It is April 1944, over two years into total war against the United States and Britain, and it is not going so well for Imperial Japan. Governor-General Koiso‘s office had made a big announcement on April 11, 1944 about plans to build Shinto shrines all over Korea in every eup (town) and myeon (township) that does not yet have one. This article is a follow-up speech by the colonial regime religiously justifying this action as a way to realize “the fusion of the Japanese-Korean family based on divine will”, and celebrating the lack of separation of state and religion in Imperial Japan. The speech calls upon every patriotic group leader to compel its group members to construct the shrines, all in spite of severe wartime material and labor shortages. It sounds crazy on many levels, but perhaps the superstitious war leaders thought that currying favor with the gods would somehow turn the tide in Imperial Japan’s favor.
Patriotic Groups (JP: aikoku-han, KR: aeguk-ban, 愛國班) were neighborhood cells which functioned as the local arm of the Korean Federation of National Power (国民総力朝鮮連盟, 국민총력조선연맹), the single ruling party of colonial Korea. Every Korean living in Korea belonged to a Patriotic Group. It typically consisted of a few households, led by a Patriotic Group leader, who normally acted as a mini-tyrant micromanaging the lives of everyone within the Patriotic Group. That included things like rationing food and goods, enforcing mandatory State Shinto prayer times and shrine visits, ‘volunteering’ laborers upon the colonial government’s request, arranging marriages, holding mandatory Japanese language classes, spying on ‘ideological criminals’, etc.
Koreans are immensely proud of their national and ethnic identity. Underestimating this was perhaps the critical mistake of the colonial authorities, who thought that maybe enough brainwashing and coercion would win the hearts and minds of the Korean people, and lead them to change their minds and become true Japanese people. But as we now know, the exact opposite happened. If anything, the mandatory shrine visits and other coercive tactics probably inflicted such humiliation and psychic trauma, that they radicalized an entire generation of Koreans into doubling down on their Korean nationalism, Christian faith, and anti-Japanese sentiments, the reverberations of which we still see today.
The issue of Shinto shrines is a particularly sensitive topic that can still evoke strong emotional reactions among both Japanese and Korean people. Many Japanese are still angry at the fact that the 1000+ Shinto shrines that were built in colonial Korea were all destroyed following the end of the war, starting with the Pyongyang shrine which was set on fire on August 15, 1945, the day Imperial Japan surrendered. Today, the only vestiges of the shrines in Korea are found in their ancillary structures, like the stairs. A statue of Kim Il-sung now stands on the former site of Pyongyang shrine.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) April 21, 1944
Cultivating faith in the central principle of unity
One shrine to be built in each eup (town) and myeon (township)
Broadcast by Director Kojima of the Faith Division of the Korean Federation of National Power
In view of the announcement made by the Governor-General’s Office regarding the policy and measures to rapidly realize the vision of one shrine in each eup and myeon, Mr. Shizuo Kojima, Director of the National Faith Division of the Korean Federation of National Power, made a broadcast from the Seoul Central Broadcasting Station at 6:30 p.m. on April 20, requesting the sincere cooperation of patriotic group members to fully construct shrines as soon as possible:
“The fundamental difference between our nation and other countries is that our nation is united in its government and religion, while other countries have their governments and religions separated from each other.
The unity of government and religion means that government and religion are under the control of a single person, and that the government manifests the spirit of the religion as it actually is. In foreign countries, the priest presiding over religion is a completely different person from the head of state, who is the sovereign of the political system. Government and religion take two paths: the government that rules the here-and-now is completely different from the religion that governs the afterlife, and the two are often thought of as being in contradiction with each other.
In our nation, the Sovereign Sumemima-no-Mikoto inherits the blood lineage of the Great Ancestral Goddess Amaterasu, and at the same time, inherits the lineage of the Amatsu-gami, which is why he is referred to as the Living God. This point is particularly important, and this is the reason why both government and religion are controlled by one person. In our nation, in terms of management roles, the Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet in politics, and the Chief Priest in charge of religious rituals. (abbreviated)
It is indeed a matter of great joy that the Governor-General’s Office has announced the policy and measures for the rapid realization of the goal of one shrine in each eup and myeon. In accordance with this policy, the Federation is making preparations for the training of shrine workers who will serve in this capacity.
These shrine workers are not to be limited to shrine service, but are to play a role in educating and guiding the people of wide regions in their national faith, and at the same time, they are to set annual events and conduct all their daily activities with a focus on the Gods, to have an attitude of living consistently with the Gods in life and death, and to rely on the Gods in joyous and sad times. I would like everyone to wash their hearts and minds in the Mitarashi River that flows out of the shrines’ forests, to clear their minds in the wind of the pine trees, and to bow before the Gods and pray for the prosperity of the nation, peace in their hometowns, safety in their homes, and good bodily health.
The Gods of our nation are the essence of harmony between god and man, and the religious festivals should be held not in a rigid manner, but with a sense of solemnity and harmony. If the Gods are confused with the demi-gods (half-mortal, half-gods), or if we keep them away at a distance by showing too much respect and solemnity, then that is against the will of the Gods. The cause of the current calamity is the separation of man from god, the separation of family from nation, and the spread of the ideology of materialism. The only way to be saved is to return to the Great Way of the Gods.
Japan and Korea have the same ancestors and the same roots. Their spiritual lives have a common origin from the earliest times, and their cultural processes are also on the same track. We must be aware that the fusion of the Japanese-Korean family based on divine will is going to be realized as it was in the past. We must grasp the true spirit of this fusion, and fix the situation in this world. The war situation is becoming more and more intense, but I believe that by following the Great Way of the Gods, by devoting ourselves to the cause of reverence for the Gods and the Emperor, by being faithful to our ancestors, and by thoroughly practicing our devotion to the Gods, day and night, we should be able to end this calamity in a timely manner.
I am keenly aware of the urgent need to cultivate the worship of gods and faith in the Emperor on the Korean peninsula, which lacks faith in the central principle of unity. Let everyone in the Patriotic Groups cooperate in the construction of the shrines as quickly and fully as possible. Together, let us hope that this will be realized.”