In this post, I will focus on some newspaper clippings from July 1943 featuring the Korean royal family, specifically Prince Yi Un (이은, 李垠) and Princess Yi Bangja (이방자, 李方子). Each article featuring the royals is typically written in very formal and respectful Japanese prose, reflecting the extreme deference that they were afforded in colonial Korea. What’s intriguing about these articles is how they present the royals at work, carrying out their ceremonial duties on behalf of the colonial regime. It is quite timely, as it has almost been exactly 80 years since these articles were published.
The Imperial Japanese colonial administration wanted to place a Korean face at the forefront, essentially using the Korean royals to humanize their regime and consequently legitimize their rule to the Korean people. It’s a fascinating albeit complex aspect of colonial Korea’s history that warrants attention.
Among the over one hundred articles that I’ve posted so far, none of them really highlighted the role of the Korean royal family, which is why I decided to translate these clippings. At first glance, these articles may seem quite mundane, showing the royals arriving at the airport and then visiting an army hospital, performing ceremonial functions that might be very familiar to any working member of the modern British or Japanese royal families today. However, their true value lies in the context that they provide.
Whenever the royals visited the public, they were typically accompanied by retinues of powerful and influential figures in colonial Korean society, since proximity to the royals presumably bestowed fame and prestige. Thus, the narrative woven by these articles includes a veritable list of ‘Who’s Who’ of colonial Korea, providing some insight into the power dynamics and the key figures of the era. For external observers trying to understand the workings of the colonial regime, any changes in the names mentioned in these articles could signify shifts in power or changes in the regime’s hierarchy. In other words, reading the names mentioned in these articles is like capturing a snapshot of the key figures in colonial Korea at one moment in time, almost exactly 80 years ago.
I’m posting these translations not only because they’re interesting historical records, but also because they serve as a great starting point for discussions and explorations about colonial Korea, due to the sheer concentration of names of key historical figures in colonial Korean history. To make this post a good reference tool, I have generously added links to key names and institutions that are mentioned in the first article of this post, which are in English, Japanese, or Korean. Each member of the Korean Royal Family has his/her own interesting personal history filled with turmoil and drama, and the same can be said of the key Imperial Japanese figures of the Governor-General’s Office and the Imperial Army, which ruled colonial Korea with an iron fist. Feel free to explore their stories, using these news clippings as the beginning of your journey down the rabbit hole.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) June 29, 1943
Prince Yi Un and his wife, Princess Yi Bangja
Return to Korea to Visit the Royal Tombs
Safely Landed Yesterday by Air
Statement by the Office of the Yi Dynasty
June 28 – Prince Yi Un (이은, 李垠) and his wife, Princess Yi Bangja (이방자, 李方子) returned to Korea for a visit to the royal tombs. At 2:15 PM today, they landed at Seoul Airport, where they were welcomed by Governor-General Koiso, Commander Itagaki, Chief of Civil Administration Tanaka, among other senior officials, their wives, heads of various bureaus at the Governor-General’s Office, Governor of Gyeonggi Province, and Mayor of Seoul, along with many of their close relatives and others. They left the airport at 2:25 PM, and entered Changdeok Palace at 3:00 PM in a good mood.
For the successful completion of the Greater East Asia War, Prince Yi Un took a break from his many military duties, accompanied by Princess Yi Bangja, Secretary Yamashita Heiichi, Military Attaché Lieutenant Colonal Ina Shigenari, Court Physician Okamoto Hinana, and Personal Assistant Miura Kiyoko. To visit the royal tombs, they returned to Korea by air and landed at the Seoul Airport at 2:15 PM on the 28th.
Upon their arrival at the airport, a great number of military and civilian representatives lined up to welcome them: Empress Sunjeonghyo (순정효황후, 純貞孝皇后), Prince Yi Geon (이건, 李鍵), Prince Yi U (이우, 李鍝), Governor-General Koiso and his wife, Commander Itagaki of the Korean Armed Forces, Chief of Civil Administration Tanaka and his wife, Principal Shinoda Jisaku of Seoul Imperial University, Secretariat Director Eguchi and other Department Directors of the Governor-General’s Office, Vice President of the Central Council of the Yi Family, Central Council Advisors Park Jung-yang (박중양, 朴重陽), Han Sang-nyong (한상룡, 韓相龍), Yun Chi-ho (Itō Chikō, 윤치호, 尹致昊), Commander Takehara of Seoul Division, Chief of Staff Ihara of the Korean Army, Commander Kobayashi, Commander Nakai of the Kempeitai (Military Police), Chief of the Office of the Yi Dynasty Lee Hang-gu (이항구, 李恒九), General Hada of the Korean Federation of National Power, Governor of Gyeonggi Province Taka Yasuhiko, Mayor of Seoul Furuichi, and many other representatives of the military, government, and civilian sectors. Their plane made a loop in the air and then landed safely, kicking up a cloud of summer grass.
Prince Yi Un, in his military uniform, and Princess Yi Bangja, in her Western-style dress, stepped off the plane in good spirits, then entered the audience chamber guided by the Chief of the Aviation Division. After being greeted by Empress Sunjeonghyo, Prince Yi Geon, Prince Yi U, Governor-General Koiso, Commander Itagaki, Chief of Civil Administration Tanaka among other senior officials, at 2:25 PM, they left the airport. Prince Yi Un and Princess Yi Bangja looked out over the resilient Korean populace at war on the home front, who tightly lined the streets to greet them while they were on their way to Changdeok Palace, where they arrived safely at 3 PM.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) July 3, 1943
Prince Yi Un and his wife, Princess Yi Bangja Visit the Army Hospital
Wounded Soldiers Moved to Tears by Their Kindness
During their stay in Korea, Prince Yi Un and his wife, Princess Yi Bangja, took a day out of their busy schedule to visit the wounded soldiers at the Army Hospital in Seoul. On July 2, at 9 AM, they left Changdeok Palace with Military Attaché Ina Shigenari, Personal Assistant Miura, Court Physician Okamoto, Chief of the Office of the Yi Dynasty Lee Hang-gu (이항구, 李恒九), and Vice-Chief Kojima, among others. At the hospital, where the national flag was flying, Commander Takehara, Chief of Staff Ihara of the Korean Army, Surgeon General Dr. Shindō of the Korean Army, Chief of Staff Aratomi of the Seoul Division, Surgeon General Dr. Niwa of the Seoul Division, and Hospital Director Ishimatsu, among others, lined up inside the main gate to welcome them. Prince Yi Un and Princess Yi Bangja arrived at the hospital by car at 9:15 AM. They were escorted by Hospital Director Ishimatsu to a resting place in the Hospital Director’s office. After a short rest, they received Commander Takehara, Surgeon General Dr. Shindō, Chief of Staff Ihara, Chief of Staff Aratomi of the Seoul Division, Surgeon General Dr. Niwa of the Seoul Division, and Hospital Director Ishimatsu, one by one.
Then, Prince Yi Un and Princess Yi Bangja were led by Hospital Director Ishimatsu into the conference room that was designated as the standing audience room, where they were received by the officers attached to the hospital, and then they returned to the Hospital Director’s office. There, in the presence of Commander Takehara, Chiefs of Staff Ihara and Aratomi, and Surgeons General Dr. Shindō and Dr. Niwa, who were standing at attention, Hospital Director Ishimatsu explained the history and current situation of the Army Hospital. Starting from 9:40 AM, they were led by Hospital Director Ishimatsu and Chief Physician Haida as they visited the second surgical ward and other wards, receiving warm welcomes as Hospital Director Ishimatsu gave explanations. The lightly injured soldiers lined up in the hall of the Patriotic Building. The wounded soldiers who received gifts of sweets and flowers were deeply moved by the kindness of Their Imperial Highnesses, and the wounded soldiers became more and more determined to resume their duties. After resting in the Hospital Director’s office, Their Imperial Highnesses were seen off by Commander Takehara and others at the main gate, and they left the hospital at 10:15 AM, returning to Changdeok Palace.
Commander Takehara of the Seoul Division made a respectful statement: “Today, Prince Yi Un and Princess Yi Bangja personally visited our Seoul Hospital and warmly met with the wounded soldiers. They were deeply touched to hear about the medical condition of each soldier. Upon receiving sweets and flowers as gifts, the soldiers were deeply moved by their kindness and swore to recover and resume their duties.”