Korea and Japan’s painful shared history

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Korea and Japan’s painful shared history

Japanese historian Takashi Hatada (1908-1994) was born in Masan, South Gyeongsang. He grew up enjoying the privileges of being a descendant of a colonialist in Korea. “When I traced back a vague memory, Joseon people’s dignified behaviors did not recur to my mind. They might have had real joy and hope for the future to live life on this earth, but I could not see that.”

He was a spectator who had no suspicion about the reason why Joseon people fought their way out of a dark and poverty-stricken life. After studying oriental history at the University of Tokyo, he worked for the South Manchuria Railway Company in China for eight years starting in 1940. At that time, he was a follower of Japanese imperialism who academically justified Japan’s colonialism, based on the idea that Japan was a civilized country and Joseon and China were barbaric countries. After he returned to Japan in December 1948, he realized that he had to pay back the debt he owed to Korea with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

“Nearly no one engaged in earnest historical research on Korean history. Japanese people still had a sense of superiority to Joseon people and were apt to despise them, as they were before. I felt keenly the necessity to begin my research, as I witnessed the miserable situation of Joseon.”

He published the book “A History of Korea” in 1951 and opened a new field of research in the chaos following the war defeat. This book came as a particular shock to Japanese researchers. It also relieved the unquenchable thirst for knowledge of Korean intellectuals who only had Korean history books written from the existing Japanese colonial view of history.

“What weighed heavy on my mind was the fact that research on Korean history in Japan still relies on the research prior to its defeat in World War II in historical awareness terms, although it continued to improve attitudes or evaluations. It failed to break from the narrow identity theory; it recognized Japan’s rule over Joseon in ancient times; and it failed to portray the cultural creativity of Joseon people. Many defects existed.”

He decided to print no more copies of “A History of Korea” in the 1970s, when much research and findings on Korean history had been newly accumulated, saying, “This book was almost too painful for me to read and does not contribute to the public good.

“We Japanese cannot be free unless we ourselves deny Japanese colonialism stretching from the past through the present and into the future. Understanding the problems between Korea and Japan is regarded as the growth index of Japanese people.” Forty years ago, he was already the “conscience of Japan” who presented a clear reason why Japan should reflect on its colonial rule and the history of its aggression, not only as a country but also as a civil society.

The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University.

By Huh Dong-hyun
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