Imperial Japan waged an aggressive Japanese language campaign on Korean villages in the ’30s and ’40s, entering homes to attach Japanese labels on household objects, putting residents under 55 in mandatory classes, applying an “unyielding whip” to “break down their customs and stray dreams”


This article from Japan-occupied Korea in 1943 describes an aggressive Japanese language campaign that was conducted in Korean villages in the 1930s and 1940s, with one village, Guri-myeon, highlighted as a successful model for the rest of Korea. Today, Guri-myeon is now Guri-si and its adjacent Donggureung mausoleum appear to have been swallowed up by the urban sprawl of Seoul.

(my translation)

Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) August 6, 1943

Patriotic peninsula in excitement over conscription
Japanese language engraved in all villages

The shining well-being of Guryong-myeon

The conscription system has been strictly enforced in the peninsula with glory and joy, and it has become an urgent issue that the whole peninsula must achieve excellent results in this brilliant system. The basis of this system is the need for the people of the peninsula to be rapidly transformed into true imperial subjects. As the first step in this process, understanding the Japanese language is of the utmost importance. The young men who will go to war as members of the Imperial Military in the next year are being trained with sweat and fervor in their hearts, but the peninsula in general must ceaselessly work hard not to be surpassed by these young men. All sides are now frantically rushing into a fierce campaign saying, “It is the Japanese language! All Korea should rise up to fully understand the Japanese language!” There is a beautiful patriotic village that is making a concerted effort to follow the example of this Japanese language movement.

If you go east from Seoul along the Gyeongchun Road for a while and pass Manguri Cemetery, you will come to Guri-myeon, Yangju-gun, a green farming village that has been cleaned of the dust of the city. This is the village that took the initiative early on in the campaign for the regular use of the Japanese language, pouring their shining efforts in preparation for the military draft. As soon as you step into the village, you will see the slogans and signs of the Japanese language campaign written in Japanese kanji, Japanese kana, and Hangul on signboards, gates of farmhouses, and pillars, such as “Start with the Japanese language for Japan and Korea to unify”.

It’s not just slogans and signs. If you take a step into a house in the village, you will find that everything is written with Japanese furigana, such as “wall,” “pillar,” “clock,” “hoe,” and so on, with explanations in Hangul, such as “this is a wall,” “this is a pillar,” “this is a clock,” and “this is a hoe”.

In this village, they call this teaching method the “Wall Reader” to promote the understanding of the Japanese language through hands-on education. However, it took a lot of careful planning and painstaking efforts to bring this complicated educational movement to fruition today.

Dongchang-ri, Guri-myeon, a model village, is located at the entrance to Donggureung, the site of the royal mausoleum of King Taejo of Joseon and his successors. Most of the villagers lived lives of idleness serving the mausoleum in the days before the annexation of Korea to Japan, and their customs lasted long after the annexation. As it was not easy to awaken into the new age when they were still dreaming of the idleness of the past, at one time they became a delinquent village outside of any administrative control due to the ineffectiveness of the government’s guidance, to the point where descended through idleness into a pit of poverty with the vicissitudes of time.

However, with the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident in 1931, the movement for the promotion of rural areas was vigorously stirred up in 1932, and the warm hands of the fervent spiritual mobilization movement were extended to these delinquent villages. The unyielding whip of welfare was applied to the stubborn villages, so that the villagers tended to wake up one by one from their dreams of idleness.

At this time, the events of the Second Sino-Japanese War strongly pulsed in our ears, and the leaders held many meetings, lectures, and round-table talks to inject the significance of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Holy War from all angles, and started a fierce movement for the imperialization of the country through school children. The current mayor of the ward, Mr. Yoshikazu Kido, took the lead giving beneficial guidance in this movement, and through his dedicated efforts, he succeeded in breaking down the customs and stray dreams of the village and reforming them. The Second Sino-Japanese War soon developed into the Greater East Asia War to defeat the United States and Britain. Upon seeing the results of the various battles, the villagers came to truly see themselves as imperial subjects. We have traversed many difficult paths to reach this point, considering that we expended an all out effort towards imperialization.

The core of the movement for the imperialization of Korea was the movement for the regular use of the Japanese language, but at first, the unawakened villagers made the myeon leaders and school principals suffer a great deal of hardship. Now, after four years of painstaking efforts, we have been rewarded with the results of this language training, and even the illiterate women of the village, who could not read a single character, are now able to understand Japanese katakana.

It is the pride of this model village that there is not a single man or woman from school-age children to 50-year-olds among the 16,000 people of Guri-myeon who does not understand the Japanese language.

The two men taking the lead are Mr. Aomatsu the myeon leader and Mr. Takayama the principal of Inchang Elementary School, and they have been working tirelessly to provide guidance. The painstaking work that these two leaders have put in can be traced back as follows.

Based on the firm belief that “without an understanding of the Japanese language, there can be no all-out national movement,” a leadership consultation conference was held among the leaders of the village offices, schools, police stations, financial associations, etc. As a result, the first thing they did was to set up academic training centers at five locations other than Inchang Elementary School. 1,200 children who have not graduated elementary school were housed in these academic training centers, and the young men of the village acted as instructors in embarking upon service education. On Wednesdays it was the turn of the boys group, and on Saturdays it was the turn of the girls group – both groups continued their earnest studies in two hour sessions. On the second Saturday of each month and on the 25th day of the month, a joint class was held at Inchang Elementary School, where the first year was spent learning vocabulary and the second year was spent learning conversational skills.

Not satisfied with merely teaching, officials have been actively encouraging and practicing the regular use of the Japanese language by doing things such as: 1. Attaching labels with the names of household items written in Japanese, 2. Placing Japanese slogans at required places, and 3. Having them agree to say simple words, such as greetings, all in Japanese. Officials gave teachers a monthly reward payment of 10 sen, and the village offices also gave priority distribution of kerosene to the language class sites, and designated the “Houses of the Japanese Language” as a model for the villagers to encourage them to continue their lofty endeavors. The process of Japanese language training continues to this day, and there is a night meeting for Japanese language training held in the community workshop of the village.

Those who gather there are divided into three groups according to their memory abilities: from 8 to 15 years old, from 16 to 20 years old, and from 31 to 55 years old. The young men in the village who are well versed in the Japanese language serve as teachers and give detailed guidance. Upperclassmen and graduates of the Elementary School always provide thorough instruction to women from ordinary households. In addition to holding occasional “speech presentations” at the workshop, efforts are being made to have the children of the Elementary School and the villagers use the Japanese language as much as possible, so that they can memorize and become familiar with as many words as possible.

This campaign for the regular use of the Japanese language has led to the complete rehabilitation of the village. Today, the village is working together to develop an all out comprehensive campaign for all men between the ages of 14 and 60 and all unmarried women between the ages of 14 and 25. A national labor corps was formed, and it is yielding good results. Savings are also booming. Today, Guri-myeon is a beautiful, patriotic model village that is taking giant steps toward producing true imperial subjects, cooperating in crime prevention and building a village without a single criminal record in preparation for conscription, and making great strides in hygiene. Photo: Nighttime Japanese language class for women at the Elementary School.

(my transcription into modern Japanese orthography with punctuation marks modified and added for clarity)


昭和十八年八月六日 京城日報