This is my translation and transcription of two news editorials from Keijo Nippo, a propaganda newspaper and mouthpiece of the government of Japan-colonized Korea. These have never been republished or translated before, to the best of my knowledge.
It is April 1944, over two years into total war against the United States and Britain, and it is not going so well for Imperial Japan. Here, Governor-General Koiso‘s office announces plans to build Shinto shrines all over Korea in every eup (town) and myeon (township) that does not yet have one, and make every town leader and township leader compel the residents to worship their birth deities, all in spite of severe wartime material and labor shortages. It sounds crazy on many levels, but perhaps the superstitious war leaders thought that currying favor with the gods would somehow turn the tide in Imperial Japan’s favor.
The issue of Shinto shrines is a particularly sensitive topic that can still evoke strong emotional reactions among both Japanese and Korean people. Many Japanese are still angry at the fact that the 1000+ Shinto shrines that were built in colonial Korea were all destroyed following the end of the war, starting with the Pyongyang shrine which was set on fire on August 15, 1945, the day Imperial Japan surrendered. Today, the only vestiges of the shrines in Korea are found in their ancillary structures, like the stairs. A statue of Kim Il-sung now stands on the former site of Pyongyang shrine.
However, it is also important to understand the context as to why this destruction occurred, and why the shrines were so universally hated all over Korea. We have to understand that, in Japan-colonized Korea, the Shinto religion (State Shintoism) was weaponized as a tool of oppression against the Korean people, starting with the administration of Governor-General Minami in 1937 and continuing under subsequent Governors, including Governor-General Koiso, who was a narcissist notable for putting young Korean girls into internment camps to turn into ‘true Japanese’ mothers, with the idea that this would have a multiplier effect as these Korean girls become mothers who raise Japanese children. But immediate wartime needs apparently turned this project into a more practical wartime work force program.
There were loud sirens at 7 am and noon to perform Shinto prayers. The 7 am Kyūjō Yōhai ritual (宮城遥拝) involved bowing several times in the direction of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo while standing, almost reminiscent of the Muslim salah prayer in the qibla direction of Mecca. The noon prayer was a moment of silence in honor of the Imperial Japanese soldiers.
Koreans were also forced to attend compulsory worship services in person at Shinto shrines. Those who refused to attend would not receive their food rations. They were also forced to keep miniature Shinto shrines (kamidana) in their homes and perform a special Jingu Taima exorcism ceremony in front of them.
Every Korean belonged to a patriotic neighborhood cell (aikoku-han or aeguk-ban, 愛国班) of the Federation of National Power (国民総力朝鮮連盟, 국민총력조선연맹), the single ruling party of Japan-colonized Korea. In 1943, the Secretary General was a Japanese named Mr. Hada, but by 1944 he had apparently been replaced by a Korean named Mr. Han. The cell system worked much like the present system in Cuba and North Korea, where each cell leader would make sure that all the cell members followed the rules, even to the point of prying into their private lives. Neighbors would report each other for infractions, perhaps for breaking rules like speaking Korean in public, sleeping in and not performing the 7 am prayers, or not looking reverent enough during worship services. Saying the wrong things, like wishing for independence, would have branded you ‘an ideological criminal’ and landed you in a reeducation center.
Understandably, such a prolonged stressful, oppressive experience must have inflicted a lasting psychic trauma on the Korean people, which is still straining relations between the Korean and Japanese people to this day.
In postwar Japan, the State Shintoism apparatus is officially dismantled, but Yasukuni shrine survives as the last remaining active State Shinto shrine. Even though Yasukuni is officially a nongovernmental religious entity with no official affiliations with the Japanese government, far-right Japanese politicians still visit and pay their respects to the war criminals enshrined as gods there as if it were a de facto state shrine, a sad reminder that the Imperial Way ideology of the past still lives on in the present Japanese government.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) April 11, 1944
Editorial: Life in Decisive Battle and the Way of Respect for the Gods
Since his appointment, Governor-General Koiso has been administering the affairs of the country with a reverent attitude as if he were entrusted with the baby of His Majesty the Emperor, and in the management of politics, he has been mindful to follow the will of the gods. All of us in the government, not to mention the 25 million people of Korea, are deeply moved to follow the cause of the Emperor and win the Greater East Asia War with a heart of respect for the gods and the forefathers, and to make the Korean peninsula a paradise truly in accordance with the Imperial Way. As one manifestation of this, every household in all of Korea has held a Jingu Taima exorcism ceremony without exceptions, and this time, reflecting the consensus of 25 million people, the construction of one shrine in each province, eup, and myeon has become a concrete reality as intended by the Governor-General. The fact that, on the 10th, Mr. Tanaka, Commissioner-General for Political Affairs, notified the governors of the provinces of the guidelines for implementation is, as the authorities say, the most opportune and most gratifying way to “establish the spiritual center of the people in the countryside and to make clear what the people’s minds should be based on”.
In mainland Japan, a village or a town is formed around a clan deity, a birth deity, or a guardian deity, and even when the village or town develops into a metropolis such as Tokyo, it does not lose its beauty. Everyday life itself is under the watchful gaze of the gods. The prosperity of the fatherland, and even the prosperity of the family, is due to divine will. The dignity of this divine nation has never been violated, because the gods are directly served in person. Ever since the foundation of our nation, our land has never been violated by foreign enemies, and we are now in the midst of an opportunity to manifest the great spirit of Hakko Ichiu to the whole world, and to make the great authority of the sovereign nation shine forth.
At this time, looking back at our Korean peninsula, it is regrettable that there are 1,392 eups and myeons that still do not have shrines onto which all the people of the region could rest their hearts, even though each household is performing the Jingu Taima exorcism ceremony, as I have mentioned before. The realization of the construction of the shrines should be regarded as an epoch-making event, and it should also be seen as the first step toward realizing eternal peace and harmony regardless of the fact that our Korean peninsula is at war.
Ever since the outbreak of the Greater East Asia War, the feeling of reverence towards the gods on the Korean peninsula has been growing strong, as is clearly shown by the fact that the number of worshipers to the Chosun Shrine has been increasing day by day and month by month. Thus, it is only fitting that the local people should overcome the current material difficulties, newly erect shrines in 1,392 eups and myeons, and dedicate them to the spirits of the gods. It is clear that the people of these localities are determined to create a pure and noble life of gratitude and divine unity between god and man. They believe that it is through the blessings of the gods that human nature is good from the start, that life is preserved, that families enjoy peace and harmony, that children prosper, and that a good harvest is always blessed. When houses are built, they are prayed to, when seeds are sown and rice paddies planted, they are prayed to, and after the harvest, a festival of thanksgiving is held.
Therefore, it can be imagined that the people of the myeons and eups who do not have shrines to perform these events must feel lonely and empty in their hearts. I have no doubt that the mere fact that these shrines were provided to them today will have a great effect in making them pledge their support to Governor-General Koiso.
However, starting with the eup and myeon leaders, the peoples of the eups and myeons of the localities who serve at the shrines must fully understand that we have not completed our entire objective just because the shrines have been erected. We have seen the dedication of Shinto shrines at county offices and at eup and myeon offices all over Korea, but this did not extend beyond mere formalities, which is not only against the will of the gods, but also against the will of Governor-General Koiso, who is a pious man of respect. Unless the eup and myeon leaders take the lead in paying respect and serving the shrines, the attitude of the people will also end up not extending beyond mere formalities. To put it more directly, if the people at the periphery of the administrative apparatus try to lead the people to the faith without understanding the true intentions of the Governor-General, they may just readily follow whatever he says and try to achieve results without much effort. If they take advantage of the shrine policy in this way, then this will be something that must be strictly prohibited.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) April 11, 1944
Establish shrines in all areas
Establish spiritual centers for the local people
The implementation of the conscription system and other epoch-making measures of the Korean Government have triggered a rising demand for the establishment of shrines in every region of the Korean peninsula as spiritual centers for the 25 million people of the Korean peninsula, but there are still 1,392 eups and myeons where no shrine has yet been established. The Governor-General has decided on a policy of one shrine in each province, eup, and myeon. In response to the general demand, shrines are to be established in all areas despite the shortage of materials, and those existing miniature shrines that meet certain standards are to be classified as full-fledged shrines to deepen respect for the gods and ancestors, to increase faith in the birth deities, and to solidify their spiritual homes. On the 10th, the Director of the Regional Division of the Governor-General’s Office, the Deputy Director of the Korean Headquarters of the Greater Japan Shinto Priesthood Association, and the General Secretary of the Korean Federation of National Power issued the following statements on this matter.
Mr. Ōkubo, Director of the Regional Division of the Governor-General’s Office:
At the Governor-General’s Office, we have long since decided on the policy of one shrine in each province, eup, and myeon, which we have been making efforts to realize. Due to various reasons, there are still 1,392 eups and myeons where shrines have not yet been established. However, the development of the general administrative apparatus on the Korean peninsula has been remarkable. Now, in view of the current situation on the Korean peninsula, we feel that it is imperative to take revolutionary measures akin to the introduction of the conscription system, such as establishing the spiritual centers of the local people, clarifying where the people’s hearts should be based, embodying the spiritual place of gratitude along with a paradise of divine unity between god and man, and solidifying the spiritual home of the people by shifting their faith into their Japanese-style birth deities. In spite of the current shortage of materials, we have decided to fully establish miniature Shinto shrines, and those existing miniature Shinto shrines that meet certain standards will be classified as full-fledged Shinto shrines in order to promote the growth of this way of life. These implementation guidelines have been sent in a letter by the Political Affairs Director General to the governors of each province. I am sure that these measures will be implemented as soon as possible, and I hope that all of you government officials will understand the intention of the Governor-General’s Office to carry out these measures, especially in this time of emergency, and I hope that you will actively and vigorously support and cooperate with us towards the realization of these measures.
Mr. Han, Secretary General of the Korean Federation of National Power:
In the autumn of last year, we saw the implementation of landmark measures such as the implementation of the conscription system and compulsory education system. Korean compatriots are already going to battle in the name of the celebrated gods who founded Japan, and the number of people who offer morning and evening prayers to the gods of heaven and earth at shrines is increasing every month. There is a growing demand for the establishment of miniature kamidana Shinto altars in the homes and full-fledged Shinto shrines in the countryside. In view of the urgent need to cultivate faith in the Emperor and the reverence for the gods on a peninsula that lacks faith in loyalty and unity, the Governor-General’s Office announced policies and measures with the goal of one shrine in each province, eup, and myeon. It is truly a timely and groundbreaking plan, and we cannot help but rejoice at its rapid realization.
With the realization of the establishment of the shrines, the training of shrine priests is currently being prepared under the supervision of the Federation. These priests must not only perform their duties, but must also play a leading and enlightening role for the people of the localities, and they must be consistent in their attitudes toward life by focusing on the deities in all their daily activities in the four seasons from birth to death.
Chief Priest Nukaga, Deputy Director of the Korean Headquarters of the Greater Japan Shinto Priesthood Association:
As a divine nation, Japan’s spiritual strength is unique in the world. Needless to say, this is because we have had an Imperial family for ten thousand generations, and because we always closely worship and live our lives under the authority of the divine spirits of our gods and ancestors. Now that Korea is about to implement conscription and compulsory education, it is very discouraging that there are only sixty-nine shrines to protect our 25 million compatriots, and that the total number of miniature shrines that should become full-fledged shrines is still only about 900. In order to enjoy the favor of the gods and to uphold the spirit of sincere Imperial people, we cannot be satisfied with the current state of affairs. Therefore, first of all, the Governor-General’s policy this time is to establish divine facilities, so that the spirit of the national people can receive the authority of the noble gods. That is, one shrine is to be established for each myeon. The fact that they have decided to take this step forward so quickly is especially significant in these times of extreme emergency.
Until today, our Korean compatriots have been unhappy, unable to understand the true meaning of the divine blessings that they have received. When we consider that they will soon be able to walk in step with the spirit of Imperial nation through the shrines of their birth deities, and make a grand start as supporters of Japan’s rapid progress, we the priesthood truly believe that we are not the only ones who are pleased with these divine facilities.