Imperial Japan had postwar plans to quadruple Japanese settlers in Korea to dominate the most technologically intensive industries, and suppress Korean access to higher education to quell ‘dissatisfaction’ (June 1943)

I recently came across two intriguing news articles from the Japanese colonial period of Korean history that shed light on the intricacies of the colonial government’s decision-making process. The goal was clear: they aimed to increase the number of ethnic Japanese people in Korea from 700,000 to a whopping 4 million to solidify Imperial Japan’s colonial control over Korea. However, their approach to achieving this was not without its contradictions.

While the officials wished to increase the number of college-educated Koreans to boost industrial production, they were wary of producing too many. An oversaturated job market could lead to a surge of unemployed college graduates, sparking potential discontent.

Simultaneously, the resettlement of educated Japanese into Korea was to provide staffing for the newly developed industries. Yet, they had to strike a balance as overpopulation of these industries could have led to staffing shortages back in Japan.

Furthermore, they faced a dichotomy in their approach to supporting businesses. On one side, there was a desire to extend aid to existing small and medium-sized businesses to ensure their survival (maintenance and nurturing), and on the other side, resources were to be expended to usher in new businesses (expansion).

The postwar immigration policy of the colonial regime, as discussed in these articles, would have seen the settlement of over 3 million additional Japanese people into Korea. Most would have been employed in the most technologically intensive industries, and a significant number of Japanese farmers would have settled in the Korean countryside. Consequently, educational opportunities and job prospects would have been far more limited for Koreans than for the Japanese settlers, exacerbating existing ethnic inequality and discrimination.

What is both revealing and disturbing is that the phrase ‘treated as Koreans’ from the text was indicative of mistreatment. This phrase underlines the generalized notion that Koreans were not treated well, and surprisingly, colonial officials openly admitted to this discrimination happening in Japan.

Interestingly, there are also depictions of Korean cultural practices, such as upper-class Koreans not smoking unless elders permit them to, not using the term ‘goodbye,’ and subordinates speaking to superiors while standing over them. As someone not intimately familiar with these traditions, I would love to hear from our Korean members about the accuracy of these descriptions.

I’m sharing these articles to provide some context to the complex dynamics of the colonial period and invite thoughtful conversation. As always, let’s keep exploring these issues.


Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) June 19, 1943

A real look into the Korean Peninsula at war

Roundtable discussion with executives at the Interior Ministry of the Governor-General’s Office (Part 5)

Take care to understand the differences in the customs of the upper-class households

Kōtaki Motoi, Director of the Production Bureau: In Korea, too, there are polite individuals in irritating households that have been brought up in Confucianism for generations. In such households, family members refrain from smoke in front of their elders. Unless explicitly given permission by their parents, children wouldn’t even dare smoke if offered cigarettes as guests. It seems such strict manners are prevalent in the upper-class households of Korea. But such customs do not permeate the entire society. Furthermore, these customs can be strikingly different from those practiced in mainland Japan. For instance, in my household, I employ a maidservant who, according to Korean etiquette, stands and speaks even when the master is sitting. In other words, the maidservant stands up to speak while looming over her master. After speaking, she kneels down, places her hands on the floor, and then leaves without uttering a goodbye, because it is deemed inappropriate to sit together with the master. It is strange, but a simple phrase like “goodbye” do not exist. When the conversation ends, Koreans just bow silently and leave.

Nakai Kazuo, a member of the Interior Ministry and the Parliament: Evidently, the cultural differences are immense.

Shiota Seikō, Director of Department of Rural Villages: As Nakai-san previously pointed out, there is a prevalent belief that uneducated Koreans tend to migrate to mainland Japan, creating negative sentiments among the Japanese. However, this is not entirely true. Many educated Koreans also move to mainland Japan. However, when Koreans go to mainland Japan, they are generally treated as Koreans. Then, when those Koreans return to Korea, they tell others that mainland Japanese are extremely outrageous and have a sense of superiority. That is why we need to distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones.

Mr. Nakai: Speaking candidly about the student problem, I think it may be necessary to dissuade Korean youth from attending specialized schools or higher, such as law schools. Especially now, competition is fierce since many people want to enter specialized schools or higher in mainland Japan. One must be very competent to be able to enter such schools, but the problem is what happens after graduation. For example, it’s quite difficult to be hired as a public servant regardless of whether you are Korean or Japanese. Dissatisfaction arises. Receiving a higher education may cause mental distress, and I think it may lead to very negative outcomes.

Director Shiota: Even if those with aspirations in technical fields go to schools in mainland Japan and acquire skills, when they return to Korea, there is a delicate issue in that the factories and mines in Korea are unable to accommodate them all.

Mr. Nakai: In fact, even in mainland Japan, we are now saying, “Close down the specialized schools or higher that are not directly useful for this war”. The trend is moving in that direction. Ideologically, I think it would be good to strongly recommend a vocational education to our Korean compatriots as much as possible. Before, I thought that it would be good to have the Koreans work in the fields of science and engineering and have Korea be developed mainly by the hands of Koreans. But hearing your story, Director Shiota, it appears that the situation isn’t that simple.

Yamana Mikio, Chief of the Documentation Division: We are focusing on giving the Koreans a practical education in junior high schools and below.

Morita Masayoshi, member of the Interior Ministry: There are 700,000 mainland Japanese and 24 million Korean people. Therefore, the 700,000 will have to lead the 24 million, but I think this number is small. Some people say that there must be at least 4 million mainland Japanese people on the Korean peninsula. Then, what are the strategies for increasing this number, and how should we proceed?

Mr. Nakai: I would like to approach this issue from the following perspective. The main theme of this provisional conference is enterprise reinforcement and production increase, with a particular focus on resolving the food shortage problem. I would like to further explore the relationship between enterprise reinforcement, the Governor-General’s Office, and its impact on the Korean peninsula, before proceeding to tackle the current problem…

Director Kōtaki: In Korea, there are no enterprises similar to those in mainland Japan, either currently or under planning. That is what I meant when I said earlier that Korea is still a child. Therefore, we are not considering tackling the issues that mainland Japan is thinking about in a big way. Labor issues are being seriously considered, but the primary labor sources in Korea have traditionally been the rural areas. Small and medium-sized businesses in Korea are not primary labor sources, and they are something that we need to advance from now on. But even if we try to reinforce the small and medium-sized businesses in Korea now, I don’t think that it will have much effect. Instead, we must expand the businesses, depending on what they are. Accordingly, the maintenance and nurturing of small and medium-sized businesses in Korea is what we have been doing so far.

Mainland Japan has alternated between the maintenance and nurturing phase and the reorganization phase, and as it enters the decisive stage of this great war, it is about to actively enter a reinforcement phase. In contrast, Korea has consistently been in the maintenance and nurturing phase from beginning to end, as the Governor-General’s Office says, but actual problems cannot be solved this way. A growing sentiment of discontent is emerging. (to be continued…)

Welcoming the Desired Excellence in Technology, Immigration of Mainland Japanese Farmers also Welcome (June 20)

Director Kōtaki: One of the compelling reasons for maintaining and nurturing small and medium-sized businesses in Korea is that the relatively large population of mainland Japanese people who come to Korea is engaged in such industries. We can’t easily rationalize and consolidate these, so we have been focusing on maintaining and nurturing them as before. However, this cannot continue indefinitely. For example, if the textile industry in mainland Japan is developed, then the flow of people from mainland Japan to Korea will drastically decrease. There is also a large proportion of mainland Japanese people involved in wholesaling. As the products handled by the wholesalers gradually decrease, there are concerns about wholesaling businesses imploding in various areas.

The production of daily necessities sold in Korea is still very scarce in Korea. We are heavily reliant on production in Osaka and other places in mainland Japan. If production in mainland Japan can’t keep up, then products will become even scarcer in Korea. At this stage, we are backed into a corner, so we need to do something and take some measures to support small and medium-sized businesses. That’s why we are preparing this budget. I can’t say that it’s the same for the whole industry, but as you know, the production of daily necessities is not enough today. We have aimed to make Korea an Asian continental military base. We consider this our mission, and in some respects, we are proud of it. In that sense, even small businesses in Korea will be run by mainland Japanese people. In the future, the lives of Koreans will become more Japanized, and the consumer goods consumed by mainland Japanese people and Korean people will become the same. Naturally, since there are transportation difficulties in sending daily necessities to the Asian continent, such as Northern China, Manchuria, or small places like Kwantung Leased Territory, we want each place to be self-sufficient. That’s why we want Korea to supply itself with everything on a comprehensive basis. From that point of view, the time for reorganization has not yet come, and a considerable number of industries have already relocated here from mainland Japan due to the urgent need in Korea. I think there are more than 200 firms that have already relocated here, but I think we still have to grow more. However, even if we manage to find the funds and labor necessary for growth, the raw materials cannot be readily procured from mainland Japan. That’s why we have to produce such raw materials in Korea.

Creating new factories will inevitably lead to idle facilities. However, it is also necessary use this opportunity to bring excellent technology from mainland Japan to Korea to make it a supply base for the Asian continent. Integration with excellent technology will be good for the businesses themselves. So it’s not that we don’t have to reorganize the industry at all. It’s just that I think that we still need to keep encouraging small and medium-sized businesses.

Mr. Morita: So, in conclusion, it’s going to be difficult to increase the number mainland Japanese people in Korea, who currently number 700,000?

Director Kōtaki: It’s difficult, but if possible, I want to bring excellent technology to Korea. Electrochemical industries and light metal industries are going to expand rapidly. By having everyone from middle-level technicians, public servants, high-level technicians to lower-level leaders come in from mainland Japan, I think the overall technology level of Korea will improve, so I think we need to continue to bring in more people.

Also in rural areas, it would be very good if we could settle more mainland Japanese people, but since the situation now is such that Korean youths are helping out with farming in mainland Japan, I think it may be difficult.

Director Shiota: Having farmers from mainland Japan come here for the expansion and improvement of agricultural productivity would be very good. Such models exist here and there. For instance, it has been over ten years since about one hundred graduates from Katō Kanji‘s higher elementary school settled in the area along the route from Seoul to Wonsan. Furthermore, about one hundred and fifty children are currently attending the higher elementary school. These people truly embody the spirit of hard work. They built their own fancy homes, apparently made of brick, by employing Chinese laborers while they themselves also worked and earned wages. Even the Chinese laborers were astounded and claimed that they were more skilled than themselves. [laughter] They are farmers who have a very developed hard working spirit.

There’s another instance of two brothers who received the same education and settled in a deserted mountain near Mount Kongō. Initially, when they started planting deciduous pine trees and corn on the mountain, the Korean people mocked them, questioning what could be achieved in such a place. However, nowadays, everyone is following their example and planting corn. Models like these exist in various places. The worst are the so-called ‘haori peasants’ who act like landlords and employ laborers for farming. They even buy their vegetables from the Chinese, so some of them are gradually becoming unsuccessful.

In Korea, there are quite a few immigrants who came through the Oriental Development Company, some of whom have been successful, while others have not. To name some recent outstanding cases, people from mainland Japan are coming to Korea and growing sweet potatoes. We thought the best yield in Korea would be about 200 kan [750 kg] per tan [~0.25 acre, ~0.1 hectare], but there are places in Gongju where the yield is 960 kan [3,600 kg]. Surrounding areas have all turned to sweet potato farming, and Chungcheongnam-do‘s sweet potato seedlings are in high demand. I believe that it’s better to bring in one mainland Japanese farmer to Korea than to bring in ten mainland Japanese technicians. That’s why I’m trying to bring in about 50 families of mainland Japanese farmers who have received an education like Katō Kanji‘s, but with the current situation, many farmers find it increasingly difficult to live in Korea and are leaving. There are various reasons, but young men are increasingly being drafted and dying in the war. If they stay in mainland Japan, relatives can somehow lend a hand, but here in Korea, there’s nothing they can do, so some of them return to mainland Japan. Regardless of whether bringing in young, vigorous individuals from mainland Japan would work or not, there is a considerable demand for mainland Japanese farmers to settle in Korean rural areas.

I recently visited a place where there were eight households of mainland Japanese farmers, nine of whom had soldiers who were conscripted for war. In one household, a 16-year-old child was all alone, making a seedbed. In one irrigation association district, it seems everyone is trying to help in various ways, but it still seems daunting. Even though good farmers have come, there’s no way to retain them. There is nothing better than to bring in mainland Japanese farmers, because it’s certain that things will improve this way. (to be continued…)


京城日報 1943年6月19日


























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