Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) February 14, 1943
The Model Korean Maiden
“Banzai to the Emperor” at the Moment of Death
The Warmth of the Governor-General’s Heart for the Bereaved Family
This is a story of Governor-General Koiso’s gift of a sealed envelope of money to a young Korean girl of unhappy circumstances who passed away after singing ‘Banzai to the Emperor’. Kim Gi-seon (김기선/金基仙) (12), a fifth-year student at Komamoto National School in Hongō Ward, Tokyo, contracted diphtheria on April 1 of last year. She was hospitalized at Komagome Hospital in the same city, but her younger sister Mitsuyo and mother were also hospitalized to also find themselves in the bottommost pit of unhappy circumstances, and finally Gi-seon died on the 18th of the same month.
Afterwards, her father died suddenly, perhaps unable to bear the pain in his heart due to his repeated misfortunes, and her mother and younger sister, Mitsuko, who were finally discharged from the hospital, are now living a lonely life.
At the moment of her death, she sang a patriotic march from beneath her labored breathing while holding the hand of her father, Kim Soon-baek (김순백/金順百), and sang three chants of ‘Banzai to His Majesty the Emperor!‘ before passing away holding her father’s hand and saying, “Father, I’m sorry.”
On the seventh day after her death, a piggy bank containing 26 yen 8 sen, which she had saved from her small allowance, was found, and it was immediately donated to the Imperial Army and Navy in accordance with Gi-seon’s intentions.
When Governor-General Koiso heard this sad story, he was deeply moved by Gi-seon’s disposition as an Imperial person, and he sent a sealed envelope of money to the bereaved family to pray for Gi-seon’s repose.
Source: https://www.archive.org/details/kjnp-1943-02-14 (page 3)
This is an example of the propaganda media spin machine taking what was otherwise a tragic, private story of a young girl who died of a communicable childhood disease, relatively common in the days before widespread childhood vaccinations, and turning it into some bizarre ‘feel-good’ story of Imperial patriotism. It was the dream of Imperial soldiers to die gloriously shouting ‘Banzai to the Emperor’, so this story must have resonated in a heartfelt way with many people in Japan.
I think it’s actually not remarkable that this Korean girl sang a propaganda song in the last moments of her life. She was brainwashed in a Japanese school, exposed to the same Imperial propaganda like other schoolchildren in Japan. Given this immersive brainwashing, it’s not surprising that she chose this song to comfort herself in the last moments of her life.
There are different ways of interpreting this story. When she said “Father, I’m sorry,” was she expressing sorrow for dying so early, or sorrow for offending her father who didn’t like Imperial Japan? When her father died of a broken heart, was it just because of his daughter’s death, or was it also because she died a brainwashed Imperial person? We may never know for sure.
The 26 yen 8 sen in her piggy bank account is roughly $400 to $600 US Dollars, depending on how you calculate it. Each morning edition of the Keijo Nippo of 1942 was priced at 6 sen. Today, each morning edition of Asahi Shimbun is priced at 160 yen. Depending on which Japanese yen to US Dollar conversion you use, you will get roughly this range.