[Outlook]Korea by choice
A couple of words can change a person’s life entirely. Hearing good words is as important as getting to know good people.
When looking back, I feel important words I’ve heard have formed my life. That applies to how I came to Korea and lived here.
When I was little, my father became acquainted with a Korean professor.
He used to tell me that his Korean friend had a wonderful personality and integrity, which were hard to find among people. That was the beginning of my special connection with Korea.
When I was a freshman in high school, my father used to tell his four sons stories after dinner.
I have three brothers and I am the second child. My two younger brothers usually left in the middle of the stories, probably because they were too young to understand our father’s words.
My older brother was preparing for a university entrance exam so he often left the table before father’s stories were over.
It was usually me alone who listened to our father until he was through. He told me about what happened during his life and it was interesting to listen.
Father ran a company, and he explained about his life and personal relations inside the company.
When he told stories he used to add that there were many things that were hard to understand logically and that seemed disadvantageous to us.
But those things sometimes gave us benefits, so we shouldn’t be afraid of potential disadvantages, he advised.
These words revealed his view on life.
Father always spent his own wages on his company and employees, so much so that my mother often complained about it. Father also emphasized that the experience of overcoming difficulties would become a very useful resource later in life.
In hindsight, I was influenced tremendously by my father’s stories.
Of course, there are other people who gave me words of wisdom. One was my middle school teacher. He gathered all the students every Monday morning and told us stories and gave us advice.
Once he said there was a saying, “Try to become a person who raises 10 questions when hearing one thing rather than a person who thinks he understands 10 things from one wise piece of advice.”
I thought it would be difficult to be a genius who realizes 10 things on his own after learning about one, but I figured I would be able to be curious about 10 things.
I decided to become such a person.
Since then, the resolution has been inscribed in my unconsciousness and I have developed an inquiring mind.
When I became a college student, my primary question was why Japan was aggressive and I wanted an answer.
When I was preparing for the university entrance exam, my father advised me to study engineering. I chose it as my subject at university but I was always fond of history. Even when I was a high school student, I read many history textbooks as if they were novels.
When I studied engineering at university, I had a vague hunch that my subject would change eventually.
The hunch was confirmed when I came to Korea years later.
In 1977 I was a student at Tokyo University and the school celebrated its 100th anniversary.
To my surprise, quite a few students opposed an event to celebrate the occasion. Their reason was that Tokyo University was on the front line of Japanese imperialism in modern history.
Many posters saying, “Tokyo University, the vanguard of the invasion of Asia” were spotted across the campus.
I hadn’t realized the university I was attending had such a dark past. Around that time, I also read a magazine article and learned that Empress Myeongseong of the Joseon Dynasty was murdered by Japanese assassins.
It was truly shocking.
The story stimulated the questions I already. I made up my mind to research why Japan invaded other Asian countries.
The words I heard from my father and read in the magazine changed the direction of my life. Thanks to them, I am now living in Korea and I am very proud of that fact.
The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yuji Hosaka