Imperial Japanese Army finally acknowledges Korea’s imminent independence just over a week after liberation (Aug. 23, 1945) with a jumbled announcement full of desperate denials, threats, and unconvincing reassurances to fend off Korean armed resistance

This is another fascinating historical article that I stumbled upon during my visit to the National Library of Korea a few months ago. This piece is a PSA by the Imperial Japanese military authorities addressing the Korean people on August 23, 1945, just over a week after Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945, which marked the end of World War II. This immediate ‘lame duck’ period after Imperial Japan’s surrender was one of uncertainty and transition, as the regime awaited the arrival of Allied forces to assume control. It’s worth noting that Soviet forces had already entered Korea by August 14th, but American forces did not arrive until September 8.

The regime’s radio broadcast on August 18th, just 3 days after surrender, was full of bluster with defiant threats to take military action against protesters, but this PSA one week later seems jumbled and confused despite its best effort to put on a brave face, as if the regime is suddenly unsure of how to address the Korean people. Readers at the time would have surely picked up on this and noticed that something was off, that the regime was not its usual confident, optimistic self. Its string of denials, threats, and reassurances no longer sound so convincing, given the regime’s diminished stature. The regime does its best to insist that it is still in charge of Korea, but even it has to acknowledge now that Korea is going to be independent soon. Its desperate denials about expropriations, repatriations, leaflets, and atrocities against ethnic Japanese people only seem to confirm the stark truth of those rumors.

To long-time Japanese readers of Keijo Nippo, reading this PSA would have been jarring and distressing. There are no longer calls to destroy the US and Britain, and there is even a sentence insisting that US and Soviet forces are “certainly not bandits”. The admonition that “Koreans should deeply realize that Korea will not become independent through war actions” only reveals to readers that Koreans are still waging an armed uprising against the regime. Their stern warning not to listen to the Committees for the Preparation of Korean Independence (조선건국준비위원회) essentially gives these committees free publicity, telling the entire Korean nation about their existence and only accelerating their political rise. The colonial regime is rapidly unraveling and fading into irrelevance before their very eyes, and a new and unfamiliar reality is suddenly setting in.

I have also included two articles that were placed adjacent this PSA, as if to lighten the mood with some optimism. One article is about the reopening of movie theaters, as if the newspaper is encouraging Koreans to have fun watching movies instead of fighting colonialists. The other article is about ethnic Japanese in Seoul still defiantly planting their urban gardens, even though their repatriation to Japan is in the horizon.


Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) August 23, 1945

Be prudent without any anxiety or hesitation!

The Korean Peninsula before the construction (of a new order)

Hearing from Colonel Gotō about the mindset of the people of Korea and Japan

Since August 15th, due to the sudden change in circumstances, there has been some disturbance among the Korean and Japanese people, which is gradually calming down due to strict punishment by the military authorities. The cause of the disturbance was a failure to accurately understand the current situation and being misled by mere rumors. The military authorities and the Governor-General’s Office have declared that security is being maintained, and are requesting a calm and composed attitude from the Korean and Japanese people in handling the new situation. The current situation is such that combat operations have ceased in accordance with the Imperial Rescript, and everything will likely be handled smoothly and peacefully according to the formal and rational ceasefire agreement made with the Allied nations. Some people are under the impression that Korea is already able to have an independent government, but Korea is still under Japanese rule, and Japan’s sovereignty remains unchanged. The issue of Korean independence will only come up after all negotiations concerning the Empire with the Allied nations are completed. Below, we will hear from Colonel Gotō of the Press Department of the Korean Military Administration about the current situation, and the mindset of the Korean and Japanese people in dealing with it.

Q: Various rumors are circulating, but what is the actual situation now?

A: According to the formal agreement between Japan and the USA, UK, USSR, and China in Manila, detailed agreements will be made for each place based on its local situation. All processes will be carried out based on these agreements.

Q: So Korea remains under Japanese rule until then?

A: Of course. Korea remains a part of Japan until the agreement is concluded, and it is a matter of course that Japan continues governing Korea. Hence, it is unacceptable for outsiders to interfere at this juncture. Some seem to think that Korea will become independent immediately and start governing from that day, which is a grave misunderstanding. Therefore, no orders should be issued by the Independence Preparatory Committees, and absolutely no one is to be involved with any of their social functions.

Q: However, it seems that some have played a part in expropriation mayhem.

A: The recent attempted expropriation incidents are nothing but banditry. There is neither the right nor basis for expropriations yet. Even among belligerent countries, personal properties are not to be touched. Even the US, at the start of the war, froze assets of Japanese residents but did not seize them. We have been abroad several times, and we cannot remember our personal property ever being seized. Of course, temporary occupation may be conducted for military purposes, but this does not apply to the situation in Korea.

Q: B-24 planes came and dropped leaflets the day before yesterday.

A: I do not think the content of the leaflets was particularly inappropriate. However, some of the wording used had a commanding tone, but they do not have the right to give us orders yet. Probably the translation was poor. We are not to take orders directly from them. We only take orders from His Majesty the Emperor. Therefore, they should negotiate with the Japanese government, and we will receive orders from our government.

Q: There were rumors of harm to mainland Japanese people.

A: That is an absurd story. Such perpetrators will be dealt with by the occupying forces, even if Japan does not take action. The world’s morality would not accept it. If such actions are taken, the situation will only become more complicated. The military exists to protect the lives and properties of civilians. There is a reason why the Imperial Rescript to endure the unbearable was issued. It is also the military’s mission to strike down such disruptive elements.

Q: What should be the attitude of Korean people at this time?

A: Koreans should deeply realize that Korea will not become independent through war actions and that independence has not yet been established. Currently, there are only talks about granting independence to Korea, but nothing concrete has been decided yet. Therefore, this autumn is a very important time for the people of Korea. They must carefully consider what actions to take. To make an analogy, even opening a small shop cannot be done in just ten or twenty days. Similarly, Korea will require a considerable process and time until independence. Disruptive actions or confrontations with foreign countries during this crucial period of construction may lose the trust of the Allied forces and could even make independence impossible.

Q: Have military families been repatriated?

A: Do not joke about such matters. Not a single person has been repatriated. However, some families of deployed soldiers who had been living in officers’ quarters for a long time have been returned home. This has to do with the intended purpose of the officers’ quarters.

Q: What should be the mindset of mainland Japanese people?

A: If they understand the above situation, there should be no reason to panic. I think it is questionable to only think about hurriedly repatriating. It is unlikely that Korea will declare war on Japan as soon as it becomes independent. They should demonstrate the composure of citizens of a great nation. Otherwise, they will only be laughed at by the world. There are two main reasons for causing anxiety among mainland Japanese people. One is the rumor that Korean insurgents might harm Japanese people. However, as said earlier, both Japan and the Allied nations are paying utmost attention to maintaining security, so there is no need to worry. If such an unfortunate incident occurs, it will be dealt with severely, either by Japan or by the occupying forces. The other is the fear that the occupying forces might cause harm, but it is unlikely that they would commit violence in front of international monitors, especially after the ceasefire. The US and Soviet forces are certainly not bandits.

Reopening of Movie Theaters

Citywide Simultaneously from August 25th

The permanent movie theaters within Seoul, which had been closed since August 15th, will reopen all at once on August 25th. In mainland Japan too, thanks to the Imperial mandate, entertainment institutions such as movies, plays, and other performances will resume nationwide simultaneously from the 25th, contributing to the brightening of national life.

Since the issuance of the major conscription, the entertainment industry, including movies, theaters, and other performances, voluntarily suspended their shows as part of self-restraint by the operators. Regarding the reopening of these entertainment activities, the Ministry of the Interior has been actively guiding and nurturing the reconstruction of a healthy and bright national life, and had been preparing a concrete plan for the reopening date and procedure. After discussions with the Information Bureau and industry representatives, permission was granted to reopen these entertainment facilities from the 22nd. Instructions to this effect have been sent to all relevant parties nationwide. At the same time, the restriction on performance times has also been temporarily lifted, allowing for evening performances without issue.

Repatriation to Other Places

Sowing Seeds of Hope in One Tsubo Gardens

People are not hurriedly uprooting vegetables from their one-tsubo (about 3.3 square meters) gardens because of rumors about repatriation to mainland Japan. They are harvesting summer radishes that have come into season for tonight’s meal and then sowing turnips and Chinese cabbages to eat in the fall. Someone was seen doing this on August 21st in the evacuation ruins of Kōgane-machi [area immediately to the east of present-day Euljiro 1(il)-ga station].

They have lived in the Korean peninsula for thirty years, built their home here, made Korean acquaintances, and have come to think of the growing beauty of the streets of Seoul as their own family’s glory. Even today, the streets of Seoul remain their city, and the talk of repatriation to mainland Japan sounds like just some traveler’s tale. The reason they dug air-raid shelters together with Koreans during enemy air raids and endured long periods of inconvenient lighting restrictions was all for the love and protection of the beautiful city of Seoul. It is uncertain whether the Governor-General’s Office of Korea will yield its political power after three months or six months as part of the ceasefire treaty, but on the day when Korea steps forward under a new order, the hearts of these people who has loved the Korean peninsula for thirty years will not change.

“I do not feel like returning to my homeland even after the reconstruction of the Korean peninsula is complete, but even if I did go back, someone in Korea would eat these vegetables,” said the person with the hoe, wiping sweat while sowing turnips in the post-evacuation vegetable garden.


京城日報 1945年8月23日