Death of a master, and a daughter of two nationsApril 26, 1994
Choi Bae-dal was a martial arts master with a fearsome reputation. Mr. Choi spent virtually all his life engaging in combat until dying on this date. Better known in Japan as Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyukushin karate, Mr. Choi fought bulls when he couldn’t find human opponents. Fighting against 47 bulls weighing over 700 kilograms (1,500 pounds), Mr. Choi, 175 centimeters tall (5 feet, 9 inches) and weighing 70 kilograms, killed four on the spot and cut off their horns with his bare hands.
Born in 1923 during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea, Mr. Choi went over to Tokyo to be a pilot. One day at Hibiya Park, however, Mr. Choi met his destiny by saving the boss of a big yakuza (Japanese gang) from another faction. From then on, Mr. Choi was a member of the yakuza as a bodyguard with the boss’s favor, but he felt he did not fit in there. Eventually, Mr. Choi came to read a book about martial arts, and decided to go to an isolated mountain called Kiyozumi alone until he was satisfied with himself as a master.
Once on the mountain, Mr. Choi shaved his eyebrows to firm up his determination. After two years in harsh training, Mr. Choi went back to the world, where the first thing he did was compete in the national martial arts games in Japan. He was invincible, easily taking the championship. After that, he again went to the mountain, training for another two years before coming back.
Mr. Choi cemented his fame as the top martial arts master in Japan, establishing Kyukushin karate, known as Keukjin karate in Korea. He traveled around both Japan and the world having showdowns with local martial arts masters, inevitably emerging the winner. Mr. Choi’s Kyukushin karate allegedly has 14 million followers in 120 countries in the world at the moment. Mr. Choi said, “A man becomes truly a man only when he beats something. When young, you have to pursue adventures. We live to have adventure. That is the truth.”
Two months after his death, Mr. Choi’s Japanese followers, numbering more than 5,000, paid their respects to the master by holding a special ceremony at the Aoyama Cemetery, open to members of the Japanese court and other high-ranking people. In his home country of Korea, a movie based on Mr. Choi’s life is to open later this year, titled “Fighter of the Wind.”
April 30, 1989
Masako Nashimotomiya was born the first daughter of a Japanese marquis, a close relative of the king. As a teenager, she had no inkling of her ill-fated destiny, in which she would be caught in the fetters of history between Japan and Korea.
As a lady of the court, Ms. Nashimotomiya went to a royal school inside the palace, with a high possibility of marrying the crown prince. She did marry a crown prince, though not the one she had imagined. One day in 1915, when she turned 15, she casually picked up a newspaper to discover her photograph with that of Lee Eun, a crown prince of the Joseon Dynasty.
Japan already colonized Korea in 1910, and planned to annihilate the dynasty. As part of the plan, Japan brought Lee Eun to Tokyo under the pretense of studying abroad; in reality, he was practically a hostage. Rumor had it that Ms. Nashimotomiya was believed by Japanese court doctors to be sterile, and that that was why she was married to Joseon’s prince. Whether that rumor is true or not, it’s unquestionable that it was a marriage of convenience for Japan.
Mr. Lee, who was four years older than his soon-to-be-bride, and Ms. Nashimotomiya tied the knot in 1920. Ms. Nashimotomiya changed her surname to Mrs. Lee, following Japanese tradition; thus, she is better known as Lee Bang-ja in Korea. She gave birth to a baby son, named Jin, but lost the boy under suspicious circumstances; some historians suspect he was poisoned.
After later giving birth to another son, named Gu, however, Mrs. Lee seemed to have a happy life, until 1945, when Japan was defeated in the World War II.
According to the new constitution in Japan, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were no longer royal family members. They were considered neither Japanese nor Korean citizens. Suffering from poverty for years, during which time they allegedly had to make clothes out of their curtains, they achieved Korean citizenship in 1963, under the favor of the President Park Chung Hee of Korea.
But that did not mean the end of her misfortune. Mr. Lee was afflicted with cerebral thrombosis, which left him unconscious by the time the couple reached Korea. As royal family members, they were entitled to live in Nakseonjae in Changdeok Palace, but Mr. Lee went to a hospital, where he died in 1973.
Following her husband’s will, Mrs. Lee established Myeonghwiwon, a school for disabled children, and Jahye School, for mentally challenged children. Mrs. Lee said, “As a wife of a man, my life was never miserable.”
After years of devoted volunteer works for the disabled, she died on this date in Changdeok Palace. She once said, “I have two home countries. If Japan gave me the body, Korea gave me the spirit. When I leave this world, I’ll be buried next to my husband in my second home country.” In accordance with her will, she is buried together with her husband in Gyeonggi province.
by Chun Su-jin