[VIEWPOINT]Ancient royal bloodlines merge

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[VIEWPOINT]Ancient royal bloodlines merge

From ancient times until the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese believed that their emperor was a divine ruler descended in an unbroken line from Amateratsu Omikami, the Sun Goddess. This belief of bansei-itkei, literally "throughout thousands of generations under one lineage," was founded on ancient historical records like the Nihonshoki (720) and the Kojiki (712).

The belief reached its climax at the outbreak of World War II. Worshiped by 100 million subjects as a god, the emperor of bansei-itkei was a source of immense pride and self-esteem for the Japanese. Any open criticism of the bansei-itkei was taboo, but skepticism about the so-called direct lineage, including suspicions that the imperial family had actually descended from the Baekche Kingdom in southwest Korea, lurked in the background.

With the end of the war, academic freedom was restored and Professor Mizuno Yu of Waseda University stirred up controversy with his theory of the "Three Dynasties." Professor Mizuno claimed that the Chrysanthemum Throne in Japan descended not through a single lineage but through three separate dynasties and that the present imperial family belonged to the third dynasty that began with the 26th emperor. This theory found support despite opposition and threats from ultrarightists, and it came to be accepted and widely known, even though proper academic research was never conducted. Although there are personal convictions, there are still not very many scholars in Japan who are willing to take on this particular subject.

The subject, however, was touched on recently by an unlikely source, the emperor himself.

"I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the 'Shoku Nihongi' that the mother of Emperor Kammu was of the line of King Muryong of the Kingdom of Baekche," said a statement released by Emperor Akihito, who thereby acknowledged a theory that the imperial family had Baekche blood from the maternal, if not the paternal, side.

The emperor's statement was made in the context of a reference to the close ties between Baekche and Japan - that fact itself is nothing new. His words could be understood, however, as a call to stress the historical friendship between Korea and Japan and the Japanese imperial family in the context of the 2002 World Cup Korea-Japan and the talk of a visit by the emperor to Korea on that occasion.

Nevertheless, the emperor opened the door for discussion of a subject that had been silently recognized among the public but never publicly acknowledged. It is no longer taboo to discuss the theory that the imperial family might be of Baekche blood, so there may be a resurgence of historical study of the question.

Reaction to the emperor's statement differs greatly in Korea and in Japan. Defeated in the war, but never openly defied by the Japanese, the bansei-itkei theory still has a powerful hold on Japanese, and any challenge to it is still not fit for public discussion. Even though the taboo was broken by the emperor himself, only the liberal Asahi Shimbun reported the statement directly, while other newspapers chose to deal with the statement by reporting it through citations from Korean newspapers. Even now, the Japanese press is hesitant about dealing with the idea that there is Baekche blood in the imperial line, whether from the paternal or maternal line.

On the other hand, the Korean newspapers splashed the emperor's words across front page headlines. Korean newspapers went even further, introducing theories which have not been verified academically, that not only the mother of Emperor Kammu, but also the 15th emperor, Ojin, who ruled at the beginning of the 5th century, the 26th emperor Keitai (507-531), and the Empress Saimei, who ruled twice as 35th and 37th in line (642-645 and 655-661), were Baekche descendants.

The Korean press gleefully reported that the Japanese imperial family was descended from Baekche. The Japanese press would rather not discuss this ancient "Korean complex" in public. On the Korean side, this ancient reason to gloat is a way of trying to recover from modern mortifications it suffered from Japanese imperialism.

A note of warning for the Korean press to remember: The theory that Korea and Japan were descendants of one ancestor was the historical reasoning behind the Japanese annexation of Korea. Specific and accurate details as to what kind of special relationship there was between the two kingdoms should be found. It should not be forgotten that a simple recognition of the special blood relationship between the two ruling families served as the reason for the strong to take over the weak.


The writer is a professor of Japanese history at Korea University.

by Kim Hyun-koo

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