This is the second part of a two-part series. The first part is posted here.
The following is content from a Seoul newspaper published on November 1, 1945, two and a half months after Japan’s surrender in World War II and the liberation of Korea. Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo), the colonial era newspaper that had served as the main propaganda newspaper for the whole of colonial Korea from 1909 to 1945, was still publishing in Japanese as the national newspaper of Korea. The ethnic Japanese staff managed against all odds to retain control over the newspaper during those two and a half months, until they were finally forced to relinquish control to the Korean employees. These Koreans independence activists took over and subsequently continued the publication of this newspaper in Japanese with an avowed Korean nationalist editorial stance from November 2nd until December 11th, 1945.
However, before the ethnic Japanese staff was forced to leave, they were allowed to publish one last issue, dated November 1st, 1945, with the very last page dedicated to farewell messages that they wrote to the Korean people as a memento, in which they eloquently express their sad and conflicted thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, I found this last page in poor condition with big ink blots, gashes, and faded text, so it was very difficult to read them. Nonetheless, due to the compelling content of these long forgotten messages, I decided it was worth spending some time deciphering them as much as I could. There were seven different essays on this page with six different authors. Due to their sheer length, I shared two of the essays in the first part of this series, and I am sharing the five remaining essays in this post as I unlock this long forgotten time capsule.
There is a lot to unpack in these five essays, but since an in-depth analysis of this cross-section of the post-war Japanese psyche would probably require a dissertation, I will mostly let the words of the authors speak for themselves with some Wikipedia links added for convenience. But I think it will be fair to say that the thoughts and feelings of these Imperial Japanese news editors are extremely complex and defy any simple characterization. So, I’ll just comment on a few notable things about these essays.
One of the essays bids farewell to the Korean writers of the Korean Literary Association, a puppet of the colonial regime. The Korean Literary Association was founded in 1939 to nurture Korean writers to serve the colonial regime. The association encompassed both ethnic Korean writers who wrote in Korean and Japanese and ethnic Japanese writers who were residents of Korea and wrote in Japanese, and the works of both groups were considered to be ‘Korean literature’, regardless of how different their cultures and perspectives may have been. In this way, Korean literature of this era became heavily politicized to serve the political interests of Imperial Japan. The association published a literary periodical that was published in both Japanese and Korean, but by May 1942, the Korean language edition was discontinued in the name of ‘Imperialization’ and ‘Japanese-Korean unification’. In an earlier post, I covered the propaganda writings of three of these Korean writers: Yu Jin-oh (유진오/兪鎮午, 1906~1987), Choi Jae-seo (최재서/崔載瑞, 1908~1964), and Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈/李石薫, 1907~?).
In the postwar era, the three members’ lives took very different courses. Yu Jin-oh became one the early drafters of the South Korean Constitution, worked as a legal scholar and as a prominent conservative politician in South Korea for many years until his death in 1987. Choi Jae-seo continued his academic activities teaching English literature at South Korean universities until his death in 1964. Lee Seok-hoon was arrested by the North Korean People’s Army at the outbreak of the Korean War in July 1950, and his whereabouts are unknown to this day.
Another thing I noticed was the author of one of the essays: Katō Manji, who was born in 1890 and died in 1980. He describes himself as being the chief of the organization department of Keijo Nippo from 1942 to 1945. Doing a quick online search, I learned that, according to a 2008 Asahi Shimbun article, in at least 1941 and 1942, he was also working at the organization department of Asahi Shimbun newspaper in mainland Japan. His surviving family members provided some personal artefacts to Asahi Shimbun, which apparently included reams of directives from the military censors telling him what he was not allowed to publish. For example, one of the rules was “Don’t use the word ‘white people’ (白人)”. This suggests that the chief of the organization department was in charge of making sure that the military censor’s directives were being followed by the newspaper staff.
This post is a continuation of my ongoing exploration of the old newspaper archives from 1945 Korea that I checked out and photographed at the National Library of Korea in September 2023.
Ten Years of Living in Seoul: Recalling Some of My Memories
By Terada Ei
When I look back at my ten years of life in Korea, various memories naturally come flooding back. Especially for me, it is inevitable that I will feel deeply moved, since I spent one-third of my newspaper career here.
At Keijo Nippo, I spent the longest time in the Arts and Culture Department. Because of this, I became quite close to many Korean cultural figures, which I consider an unexpected but valuable gain. Although I was known as a bit of a sharp-tongued person, I do not recall making any enemies, which is my most significant impression from my life in Korea. It is regrettable that I cannot bid farewell in person to each of these individuals, but even if I don’t address each of them by name, I believe that in their hearts, there lies a friendship that will recall me from time to time.
My memories of the time when the so-called Korean Literary Association was formed are particularly profound. In the words that we used back then, Japanese and Korean literati came together as one to move forward. However, among my comrades of that time, some foresaw the inevitability of air raids in Korea and promptly evacuated to mainland Japan, while others quickly disappeared to Tokyo as soon as the situation worsened. When you consider that those were our leaders at that time, and that they were Japanese people, it goes to show that a person’s true worth is revealed in times of crisis. I vividly remember traveling to 24 cities throughout Korea to give lectures as part of the so-called New System Movement during the Literary Association days. After the Literary Association became the Literary Patriotic Society, I became somewhat estranged from the scene due to the situation within the newspaper office at the time and the aftermath of an illness.
It is with reluctance that I speak of personal matters, but I lost my only daughter in Seoul. She had always been frail since birth, but she had never gotten sick even once since coming to Korea. After graduating from girls’ school, she had become healthy enough to volunteer to assist with the Imperial Navy’s work. However, she fell ill with a mild case of bronchitis, but after four days in bed, she passed away unexpectedly in the early hours of December 29. The doctor who saw her then was both the first and last doctor that she saw since coming to Seoul. She was twenty-three when she passed away.
What I gained from my time in Korea are the cherished memories of the many friends that I made, and the only thing that I lost was my hope in life, which I lost with the passing of my daughter.
My wife and I will soon leave Seoul, carrying two backpacks and an urn of ashes. It is difficult to deny that our hearts are filled with a mix of joy and sorrow, a tumult of various emotions.
Farewell, Korea. Farewell, Seoul, and farewell, my friends. Please accept this as my last goodbye in print. (October 31, 1945)
The Creation of a New Culture
By Nakaho Sei
I recall the day I first met General Arnold of the military government. The scene at the military government office, with its Western-style white chalk building, the Oriental-style building in the backyard with its predominantly red colors reminiscent of Beijing’s Forbidden City, the American soldiers in khaki uniforms, and the crowd of Koreans in white traditional attire at the gate, formed a unique and unforgettable image in my eyes. From behind this scene, I could see the faint white smoke of burned documents rising into the sky. It felt like a symbol of the culture of tomorrow’s Korea.
Looking back, it occurs to me that, whether it be Confucianism, religion, or Oriental music, many elements that added brilliance to Japanese culture from ancient to medieval times came from the Asian continent. However, it was Korea that played the crucial role of being a “bridge” connecting the Asian continent and Japan. Indeed, it may be said that, rather than being a bridge, Korea cultivated many of the ideas born in China and India before passing them on to Japan.
Buddhism is an excellent example of this. Confucianism, especially Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism, was greatly developed in Korea by great philosophers like Yi Hwang. The remarkable flourishing of Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism in Japan during the Tokugawa era owed much to Korean Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism. If it is permissible to say that Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism was an ideological driving force of the Meiji Restoration, then the distant roots of the Meiji Restoration would have to be sought in Korea.
The world, especially in its entirety, has been ravaged by war and will be preoccupied with reconstruction efforts without much time for reflection. In East Asia, Korea suffered the least damage from bombings. From this perspective, Korea is now in a position to be a major nursery and source for the rebuilding of Greater East Asian culture… Korea is blessed with the opportunity to leave a significant mark on the cultural history of East Asia as a creator of culture.
From a geopolitical standpoint, there are various views about the Korean peninsula. However, looking at the map, Korea lies between China and Russia on the Asian continent, facing Japan and the United States across the sea. Korea should combine and refine the cultures of these neighboring countries to construct a new culture, an endeavor that must achieve significant results. Moreover, by nurturing Korea’s inherent culture, such as that of the Baekje and Silla kingdoms, we can look forward to the growth of an even better new culture. (October 31)
Through the Newspaper Pages
By Katō Manji
The desperate struggles of the defeated nations, beginning with the establishment of the Badoglio government in Italy and the subsequent occupation by British and American forces, and then spreading to France and the smaller Balkan countries, were tragic to the extreme. These stories, transmitted via foreign telegram, were reported in Japanese newspapers, though only in a limited fashion. Japanese wartime leaders also used these real-life examples to teach the lesson that we must “win at all costs.”
However, since August 15, Japan, as a “defeated nation,” a label it has borne for the first time since its founding, has faced an increasingly severe and cold reality day by day.
As the chief of the organization department (editor) of Keijo Nippo, I have been in Korea for about three years, starting around the time when the reports of the Guadalcanal campaign began. Since then, amidst the continuously deteriorating circumstances up to this day, I have devoted my modest efforts to newspaper production and publishing. Looking back on this, there are countless things I want to write and say, but my pen is heavy, and progress is slow.
Now, Korea is moving away from Japanese rule and gathering collective wisdom for the construction of a new nation. It is truly a moment of joyous uprising. I can’t help but celebrate for the young Korea. In contrast, we are gasping under the bitter dregs of defeat, returning to a chaotic and tumultuous Japan, sinking into the depths of agony. But let us not forget about “rebuilding Japan” and the task of rising from the depths, overcoming a thousand difficulties.
Due to my job, I never stepped out of the editorial office, let alone had the chance to do any inspections within Korea or make many influential Korean acquaintances. However, I am satisfied and take joy in saying goodbye, having known about 400,000 readers through the newspaper pages for about three years.
By Ōta Kōichi
The coldness of the desk, resonating with the warmth of the Indian summer outside the window, strikes my heart, reminding me that this is my last page as a reporter for Keijo Nippo.
Looking back, these days have been tumultuous, like being tossed in fierce waves. Even while attending press conferences at the military government office and witnessing the fresh stirrings of a new Korea being born, I was aware of the thinness of my own shadow. It was a lonely realization, but this was my last remaining duty and my greatest joy. Yet, today marks the end of my qualification to sit in that seat.
This April, I experienced two disastrous firestorms in Tokyo. Seeing sprouts emerging from the desolate burnt earth, I found myself shedding tears. Now, I must return to that scorched land, with a heart full of desolation and wandering thoughts, where the autumn wind now blows.
My current state of mind is like that desolate scorched earth. I am seeking sprouting light. I am certain that new sprouts of light are vigorously emerging in a new Japan. I must seek them out and nurture them to pave the way that we should follow.
Let’s go home. Farewell, beautiful city of Seoul. May there be light sprouts in your soil too.
By Ōnuma Chiyo
If my friend waiting in a thatched hut in Shinano asks me what I learned from Korea, I would spontaneously reply, “I learned the taste of kimchi.”
My time in Korea was spent in a short period suffering from catarrh, waiting to return to work and being overwhelmed by daily life. I had no leisure to explore the local historical sites, since I spent that time convalescing while reading the meager literature available.
Therefore, my life in this land felt empty, but one unforgettable thing that remained with me was the taste of kimchi. As I gradually became accustomed to its complex and varied flavors, it paralleled how I slowly assimilated into life in Korea. During that time, I became indifferent to the copious yellow dust and the pungent smell of garlic. The scent of the clay soil conveyed a sense of romance. The intense taste of kimchi served as a pleasant sedative to the intense emotions within me, leaving a lasting imprint on me due to its strength.
Though my time here was just over a year, I encountered an unfathomable rush of history. In my heart, which seeks to step into the world of contemplation, this significant event also provided a lesson that could be considered great in some sense.
In the remainder of my life, my heart will probably cherish the taste of kimchi with nostalgia, and hold an unbearable longing for the life I lived in this land for just over a year.