Joseon artifacts on way back home

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Joseon artifacts on way back home

Japan will return 1,205 cultural assets it took from Korea, including 167 volumes of a Joseon Dynasty royal protocol called the Uigwe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced yesterday.

The ministry said that Seoul and Tokyo reached a final agreement on the return of Joseon Dynasty cultural assets purloined by the Japanese. Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara agreed on the details over the telephone, it said.

The two foreign ministers also agreed to sign a treaty soon to implement the agreement, the ministry said.

“The government expects the measure by the Japanese government to quicken the cultural exchange and cooperation between the two countries,” said the ministry in a statement.

The 1,205 books to be returned are all kept by Japan’s Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo, the ministry said.

Earlier in the day, Asahi Shimbun reported on its Web site that the Korean and Japanese governments had reached a basic agreement on the issue, citing an unidentified source.

The Asahi added that President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan wanted a final agreement in time for a Korea-Japan summit during the upcoming APEC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, to be held over the weekend.

If the agreement is approved by the two countries’ cabinets, it will then be voted on by the legislatures of both countries.

The Japanese Diet will remain in session until early December, raising the possibility that the Uigwe and other cultural heritage items taken during Japan’s colonial rule could be returned as early as the end of the year.

The return of the royal documents from the Joseon Dynasty, along with some other Korean cultural assets, were promised by Kan in a speech in August as a means of improving the countries’ relationship, often marred by what Koreans see as Japan’s shirking of its need to atone for the 35-year-long colonial rule.

Japan has claimed the Korea-Japan normalization treaty in 1965 fully resolved the issue of cultural assets taken from Korea. Japan returned around 1,300 items based on the treaty. But critics here said the treaty was unfair.

According to Korean government information, more than 60,000 Joseon Dynasty cultural assets taken by Japan still remain there.

The Uigwe is a collection of documents containing information and illustrations on Joseon royal customs.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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