This is a typical piece of what I might call a ‘stunned Korean’ propaganda story – a Korean travels to mainland Japan for the first time and is stunned by how ‘superior’ Japan is compared to Korea. Articles covering the trips of Korean comfort women to mainland Japan also follow a similar pattern. Given the similarities of these flattering comments to each other, we could surmise that the interviewed Koreans already knew what kinds of answers the colonial interviewers were expecting to hear.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) April 26, 1944
The key is sincere service
Let’s follow the example of veterans aid in mainland Japan
During the week of veterans aid, we must extend a helping hand to the families of fallen soldiers and to the wounded soldiers to sincerely provide them with warm support, so that they no longer have to worry about the future. We should be pleased to know that Korea, which is known as a patriotic peninsula, contributes a considerable amount of money to the military towards the national defense fund. However, why are contributions to the veterans fund so small in comparison?
When a ritual to honor orphans of veterans families was held at the Seoul National Protection Shinto Shrine, there were only a few visitors excluding the staff members. It was a lonely affair for the head of the train station to receive the remains of the second-class heroes who were born on the Korean peninsula. Herein lies the problem that we must reflect on and wipe out our mistakes. The Korean peninsula must become a “home for soldiers,” a place of honor for many, by implementing conscription starting this year. This is definitely not someone else’s problem.
Veterans aid is not something that can be solved with money and material goods, but rather with sincere service and heartfelt support. During the week of veterans aid, writer Nobuyuki Tateno, who happened to be in Korea to cover the biography of a Korean second-class special volunteer soldier, sent the following heartrending memoir to the Korea Armed Forces Press Department on March 24. It is a piece of writing that those in leadership positions must read along with those in training to provide veterans aid. [Photo: Mr. Tatsuno].
Mr. Nobuyuki Tateno’s Memoir
It was on November 21 of last year that the family of Private Captain Moon Am (문암/文岩), who had been honored to serve as a second-class hero, was notified by his original unit via the myeon township office that they should come to retrieve his remains. His hometown was Sinbu-myeon, Seoncheon-gun, Pyeonganbuk-do. It was a Sunday, and there was no one at the township (myeon) office or at the county (gun) office. So they were at a loss as to what to do. No one was willing to accompany them.
Although Captain Moon Am’s father, Hang-jun (항준/恒俊), was a poor farmer, he had graduated from Normal School (elementary school) in the old days and could speak Japanese. So he decided to go by himself without relying on anyone. He took the 12 o’clock train that night, accompanied by his wife, Gok-on (곡온/曲媼), who could not speak Japanese, and a younger son who was still in the sixth grade at National School (elementary school). Even though he could speak Japanese, it was Hang-jun’s first time in mainland Japan. When he thought about going all the way to [redacted], he was anxious about the difficulties that they would face along the way.
After spending one night in Busan, they boarded the ship and each received two loaves of bread for lunch. When Hang-jun saw that his younger son was hungry on the ship, he shared a loaf of his own bread with him, while he himself made do with only a small loaf of bread. When they arrived in Shimonoseki in the evening, they were getting hungrier and hungrier. But as they were trying to figure out where to go to eat, two soldiers whom he had met on the ship took pity on them. Apparently, they were soldiers from [redacted] who were going back to their original unit. The soldiers took the child and his mother to Shimonoseki to look for food.
In the meantime, Hang-jun watched their luggage, including the soldiers’ luggage. Even though he had nothing to eat, the soldiers’ simple kindness touched his heart so deeply that he forgot about his hunger. After a while, the soldiers returned with his wife and child. It appeared that they had found food with difficulty. With some guidance from the soldiers, Hang-jun and his family took the train again, and changed trains at Osaka station.
However, the child became hungry again, so they got off the train at Tsuruga to get some food. They walked all over Tsuruga in search of food, but were unable to find any in the unfamiliar city. So, they got on the train again. A middle-aged Japanese woman, who kindly gave them a seat on the train, saw Gok-on in her Korean clothes and asked her, “Where are you going, and to do what?”
Hang-jun told her that they were actually going to their deceased son’s original unit in [redacted] to pick up his remains. The lady said, “Oh, I see,” and got up and bowed politely to Hang-jun and his family with a reverent look on her face and said, “Thank you for your hard work”.
Mr. Hang-jun was struck by this. The ladies in mainland Japan, even the ordinary ladies in the third-class cars, were so polite and respectful, and their attitudes were also admirable. He plainly felt, this is why Japan is so strong in war.
In the morning, soon after dawn, he looked out the window of the train and saw a farmer’s wife in the rice paddy, wearing a white hand towel on her head and harvesting rice around the field. Hang-jun tugged on his wife Gok-on’s sleeve and said,
“Look! All the women in mainland Japan work like that from early in the morning, doing the work that men do. Japan is strong in war, because their women are so diligent. Compared to this, what have the women of the Korean peninsula been doing? Only the men go out to work in the fields, while the women are playing around indoors. This is a disgrace! Unless all the women in Korea learn from the women in mainland Japan, Korea will not improve.”
For two days, Hang-jun and his family ate almost nothing. However, Hang-jun was filled with pride when he saw for the first time that the customs in mainland Japan were not in the least bit disorderly. Instead, they were orderly, calm, and composed, even in the midst of a fierce war. He felt so much pride about it that he even forgot that he was hungry. From Hang-jun’s perspective, it was also astonishing that not a single policeman was to be found patrolling at any of the train stations in mainland Japan.
When they turned up at their deceased son’s original unit, they were given proper accommodation, and Hang-jun and his family were able to relax there for the first time. After receiving his deceased son’s remains and being escorted off, Hang-jun and his family were loaded into a second-class train car and started their return trip home. When changing trains in Osaka and Shimonoseki, the stationmaster led the way. The stations in Osaka and Shimonoseki were crowded with people. However, when Hang-jun carried his deceased son’s remains, led by the stationmaster, the crowd quickly split to the left and right, and everyone stopped and saluted at the same time. Even the military officers stopped and saluted, and the police patrol officers also saluted.
Hang-jun was amazed to see such controlled and dignified salutes in mainland Japan. Although his son had died, he did not regret it in the slightest. He felt a sense of pride in his heart, knowing that his son had given his life honorably as a Japanese national and as a Japanese soldier to His Majesty the Emperor. Mr. Hang-jun held on to this pride until he arrived at the train station in his hometown of Seoncheon.
But what did he see at the train station? He had sent a telegram, did he not? Or perhaps he had typed the telegram incorrectly? There no one who greeted him at the train station, and the foot traffic was disordered and crowded as usual. Not only did the crowds not make way for Hang-jun, who was carrying his deceased son’s remains in his arms, but Hang-jun was pushed into the crowd and crushed mercilessly. Seeing the ignorant and disorderly crowd, Hang-jun said,
‘Why are the people of the Korean peninsula so backward?’, finally coming to this realization and crying out in shame. As Hang-jun just realized then, the people of the Korean peninsula are still very backward.
So what should we do when their remains arrive? What should we do for the families of the deceased soldiers? We must take them by the hand and patiently explain things to them so they understand. I don’t know whether the Governor-General’s Office or the Korean Federation of National Power will come up with a concrete plan, but we must come up with a plan as soon as possible and put it into action.
In particular, provinces (do), counties (gun), towns (eup), and townships (myeon) must take action. Otherwise, the pride that Hang-jun felt in his heart when he went to receive his son’s remains would be distorted in some strange way. The pride that Hang-jun held in his heart is precious. He has truly gained this pride by losing his son, by having his son’s blood spilled.
In particular, conscription is being implemented on the Korean peninsula, and there are many young men who are currently undergoing their draft examinations, eager to become second-class soldiers. It is clear that in the near future, there will be many dozens, or even thousands of second-class soldiers like Captain Moon Am. In view of this, the Governor-General’s Office, the provinces, and the Federation must be fully informed of the actual situation, and provide guidance to the counties and townships regarding the proper way to interact with the honorable bereaved families of fallen pioneer second-class soldiers. This is a major task that requires urgent attention.
It would be a problem if the bereaved families were to have even the slightest doubt so as to ask, ‘What did my son die for?’. There are still no plans to build ‘loyal soul’ monuments to the three captains whom I have accompanied.
(Written while staying in accommodations in Seoul on April 24th)