Saturday, June 11, 2011

Japanization of Korea During the Period of 1932 to 1945: Lost Names

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Lost Names, by Richard E. Kim, is a novel about a young boy growing up during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the period of 1932 to 1945. Japan gained complete political control of Korea in 1906 after the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by a Korean nationalist. By this time of narrative the occupation had become deeply entrenched in the Korean culture, affecting aspects of everyday life such as education and access to goods. A nation’s identity is composed of distinctive elements of culture, such as language, education system, and daily way of life. In their imperialistic quest the Japanese employed tactics that served to undermine these elements in order to maintain their authority. These policies demoralized and dehumanized the Korean people in order to subjugate them to the Japanese authority. Although not through active or aggressive resistance, the Korean people rejected the exterior Japanese culture maintaining their sense of national solidarity and identity.

In their imperialistic scheme to colonize Korean region the Japanese government imposed their educational system, surnames, and language upon the Korean people. The Japanese educational system of Kokutai was imposed into the existing Korean system. This is illustrated by the narrator’s first day of second grade after returning to Korea from Manchuria. At the risk of being beaten, the narrator must obey the command to bow his head. He discovered later that “It is the ritual of bowing toward where the Japanese Emperor is supposed to be in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo”. By forcing the Korean school children to conform to the Kokutai system, the Japanese authority attempted to “Japanize” the Korean people at its roots, the children.

Another ploy employed by the Japanese to control the Korean people was through the regulation of the spoken and written language. “From the third grade up, we have been speaking Japanese at school and supposedly at home too. Of course, all the lessons are conducted in Japanese. We are not taught the Korean language or Korean history any longer”. Japanese regulations of the Korean language ultimately undermined the uphill struggle to establish an identity for which they had been seeking. Identity is strongly associated with an individual’s written and spoken language. The Japanese took this identity from the Koreans when they forced the practice of the Japanese language.

On February 11th, 1940, when the author was at the age of eight, the Japanese began utilizing the tactic of depriving the Koreans of their surnames with which they had been associated for many generations. In Asian cultures, the family surname is an exceptionally significant identification of not only where they are from but of who they are. The Japanese deprived the Koreans of their identity when they issued all Koreans new Japanese surname. An old man visiting his ancestor’s grave supported by his daughter, said in a feeble voice to the narrator’s father, “Now I lost my own name, and I am as dead as…”. One can assume that since this man does not have a son to whom he could pass his family name it will perish. Yet he was prematurely stripped of this identity by the Japanese by the imposition of a foreign surname.

Japanese administration reduced the Korean people into what may be described as emotionless puppets that were at the will of the Japanese puppet masters. For example, the authority forced young school children as young as thirteen years of age to “serve the Emperor through manual labor”. The forced manual labor dehumanized the Koreans by reducing them to be no more than machines serving the emperor. They have disregarded the human quality and characteristics that exist in all human being.

Human existence is based on their morale and cultural identity. The Japanese made numerous attempts to demoralize the Korean people by forcing to conform to the Japanese culture. For the ease of ruling the Korean people, Japanese powers made efforts to break the spirits of the Korean people by forcing them to change names, speaking the Japanese language, and even dress the Japanese dress code. Subjecting the Korean nation to these tactics for numerous years resulted in a breakdown of morale of the Korean people thus demoralize them to mere puppets ready to be guided.

Despite of the many attempts by the Japanese government to demoralize and dehumanize them, the Korean people found ways to reject the exterior Japanese culture thereby maintaining their sense of national solidarity and identity. Subsequent to being issued his new Japanese name, an old man at the police station said, “It doesn’t matter which. No one’s going to call me by that name anyway or any other name”. Although not aggressively resisting the Japanese domination, the old man passively conveyed the message that no matter what names were given, friends and family, and their people would continue to call them by their given Korean surnames.

The old man’s action and other passive resistance were indicative of the general sentiment of the Korean people. Forced to speak the Japanese language at school, the narrator and other Koreans preserved their sense of identity by maintaining the Korean language in the home. “My father teaches these subjects [Korean language and Korean History] at home. We don’t speak Japanese in our house”. The Korean people used this and other methods to resist the Japanese occupation. “My father is wearing a Korean man’s clothes white pantaloon-like trouser, with bottoms tied around his ankles, a long-sleeved white jacket, a blue vest, and a gray topcoat”. By wearing his Korean clothing, the narrator’s father was showing his cultural heritage in defiance of the Japanese regime. Through these methods the Korean people maintained their sense of individualism and pride despite attempts by the Japanese deprived of just that.

In this context, liberation was not won by the passive resistance of the Korean people, rather it was a gift. As explained by the narrator, “I am not ashamed of anything he is ashamed of. What I am ashamed of is that our liberation was given to us, Mother. We didn’t get it ourselves. It just dropped from the sky. Just like that. A present! That’s what we ought to be ashamed of”. Although viewed as a gift, this passive resistance allowed for the ultimate liberation of the Korean culture. Despite the numerous demoralizing and dehumanizing methods utilized by the Japanese regime in their attempt to maintain imperialistic control, the Korean people found ways to sustain their sense of national solidarity and identity.

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