“Koreans need to assimilate with the Japanese people as soon as possible … There is no other way. This is also the path to our boundless happiness as Koreans!” said Imperial Army veteran 신태영 in 1943 memoir, who later became Minister of National Defense of South Korea and is now buried at Seoul National Cemetery

As Koreans, we have been given the new mission of becoming subjects of Imperial Japan, uniting completely with the Yamato (Japanese) people, focusing on Japan to develop, protect, and nurture East Asia. To fully fulfill our mission of sweeping away the gloomy atmosphere of today and achieving renewal, it is imperative that we assimilate with the Yamato people as soon as possible and become completely like them. There is no other way. This is also the path to our boundless happiness as Koreans.

This quote is from a 1943 memoir written below by a prominent Korean collaborator who was in the Imperial Army for over three decades, rising up to become Lieutenant Colonel in the Imperial Army by the 1940s, and then somehow became Lieutenant General in the South Korean Army and Minister of National Defense of South Korea in 1952 and was eventually buried with honors in the Seoul National Cemetery.

It seems baffling and absurd to me that someone who explicitly pledged allegiance to Imperial Japan and renounced his Korean identity could become a high-ranking government official of the Republic of Korea and be honored at its national cemetery. In the memoir, the future South Korean minister declares that Koreans need to assimilate with the Japanese people and become completely like them. He describes how he transformed from a pure Korean into a fully-fledged Yamato person during his decades-long career in the Imperial Japanese Army. The entire memoir reads like a long, passionate ‘love letter’ to Imperial Japan, where his disdain for the Korean nation and his Korean ancestors is quite palpable. So why is he still honored at South Korea’s national cemetery alongside the graves of Korean independence activists?

There is one Korean news article that discusses this very issue, and one Korean journalist posted a YouTube video of himself visiting the actual grave of the collaborator at the cemetery, expressing his disgust at the situation. Angry comments on the video call for the grave to be dug up. But the video has barely gained any traction online, garnering just over four thousand views in four years. The Korean media seem to be aware of the existence of this memoir in the colonial newspaper, but the actual text of the memoir had not been transcribed or translated beyond the headlines until now.

The author of the memoir was Shin Tae-young (신태영) (his original Korean name) or Hirayama Hoei (平山輔英) (his adopted Japanese name). It was published on the front page of the November 17, 1943 evening edition of Keijo Nippo, the national newspaper of colonial Korea and a propaganda mouthpiece of the Imperial Japanese colonial regime that ruled Korea from 1905 to 1945. The colonial newspaper dedicated over half of the front page to this memoir, indicating the importance the colonial regime attached to it to reach as many Korean readers as possible.

In his memoir, Hirayama describes how he trained and served as an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army for three decades, recounting the hardships he endured to fully assimilate into Japanese culture and prove his loyalty to Imperial Japan. He advocates for military training in Korean schools to instill Japanese spirit and discipline, reflecting the views of other ethnic Korean Imperial Army officers like him, including South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. He saw the Japanization of the Korean nation as the only way to revitalize it and counteract the perceived cultural and ideological decay among the Korean people.

Can you think of any other instance where a person renounces their ancestral country in writing and through service with a military of a foreign country that tried to erase their ancestral country, then later becomes a government official and high-ranking military official of that same ancestral country, and is buried with honors in its national cemetery? To me, it seems quite paradoxical and unjustifiable.

Note: “Yamato people” refers to ethnic Japanese people throughout the memoir. There is a second part to this memoir which was published on November 18, 1943, in which Hirayama mainly goes on to scold Korean families for being reluctant to send their sons off to war, and severely criticizes the Confucian values of Korean culture. If there is interest, I will attempt to decipher and publish it online.


Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) November 17, 1943

Memoir by Imperial Army Lieutenant Colonel Hirayama Hoei, an ethnic Korean (Part 1)

Korean students! Do you not want to feel life and live it to its fullest?

Grasp the iron will!

The destination of our first expedition was Yasukuni Shrine

Recently, the Temporary Recruitment Regulations for Special Army Volunteers in Korea were issued, which gave me the occasion to look back on the past and observe the present. As I did so, something filled me with deep emotion. I sighed with relief, feeling both reassurance and satisfaction. Yet, at the same time, I harbored secret worries.

As an officer of the Imperial Japanese Army, reflecting on the situations and experiences I have encountered over thirty years of military life, I compare today’s circumstances and discover a vast light for the future of the Korean peninsula. My thirty years of effort and hope, crystallized from my blood, have not gone in vain. Now, before my eyes, they have materialized, bringing unparalleled honor and pride to our peninsula. Will the modern Korean youth properly reflect on the past, squarely face the present circumstances, feel this honor, and firmly grasp this light? Will they eagerly come forward, as if to say they have been waiting for this moment, and volunteer without exception? This is my concern. I observed their general behavior with the greatest expectation and interest.

It was a long time ago in 1908 when I crossed over to Japan with great hope and ambition, leaving my homeland behind, for the first time to study in the Imperial Army. It was right after the Russo-Japanese War. Korean politics were extremely chaotic, the general level of cultural maturity was very low, and the thoughts of the general public were confused and unsettled. Moreover, the atmosphere between Japan and Korea was genuinely gloomy, casting a shadow over Korea’s future.

In such an environment, my 17 classmates and I, along with 26 students from the next batch of students, aspired to the Imperial Army and crossed over east to Japan to study at the Imperial Army Cadet School. Of these comrades, ten returned home influenced by the times and the ideological turmoil, while the remaining stayed and graduated in the first batch in 1914, during the fifth year of Korea’s annexation. Our group of 13 and the following year’s 20 graduates totaled 33. We were assigned to various divisions nationwide as apprentice officers, and in December of the same year, our group of 13 was commissioned alongside our fellow Japanese graduates.

Our treatment in the military was absolutely non-discriminatory. The guidance from our superiors was extremely kind and meticulous. Our colleagues interacted with us with the utmost sincerity, and our subordinates willingly obeyed us from their hearts. At that time, this treatment of Koreans was an extraordinary privilege and an extreme honor. However, beneath the surface, there were many other viewpoints. Questions lingered, such as whether these Koreans, who had studied in the Empire and become officers, truly possessed the Yamato (Japanese) spirit, fully demonstrated it, and could risk their lives in actual combat. Could they train Japanese soldiers?

The military has many classified matters; would they demonstrate the military spirit and faithfully protect these secrets? Such concerns were deeply latent. Accordingly, we faced many trials depending on the circumstances. Reflecting quietly on these events, it was natural given that Japan and Korea had only just unified, and the general level of cultural maturity was still very low, with the thoughts of hte people not yet unified. However, humans are emotional beings. It is normal for them not to consider the natural course of events as natural. I, too, did not voice it but felt much distress and discomfort in my heart. Given our situation at that time, it could be said that it was also natural to feel this way.


However, when I began to think calmly, I realized that the state Korea had fallen into was not our fault. This was all the fault of our ancestors. Nor was it Japan’s fault. Far from being at fault, Japan had actually saved Korea. If Japan’s hand had not reached out, Korea would have inevitably fallen into the hands of either Russia, the United States, or Britain. This conclusion led me to discover a causal connection and to firmly consolidate my belief.

We were born in Korea, a corner of East Asia, with an ancient history and a high culture, living as a large, unique community as Koreans. However, for many years, our nation had been ignorant of the trends of the world, becoming superficially ostentatious and weak, internally corrupt to the extreme. We were destined to be swallowed up by Russia, the United States, or Britain sooner or later. If that had happened, far from being an officer of Imperial Japan, I would now be a slave of those nations. If I didn’t become their slave, it is doubtful whether I could have even survived.

How could that have been acceptable? Japan and Korea are of the same civilization and race. Moreover, Japan possesses a national polity unrivaled in the world, having shaped a history of three thousand years. The mission entrusted to the Japanese people as human beings is to use their God-given abilities to the fullest on the stage of East Asia, contributing to the development of human culture, especially the welfare and progress of the East Asian peoples. As Koreans, we have been given the new mission of becoming subjects of Imperial Japan, uniting completely with the Yamato people, focusing on Japan to develop, protect, and nurture East Asia. To fully fulfill our mission of sweeping away the gloomy atmosphere of today and achieving renewal, it is imperative that we assimilate with the Yamato people as soon as possible and become completely like them. There is no other way. This is also the path to our boundless happiness as Koreans.

To achieve this, today’s Koreans must fully embody the spirit of the Imperial Way, possessing the complete Japanese spirit, and demonstrating the ability to act as Imperial people. I, now having the opportunity to become an officer of the Empire, recognize my mission is not just to fulfill my responsibilities as an officer but also to shoulder the responsibilities of all Koreans.


I am now being tested at an extraordinary crossroads. My every move as an officer of the Empire directly reflects the future of all Koreans. I must be a fully-fledged Yamato person and set a splendid example, demonstrating that there are Koreans who have become Yamato and instilling the belief that Koreans can also become Yamato people. My belief is that, if I can do this, the gloomy atmosphere of today will be swept away, and a clear air will prevail.

For thirty years, I have lived a blood-soaked life of effort, striving to cultivate my character as a Yamato person, working to complete my given duties, and enlightening my fellow Koreans, especially the younger generation. If a Japanese person studied for one hour, I studied for five or ten hours. When I thought the tasks assigned to me were too heavy compared to my abilities, I worked tirelessly to complete them, forgetting both rest and food. For me, it was more about the efficient use of time than about talent. For more than twenty years, I formed a family, but I had no time to look after it. That has been my life.

Even if I write these things, the true hardship and effort involved are unimaginable to anyone but myself, who has experienced and carried them out. Becoming a complete Yamato person as a Korean is not easy. In the summer of 1918, I was promoted to lieutenant three years and eight months after being commissioned as a second lieutenant. A month later, I received orders for mobilization and was sent to Siberia. It was my first deployment. The time had come to demonstrate my dignity as both an officer of the Empire and a Korean. A soldier must face actual combat to prove his worth. It is only after experiencing the baptism of bullets that a person’s true value is revealed. No matter how much a Korean, born to ancestors who had drifted into superficiality and decay, claims to possess the pure Yamato spirit and to be Japanese, without actual achievements and evidence, who would trust them?

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allowed me to prove that I, a Korean-born person, could truly grasp the Yamato spirit and be pure Japanese. However, I did have personal concerns. My father had passed away half a year before my graduation from the military academy, leaving only my mother and one younger brother at home. Since my commission, I had only returned home once on leave, and I had no idea about the state of my household. There were many unresolved matters that only I could handle. The number of family issues remaining was considerable.


I was called by my regimental commander and I went to his office.

He told me, “You are to be deployed soon. If there is anything regarding your family or any other matter, do not hesitate to tell me. After you leave, I will handle it if possible, so feel free to speak up.”

What a deeply compassionate thing to say! I was moved to tears from the bottom of my heart. However, I thought to myself quietly. There were things that could only be settled by myself. Yet, I was now departing by Imperial command. Moreover, this was the time to prove my Japanese identity as a Korean. Now was not the time to be concerned with trivial household matters. Thinking this, I firmly replied, “There is nothing. I will gladly go to Yasukuni Shrine.” “I see. Then I’m counting on you,” he said.


I landed in Busan and headed for Siberia through Manchuria. Passing through Korea felt like a fateful journey. I was overwhelmed with various emotions. Due to the railroad transport arrangements, I stayed in Busan for two nights without any specific duties. At home, I had only my elderly mother and a younger brother.

In the summer of 1915, the year following my commission, I was granted a ten-day leave to return home. Since then, I had not been back for three years. From then on, I would only meet my family at Yasukuni Shrine. I wished I could have departed a day earlier to bid them a final farewell. I wanted to embrace my mother firmly and, if possible, nurse like an infant one last time. I wanted to look at her face to not forget it. This very thought made my heart break. Such feelings are felt by Japanese and Koreans alike. Perhaps Japanese people might feel them even more strongly. However, I thought to myself: I am representing Koreans in my first expedition.

If I mentioned that I wanted to leave early, people might criticize us Koreans by saying that Koreans are too attached to their families and fear for their lives. I had to be very careful, so I said nothing. I only sent a letter to my brother, asking him to bring our mother to Yongsan Station when I passed through. I spent a night in Busan. The next day around noon, I received a sudden phone call from the station. It was from another officer in my company. The gist of the call was as follows:

The officer asked the battalion commander, ‘Lieutenant Shin’s (my surname at the time was Shin) family is in Seoul. Since he only has his mother left, why not let him leave a day early to see her?’ The battalion commander responded, ‘I had never considered that! A passenger train is departing soon. If he comes to greet me, he will miss the departure time. So, let him skip the customary greeting and have him leave immediately. Have him meet his family at Yongsan station at midnight tomorrow.’ So, his orders were that I depart immediately.


Since this was what I had hoped for, I had no reason to hesitate given my superior’s permission. I left immediately and went to Seoul. I was able to see my mother for about ten hours. With that, I felt at ease. I felt ready to go to Yasukuni Shrine at any time.

At the time, even matters that might seem trivial from a human perspective required Koreans to make a special determined effort. So understandably, you can imagine how much hardship Koreans must have had to endure to become Japanese thirty years ago. I went to Siberia and fought for two years. I am ashamed to say that I did not achieve significant military accomplishments, but I did not act cowardly. I upheld the spirit of an Imperial officer and maintained the dignity of the Korean people. After two years, I returned home. The atmosphere within the military became more positive. However, I could not remain sitting on my laurels. Given the situation in Korea at that time, Koreans still needed to put in a lot of effort. I got married, and as children came one after another, my perspective on life underwent a significant change.

Although the initial destination of my first expedition was Yasukuni Shrine, for better or for worse, I returned alive without going there. But from then on, I felt like I was not truly living. I had already died in Siberia. I was already a skeleton. A dead person should not have sensations. Whether I am twisted or pinched, nothing should hurt. Naturally, there should be no sensations of suffering, sleepiness, or hunger. I worked with that kind of mindset of a dead man. This was for Imperial Japan and for Korea.


Though the term “internal harmony between Japan and Korea” was popular, the path ahead was still long. The shadow remained dark. There were still grievances and dissatisfaction. Even in the military, aside from the 13 of us and the 20 officers from the next class, no successors were produced. Ten years after my commission, part of the Military Service Law was amended, allowing for the establishment of a volunteer conscription system for Koreans. Talented students from Korea, who passed the entrance exams, were admitted to military cadet schools, officer schools, and other military institutions.

Thinking back, after six years of studying in the Imperial Army and ten years of serving, my efforts had finally started to bear fruit, bringing light to the Korean peninsula. What a moving moment it was. I had always believed that the best way for Koreans to become true Yamato people and live with unwavering conviction was to join the military.


I believe it was around 1929 or 1930, before the Manchurian Incident. One day, I was called by the regimental commander and went to his office. He presented me with a document. It asked, “Is it feasible to assign active officers to schools primarily attended by Korean students of at least middle school level to implement military training?” My superior was seeking my opinion on this matter. He asked for my frank opinion in writing with no holding back.

At that time, the general mood of the times strongly advocated for harmony between Japan and Korea. The educated Korean class earnestly desired the implementation of compulsory education and the early introduction of conscription. They submitted petitions to authorities in charge, either individually or through representatives, and even traveled to the central government to negotiate directly.

This enthusiasm from the educated Korean class stemmed from a strong desire to transform the entire Korean population into Imperial subjects as soon as possible, sweep away the gloomy atmosphere, and realize true Japanese-Korean unification. However, given the low level of cultural maturity and numerous ideological considerations in Korea at that time, the authorities repeatedly deemed the requests too early to implement.


In this context, the issue of implementing military training for Korean students arose. I responded:

“Given today’s situation, achieving true unity between Japan and Korea requires Koreans to become Imperial subjects as soon as possible. To do this, Koreans must grasp and embody the Japanese spirit as soon as possible. The best way to achieve this is to implement conscription as soon as possible to instill the military spirit. However, it is too early to introduce conscription in Korea. Therefore, at least for now, it is crucial to assign active officers to schools of at least middle school level to provide military training to instill the Japanese spirit and raise a class of leaders. If we keep hesitating by saying that the timing is too early, when will Japanese-Korean unity ever be achieved? There are already some Koreans like me who were not born with the Japanese spirit, because they were originally born pure Korean. It is entirely thanks to military education that a previously pure Korean like myself has become a Japanese today. From this perspective, the only way to make Koreans Imperial subjects as soon as possible is to implement military training in schools. I urge you to implement military training in schools decisively and without hesitation, like cutting through tangled silk with a sharp sword!”

Since the authorities had already established a policy, whether my modest opinion had any effect is another matter. Nonetheless, the following year, military training was experimentally implemented at Gyeonggi High School and Pyongyang High School. After one year, seeing the positive educational effects, the training was gradually extended across Korea, leading to what we now see today.


京城日報 1943年11月17日

半島出身 陸軍中佐 平山輔英 手記(上)












































Source: https://archive.org/details/kjnp-1943-11-17/page/n4/mode/1up