This is another fascinating historical article that I stumbled upon during my visit to the National Library of Korea a few months ago. This is a news announcement made on August 28, 1945 announcing an orderly, peaceful transition of power just 13 days after Imperial Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. In the initial few days after August 15th, the military authorities were at the forefront making defiant announcements in the face of a massive Korean popular uprising, but for the first time since Imperial Japan’s surrender, a civilian leader, Mr. Konishi Haruo, has come forward to address the nation in a sober, conciliatory address emptied of the usual Imperialist bravado, to provide a blueprint for a peaceful transition of power to the new Korean state and the repatriation of Japanese residents back to Japan.
Mr. Konishi was a 66-year-old mining executive at Meiji Mining who came from a respectable Samurai family in Fukuoka prefecture. He had a distinguished career at various banks, treasuries, and chambers of commerce in Korea and Manchuria. There had always been tensions between civilian and military authorities in colonial Korea, but it seems that, in this moment, the military people have retreated into the background and the civilian leaders like Mr. Konishi have gained the upper hand.
Konishi calls upon Japanese residents in Korea to act responsibly, contributing positively to both their homeland and the new independent Korean state. He is confident that the rights of Japanese residents will be respected in a new humanitarian and civilized Korean state. He also touches on the practicalities of repatriation, like the handling of properties and belongings by trust companies and warehouses, and the limitations of transport capacity for returning all Japanese residents within the year. Konishi concludes by emphasizing the achievements of Japanese governance in Korea, such as infrastructure and financial systems, and expresses hope for a respectful and responsible transition period.
In the usual fashion, the editors at Keijo Nippo places positive, upbeat news articles adjacent to dark, serious news articles. This time, the ‘positive’ articles are about the reopening of ‘high-end entertainment establishments’ like restaurants, cafes, and comfort women services (kisaeng). This may have been a goodwill gesture by the colonial authorities to appease the angry populace and relieve social tensions ahead of the peaceful handover of power. For days after August 15, the civil unrest was apparently so intense that shops couldn’t open, but by August 27, the unrest had died down enough for shops to cautiously reopen, but there were still apparently not many shoppers who dared to ventured out to go shopping.
Note: These were challenging articles to decipher because of the poor state of preservation of the newsprint. There was a small section of the text that I just couldn’t make out, so I indicated this with ellipses. Sorry that I forgot to take a picture of the accompanying grainy news photo of shoppers gathered around a stall in a department store.
Gyeongseong (Keijo Nippo) August 28, 1945
On the Issue of Repatriation
By Haruo Konishi
August 15th. What is more to say about that day? However, what has been the state of Seoul, the capital of all Korea, in this past week? There are countless things that are truly lamentable. Do not panic! It is extremely important for us, as citizens of a great nation, to maintain our composure. But who were the very first ones to panic? Who were the ones to cause this chaos? Now is not the time to delve into that.
In this grave crisis, the responsibilities of the Governor-General’s office are indeed significant. How should they guide the 26 million people of the Korean peninsula? What should be done about the 1.2 million mainland Japanese residents in Korea? Maintaining public order and securing transportation and communication are absolutely crucial. Even if the transfer of power to the newly emerging state and its new government occurs peacefully, things like sorting office documents, clearing desks and shelves, and arranging for the handing over of lodgings are of least importance. The transfer of the city is often talked about in dramatic tales, but the transfer of the Governor-General’s rule is not just a matter of formality. There are much bigger issues at hand. I understand that the authorities are making great efforts, but they must not get things backwards.
In the future, it won’t be easy to simply dispose of the businesses, homes, and properties that over 1.2 million mainland Japanese residents in Korea have painstakingly developed over the past three to four decades.
On the other hand, what is the situation in our motherland? What about the food and population problem? The unemployment situation? The war victims? What if people from China, Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan, Sakhalin, and the South Pacific all repatriate to mainland Japan at once? There would likely be unimaginable difficulties. In addition to the country’s existing hardships…
…the Japanese people were supposed to, under the grand vision of the Emperor, play a key role in peace and contribute to cultural development by expanding overseas. But what should have been a matter of concern was if this, instead, led back to domestic repercussions, inevitably leading to a path of further misery.
In this sense, I believe there are many points we need to learn and adopt broadly. From this perspective, the mainland Japanese residents in Korea should hold their ground to the utmost extent, contributing not only to our motherland but also to the newly emerging state.
Various national policies will be established and implemented in the new state. However, the new state will undoubtedly be a civilized and humanitarian one, adhering to international standards of humanity, and not a barbaric state. Therefore, I firmly believe that there is absolutely no concern that the private rights of mainland Japanese residents in Korea will be unreasonably confiscated, trampled upon, or plundered. With this understanding and insight, I have been advising people around me not to panic, but to calmly observe and handle the transition. A few days ago, I read former Seoul University Professor Yasuda’s opinion in the Keijo Nippo newspaper and largely agreed with him, but I hope those in power will guide the people well. The Japanese people of Northern Korea repatriated in a state of confusion because Northern Korea became a battleground due to the Soviet Union’s offensive. This is completely different from the situation of the Japanese people in Seoul repatriating to mainland Japan.
The real estate properties of the repatriating people will be taken care of by a certain trust company, and their belongings will be stored in a certain warehouse. This is indeed commendable. However, this sounds to the people like they are being forced to hurry and repatriate. With this view in mind, they should be guided to stay and devote themselves to their livelihoods, showing great ambition and spirit, as it will likely be impossible to complete all repatriations within this year with the current transportation capacity.
Even if the Governor-General’s office is abolished, its residual duties must be managed, and some of them will likely be inherited by a future embassy or legation. It goes without saying that financial institutions and transportation and communication facilities must hold their ground until the end, ensuring as smooth as possible a transition of power, not just leaving things to “fate”.
There were considerable achievements during the Governor-General’s rule in terms of roads, ports, electricity, transportation, water resources, finance, etc. A certain Korean scholar said that it probably would have taken more than 200 years for the Korean people alone to achieve this much. Now is the most crucial time. This autumn is the time for us all to exercise self-restraint. (The writer is the Managing Director of Meiji Mining)
Towards a Brighter, Leisure-Focused Society
Relaxation of Restrictions on High-End Leisure Activities
Aiming for a return to a brighter society and life, the government is currently studying the removal of various restrictions imposed as wartime measures. As an immediate step, the full-scale lifting of the ban on high-end leisure activities, which was part of the “Decisive Battle Emergency Measures” implemented in March last year and further extended for a year this March, has been decided. Consequently, not only the opening of restaurants and cafés but also the employment of female entertainers and kisaeng is now permitted. Furthermore, authorities are also advancing their research on potentially freeing up special leisure sectors such as dance halls and cabarets depending on the situation.
Department Stores Struggle with Decline in Customer Foot Traffic
Reopening Since Yesterday
Since that day, various department stores had been completely closed, but they reopened their doors from August 27th. However, due to a lack of merchandise, the situation is such that, conversely, black markets have emerged in the city offering almost everything at high prices. Consequently, domestic department stores like Mitsukoshi, Chōjiya, and Minakai had fewer customers than expected on their long-awaited reopening, especially in food and textile sections which remained quiet. Only a few Western goods, cosmetics, and general merchandise were being sold to some extent.
Mitsukoshi, for instance, had been holding a swap meet for unnecessary items since the beginning of the month, which was suspended on August 16th, and exchanges were halted. But from August 27th, the retrieval of items resumed. As for the purchases of furniture and household goods of repatriating people by various department stores, which are reportedly to be organized by a certain mainland Japanese welfare association, there is no official word yet, so people are slowly bringing in items.
According to observations from various stores, there might be fewer items for sale now since so many were sold off at once previously, and the situation in the surrounding areas has somewhat stabilized, suggesting that there may not be a need to rush into selling. This could be why there are surprisingly few items up for sale. [Photo = At a certain department store]