Guide relates history of palace to JapaneseThe wounds of a Japanese occupation that lasted 35 years still remain in Gyeongbok Palace, which was a focal point of court history during the Joseon dynasty.
Takako Konish, a 44-year-old Japanese woman, has volunteered to tell the painful history to tourists, including the Japanese, for the last six years. Ms. Konish won an award from the Cultural Properties Administration in June for an essay she wrote about her field investigations of cultural assets in Korea.
“Most Japanese tourists have no knowledge of Korean history when they visit Korea,” Ms. Konish said.
“After they listen to the history of the palace, they are surprised by it and realize that these things really happened. Then they change their views.”
In 1895, the Japanese entered the palace and slew Queen Myeongseong, the wife of King Gojong.
The palace also suffered severe damage when the Japanese built a Western-style government office, in the shape of the first letter of Japan in Chinese, in 1926, first demolishing many buildings. From that office, the Japanese governor Ito Hirobumi ruled the Korean Peninsula.
Born in Shikoku, Japan, Ms. Konish came to Korea in 1988 and met her Korean husband the same year. The couple has two children. After the international monetary crisis of late 1997, she became involved in a government-sponsored program to teach Japanese to Korean students, so thay could become guides.
The students introduced Ms. Konish to a non-profit cultural organization called Rediscovery of Korea. The organization has hundreds of members who volunteer as tour guides in five Joseon dynasty palaces in Seoul ― Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Deoksu, Gyeonghi and Changgyeong ― and at Jongmyo and Sajik shrines. The organization train volunteers for nine months, including thee months of history education.
“The Japanese do not learn the painful part of history in school in Japan. I only explain historical facts about what happened. The conclusion is up to them to make,” Ms. Konish said.
Ms. Konish said she enjoys the work as tour guide. “It is interesting to learn about history. I feel the depth of Korea’s Confucian culture as opposed to Japan’s Buddhist culture,” she said.
Through the history of the palace, Ms. Konish said, she could see how the Joseon dynasty kings led the country neighbored by two powers: China and Japan.
Ms. Konish only works Fridays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Unlike regular tour guides with a large number of tourists, there is no time limit for her presentations. Ms. Konish said she stays with tourists as long as they wish.
Every week she teaches other members of the organization to speak Japanese. She said that there are many mistakes in Japanese signs in Gyeongbok palace. Her corrections will be considered when the Cultural Properties Administration replaces the signs.
To make an appointment for a tour with a guide from the organization, call Rediscovery of Korea at (02) 723-4206.
by Limb Jae-un