Korea, Japan to meet on return of treasures

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Korea, Japan to meet on return of treasures

The government will soon begin discussions with Japan over the return of Korean cultural heritages that were taken during Japan’s colonial rule, according to diplomatic sources yesterday.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan promised last week to return royal documents from the Joseon Dynasty and some other cultural assets taken during its colonization of Korea.

Jam Won-sam, chief of the Northeast Asian bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Park Young-geun, chief of the Heritage Promotion Bureau at the state-funded National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, will meet today to discuss the range of the cultural heritages to be returned, the sources said. They will also discuss a study planned by the government to grasp the size of the cultural heritages taken by Japan.

Japan has yet to offer an official proposal to launch discussions over the matter, but the sources said the talks, if they occur, will involve the Foreign Ministry and the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage on the Korean side to deal with Japan’s Foreign Ministry and Japan’s Imperial Household Agency.

Kan acknowledged in his statement, made two weeks before the 100th anniversary of the Japan’s annexation of Korea, that 35 years of colonial rule had been forced upon Korea against the will of its people. To show Japan’s sincerity, he promised to return Korean cultural assets that had been moved to Japan, including Joseon Dynasty royal protocol.

Japan is signaling that it might limit future heritage returns to books or documents taken by the Joseon Governor General’s Office, the highest Japanese authority during the colonial period, and kept by Japan’s Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo.

But the sources said Seoul is considering requiring the return of more cultural heritages taken by some other Japanese authorities during colonial rule.

A study by the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, commissioned by the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, in February found that 61,409 cultural assets taken out of Korea are being exhibited throughout Japan.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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