중앙데일리

Tour examines a stormy past

Jan 23,2008
A Japanese participant, right, on a tour hosted by Baekseok College of Cultural Studies, cooking with a Baekseok student. By Moon Gwang-lip
Sayuri Maekawa, 49, and 17 other Japanese visitors nodded as a group of Koreans followed them around Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, last Saturday.
The hall is a one-hour bus ride southwest of Seoul and most of the 80,000 items in the 4 million square meter (43.1 million square feet) museum are exhibited in memory of the 36-year-long Japanese colonial rule in Korea that ended in 1945.
The memory of that occupation remains a strong emotional trigger in Korea.
For some younger Koreans, the items on exhibit may arouse animosity toward the Japanese. They have been taught about war crimes, unhealed scars and insincere apologies. For some younger Japanese, this “fabricated history” was something they never learned in school.
The group of Japanese and their Korean partners last Saturday, however, didn’t seemed to belong to either category. They were grateful to learn what they did not know and to have a a chance to befriend some gentle people from a neighboring country.
“I had little knowledge of the Japanese as perpetrators,” said Maekawa, a tourist from Osaka, after several hours touring the museum. “Koreans must have wanted to let us know what they went through as victims. It was a good learning experience.”
Maekawa and the other Japanese visitors were on a one-day tour designed and hosted by Cheonan-based Baekseok College of Cultural Studies. The school launched the tour program last month in an effort to develop educational tourism.
Song Kee-shin, one of the school’s deans, explained the concept.
“We thought that learning about Korea with the support of Koreans and making friends would be more enjoyable for foreign tourists, rather than just touring sites,” Song said.
In 2006 Song and Baekseok officials applied for government support for the program and waited a year for government approval.
“Government officials were a bit doubtful whether the idea would work out in Cheonan,” Song said. “People often believe there is little to see in the rural areas outside Seoul, but it has proved to be a success.”
The program included educational experiences at the Independence Hall of Korea, one of the nation’s largest museums, and Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Hall, which honors the famous female independent activist movement during the Japanese colonial rule. Both are located in Cheonan. The experience of making Korean foods at the school is another part of the program. Volunteer students majoring in Japanese language, food and tourism at the school help the program participants.
The Korea-Japan Society and Culture Forum, a Seoul-based civic group, has helped the college attract tourists into the program and many Japanese, including the 24 participants in last month’s tour, expressed interest in it.
Many of the 18 Japanese participants in the second tour, whose ages ranged from the 20s to the 50s, said they applied for the program after learning it is an educational tour. Maekawa said she came to Seoul for the sole purpose of participating in the program.
Momo Koga, a housewife in her early 50s, said she had visited Korea more than 30 times, but this trip will be remembered as something special.
“Among the Japanese, even young people become heavy-hearted when they hear about the damage that Japan suffered from the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nakasaki [during World War II],” Koga said. “So I was wondering how bitter these young Korean students would feel while helping us look around the museum.”
One of around 20 Korean volunteers was Lee Ho-yeon, a 22-year-old Baekseok student majoring in Japanese. He appreciated the way the Japanese participants responded.
“As far as I know, making the participants feel guilty is not the purpose of this program,” Lee said. “It is to explain what really happened. The Japanese people participating in the program today seemed to understand our intention and I thank them for that.”
Earlier that day, the Japanese participants had some light moments while learning from the Korean students and professors how to make kimchi, which is also popular in Japan. The participants were able to take home the kimchi they made.
Yasuko Miyaura said she will bring it to her husband and two sons in Nara. “I am happy that I am making kimchi they like. But I am not sure how it will taste,” Miyaura said, smiling. Chicken and ginseng soup, called samgyetang, was another recipe the Japanese visitors learned.
The next tour will be on Feb. 23.


By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Reporter [joe@joongang.co.kr]


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