[FOUNTAIN]Name and Shame

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[FOUNTAIN]Name and Shame

All night, my mother tossed and turned in her bed. She was thrilled about her reunion the following day with her elementary school friends for the first time in about 50 years.

"What is Eiko in Korean?" she asked. Eiko was her best friend's name pronounced the Japanese way.

"I guess it's Yong-ja, mother," I replied. My mother remembered the names of her childhood friends only in Japanese. She knew that Sadako, her name when she was an elementary school student, was Jeong-ja in Korean, but was not aware that her friends' Japanese names such as Akiko and Haruko were pronounced Myeong-ja and Chun-ja in Korean. That is the tragedy of her generation, who lost their Korean names during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

In November 1939, when Korea was still ruled by Japan, the colonial government announced that, from the following February, all Koreans had six months to change their names - even their family names - to Japanese ones. During the first three months, just 7.6 percent of Koreans applied for new names. Over the remaining three months, the colonial government resorted to high-handed measures to force another 73 percent of the population to take Japanese names.

The colonial regime prohibited some children from going to school if their families resisted the name change. It also had teachers beat students for not having Japanese names. Resisters were not only priority candidates for conscription but also came off the ration list for food and other necessities. Police kept a close eye on them and intercepted their mail.

Under those circumstances, most Koreans were probably unable to endure the oppression, except for those who could survive without wartime rations. Hong Sa-ik, a Korean who became a lieutenant general of the Japanese army, did not gave up his Korean name. It seems that even the colonial government could do nothing about a sitting three-star army general. In this context, it is evident that Koreans "Japanized" their names because they were forced to do so, not because they sympathized with Japan.

Recently, the opposition Grand National Party blasted President Kim Dae-jung for identifying himself as "Toyota," his Japanese name during the colonial era, in a phone call to his old Japanese teacher. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party attacked Lee Hoi-chang, the opposition leader, solely because his father worked as a clerk for the public prosecutors' office during Japanese rule, assuming his involvement in pro-Japanese activities.

It is sad that the victims are squabbling with each other, when the offenders are left out of it.



The writer is deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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