Joining the right side
There is a group of people who made big contributions to Korea’s history at the end of the 16th century, but they have been forgotten. They are the Japanese soldiers who surrendered during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 and defected to fight for Joseon. Known as Hangwae, or rebels against Japan, they made additional contributions during the Manchu invasion of 1636 and Lee Gwal’s rebellion.
There were once 10,000 Hangwae in Korea. The most famous one is General Kim Chung-seon. Known as Sayaka, he annihilated 500 soldiers from the Qing Dynasty during the first Manchu invasion. It is believed that the general taught the Korean military how to build rifles.
In Japanese, the term negaeri can mean “to roll over,” and is used to refer to soldiers that defect after surrendering. In Korea, there is no equivalent term because it was so highly forbidden, but the act was common in Japan.
During the age of civil wars in Japan, a lord who lost in war and his closest vassals must commit suicide by disembowelment, known as hara-kiri. But his samurai were different. It was a tradition for them to serve the head of the enemy.
Perhaps because of this, there were many Japanese soldiers who surrendered and fought for China during the Sino-Japanese War. Many of the Japanese prisoners of war changed their mind because of how they were treated by China.
One example is Kancho Kobayashi, a 96-year-old veteran. After being captured by the Eighth Route Army, Kobayashi tried to kill himself twice, but Chinese soldiers saved his life both times. He went on to create anti-Japan leaflets in Japanese for the Eighth Route Army and helped persuade other prisoners of war to defect.
General Kim and Kobayashi had similar reasons for their decisions. Kim was determined to defect after seeing Korean people fleeing while carrying their elderly parents on their backs. He thought it was unjust to invade a country that cared so deeply for their parents.
Kobayashi also said that he realized he was engaged on the wrong side of the war after seeing the ways that the Japanese army would destroy villages and murder Chinese civilians.
The remarks of both show that even everyday Japanese people understood that their invasions of Korea and China were unjust.
As Korea and Japan work towards improving their relations, there is something that we must remember: There are many conscientious Japanese people who cannot stand the injustices that their country has committed. General Kim has become the symbol of peace between Korea and Japan, and more than 2,000 Japanese people every year visit his memorial site, Nokdong Seowon, to pay their respects.
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 7, Page 35
by NAM JEONG-HO