Dehumanization in Colonial Korea, 1943: Branding Koreans as ‘just objects’ for ‘not understanding the blessings of Imperial Japan’ and labeling them as ‘hypocrites who are outwardly obedient, but inwardly rebellious in their hearts’

I’m posting here today to share a rather unsettling article from colonial Korea in 1943. It is timely, as this article was published almost exactly 80 years ago on June 19th, 1943. This piece details the activities of a Korean collaborator teacher named Mr. Ōhara. His actions during this dark period of history serve as a chilling reminder of the extent of Imperial Japanese indoctrination and control.

The article depicts Mr. Ōhara endeavoring to brainwash a group of young Korean girls at a textile factory, imposing upon them Imperial Japanese propaganda. The girls, some as young as 12 and 13 years old, were forced to speak only Japanese, identify as Japanese people, and pledge their loyalty to Imperial Japan.

Something peculiar and unsettling about this article is the warning it includes about “面従腹背” (menjū fukuhai), or hypocrisy. It’s a term that portrays people as being outwardly obedient, but inwardly rebellious. The usage of this phrase betrays an intrinsic distrust towards the Korean people and their loyalties, a skepticism that ultimately proved justified with the jubilation expressed by most Koreans upon Imperial Japan’s defeat in August 1945.

Furthermore, the article cruelly dehumanizes Koreans who resisted the Imperial Japanese identity, terming them “just objects”. This chilling rhetoric reflects the cold colonial attitude – those Koreans who resisted were no longer viewed as humans but as objects.

This article also has curious allegations that the Koreans were actually Japanese in ancient times. ‘Japanese-Korean Unification’ propaganda often contained such attempts to paint ancient Koreans as Japanese. In later propaganda in 1944, this ‘ancient Koreans = Japanese’ propaganda would develop into calling Koreans the descendants of Susanoo, the younger brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the ancestor of the Japanese nation (see Governor-General Koiso’s speech).

Mr. Ōhara, as portrayed in the article, is likely an ethnic Korean collaborator for Imperial Japan, with a narrative painting him as deeply influenced by his experiences at a teaching college in mainland Japan.

I must add a note about the ethics of posting such propaganda content. The intention behind sharing this distressing piece is not to sensationalize, but to bring to light a crucial part of history that is often buried or forgotten. It may be a controversial thing, but I believe that making such historical material accessible can help us grasp the scale of colonial injustices more clearly.

Regrettably, there is a dearth of English-language scholarship about the colonial period of Korean history, relative to the enormous wealth of primary source material that remains so poorly documented. As someone passionate about this topic, I aim to contribute to filling this knowledge gap, even if only a little, by posting these materials whenever I can. I believe this is crucial in providing a more nuanced understanding of Korea’s past, as painful as it may be.


Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) June 19, 1943

“Shame on hypocrites who are outwardly obedient, but inwardly rebellious in their hearts!”

Young workers were moved by Mr. Takeo Katō’s speech and bursting with patriotism

“We are Imperial Citizens!”

[Busan telephone report] Now that there are 25 million people in the Korean peninsula needing to integrate and become distinguished Japanese people among a nation of 100 million, there is a passionate young man who, along with many workers, fuels the fiery spirit of loyalty and dedication to work. This man is Mr. Keiichi Ōhara (32), who works as a labor affairs officer at the Busan Forestry Industry Company, Busan Factory in Jeonpo-ri, Busan. Invited to come to Korea by the Korean Federation of National Power, the visiting speakers, including the writer Mr. Takeo Katō, have sparked Mr. Ōhara’s patriotism into a raging torrent. Specifically, during the Busan speech, Mr. Katō advocated the unification of Japan and Korea as follows.

“Just 25 million Koreans cannot survive on their own. They must absolutely be with Japan. If Koreans show loyalty with such calculating feelings, that is not to be appreciated. Although the word Imperialization is being shouted these days, I don’t think Imperialization is the right word. The Koreans were Imperial people from the very beginning, but they subsequently became separated from Japan. Through annexation, they returned to the old ways. The sincerity of our Korean brethren must be pure loyalty that springs forth naturally. There is no other way to prove this feeling than through our mutual blood.”

Although his voice was low, Mr. Ōhara was strongly struck by how patiently and clearly Mr. Katō delivered his arguments with sincerity. Then, Mr. Ōhara jotted down his pent-up, boiling feelings in a letter and sent it to Mr. Katō, who was staying in Seoul. In his letter, Mr. Ōhara pledged his earnest oath to patriotism, lamented that a minority of the Korean people still have not become awake, expressed his joy for being born in Imperial Japan, and described the mental preparation that each person on the home front should bear in the decisive battle. Reading this, Mr. Katō said, “I am very happy to have found such a friend of passionate sympathies here. This is a great harvest from my coming to Korea,” he said with satisfaction. Thus, a passionate bond was formed between Mr. Katō and Mr. Ōhara, which was superior to any teacher-student relationship. Now, let’s take a look at Ōhara’s life, which is “always on the battlefield”:

When visiting the Busan factory of the forestry industry, you see that 140 to 150 working women (even though they are called working women, many are 12 or 13 years old) are working happily in front of their thread winding machines. These little female warriors are all daughters from poor families, and of course, they have not received schooling, but they speak excellent Japanese and live as Imperial people, attending one hour of lecture during lunch break everyday.

Leader Ōhara’s warm thoughtfulness as a company executive has borne fruit today. After touring the factory, he said, “I used to be an elementary school teacher, but due to family circumstances and connections, I have been involved in this factory for two years”. He continued to speak of his firm belief in the spirit of service at work as follows.

“These children (referring to the workers) are also among the 100 million of Imperial Japan. Those who cannot live life centered on the Japanese language will not possibly be able to understand the concept of the National Body. If you are a National Person and do not understand the blessings of Imperial Japan, then you are just an object. I was deeply moved by Mr. Katō’s speech the other day. Although my power is weak, I want to improve the qualities of those children as Japanese people as much as possible. They are sincerely united in their one-hour lesson each day. The method of education starts with Volume 1 of the reader and generally progresses to Volume 4 in a year. Through activities such as various ceremonies, military songs, sending and receiving brave soldiers who are dispatched, I let them learn what kind of situation our nation is facing now. While I was studying at Seoul Teachers School, I learned the true, beautiful virtues of the people of mainland Japan from the communal life in the dormitory, but I cannot help but feel uncomfortable when I think that there are still many Korean compatriots who dare to have dark feelings of hypocrites who are outwardly obedient, but inwardly rebellious in their hearts, without coming into contact with these beautiful virtues. My words may be a little exaggerated, but if I can serve the Imperial Movement somewhat through my current field of work, I am happy to become a cornerstone and devote my life to this cause.”

His speech becomes even hotter, and the enthusiastic spirit of the one who puts things into practice resonated strongly in his words. Eventually, the noon siren rang. The factory girls who came out from the work place offered silent prayers all at once. After a while, their lunch break ritual began. After Mr. Ōhara left for the education room, Mr. Yūhachi Katō, the factory manager, also said, “He is a very enthusiastic man. You can entrust him with everything. The workers’ desire to learn the Japanese language is beyond our imagination, and there has been no turnover of female workers since this system was established. Their performance has increased so much that the company executives are telling us to follow the example of the Busan factory in Korea.

At that time, the factory’s three teachings, “It is also a battlefield here!”, “Follow Admiral Yamamoto’s Example!”, and “If this hand relaxes, then its fighting power will also relax!” could be heard overflowing from the windows full of spirit by the girls chanting and repeating them every day at the end of their lessons. Behold the brave appearance of these lovely, fighting girls! They are also becoming a force which will cooperate in the construction of Greater East Asia. [Photo = Actual educational scene of Mr. Ōhara instructing the fighting girls at their workplace (censored by Busan Fortress Command)]


京城日報 1943年6月19日