myself “Then what I can do?” Then, I was guided by the Urban Industrial Missionary to Gaemi Village at downstream Cheonggye Stream in Seoul, and came to provide what assistance I could to those who suffered due to rapid urbanization and industrialization.

Korea-Japan relations are reportedly deteriorating due to politicians. I hope that many people pool wisdom to ensure that historical facts can be taken as “my issues,” rather than being buried merely as matters of the past. I sincerely wish reconciliation and friendship between populaces of South Korea, North Korea and Japan.