Monday, November 2, 2009

A Jainichi Scholar Scrutinizes the ‘Unresolved Past of Korea and Japan’

“A Contemporary History of Deadlocked Thought” by Yun Kon-cha, Translated by Park Jin-u et al., Changbi Publishers Inc., 625 pages, 27,000 won;
“Winter Forest” by Yun Kon-cha, Translated by Kim Eung-gyo, Hwanam Publishing Co., 134 pages, 6,300 won
“It seems it`s my duty to leave some meaningful marks by facing and struggling with an era that produced the so-called jainichi (Korean residents in Japan),” said Professor Yun Kon-cha of Kawakana University. Professor Yun is known as the author of “Trend of Modern Korean Thought” and “Modern Ideological Deadlocks in Korea and Japan.” He recently published two books in Seoul, “A Contemporary History of Deadlocked Thought” (Gyochak-doen sasang-eui hyeondae sa) and “Winter Forest” (Gyeoul sup). The former was originally published by Iwanami Shoten Publishers in Japan last year; the latter, simultaneously published in Korea and Japan, is Yun`s first poetry collection. For “Winter Forest,” Im Heon-yeong, a literary critic and professor, wrote an introduction under the heading “A Diasporean Intellectual`s Search for Self.” This can also be applied to “A Contemporary History of Deadlocked Thought.”
Yun`s search for self, though belated and seemingly sluggish, was dramatic and thoroughgoing. Through the vast research by Yun, who has studied enormous amounts of material, we may be able to experience an intellectual shock and an amazing extension of our views to encompass Japan and jainichi by moving our eyes to jainichi, from where his research began. This is directly linked to the problem of inaction in addressing the issue of “Japan`s imperial system and Joseon (Korea`s pre-modern state name)” and “the founding of a unified Korea,” which remains an unresolved question from the decolonization process between Korea and Japan.
The Japan that Yun talks about can be very different from the Japan we know. While in high school he was surprised to find his name written in Korean style in the roll book and “desperately pleaded that it be changed to the Japanese style.” He graduated from Kyoto University but could not find a job. “With nowhere else to go,” he enrolled for a graduate program at the University of Tokyo and earned a doctorate at the age of 38. It was about this time that he acknowledged he was jainichi. Thereafter he desperately clung to studying modern Japan, especially Japan after its defeat in World War II, and jainichi. These days he is more devoted to the study of Korean society. He met Hong Se-hwa, a pro-democracy activist known as “a taxi driver in Paris,” and his friends in Europe around the time of the democratization struggle of June 1987. Around that time his passport problems were solved so he began traveling to Korea frequently. Hence he began to see the world through Korea.
The original Japanese title of “A Contemporary History of Deadlocked Thought” may be translated into “Deadlocked Experience of Thought.” Therefore, it is not anyone else`s story but a chronicle of the author`s own experience of journeying back and forth between Japan, jainichi and Korea, each with a different ideological soil. The book grasps the paths trodden by Japan, Korea (South Korea) and Korean residents in Japan since the defeat/liberation of August 1945 to the present primarily “as the ideological experiences imprinted in history” by looking at them through the eyes of the Korean residents in Japan, who are the “products of Japan`s colonial rule over Korea, the living witnesses of history and the most acute embodiment of Japan`s brutal rule over other nations,” and “the historical existences manifesting the absurdity of modern Japan in the most miserable shape.”
The “thought” discussed by Yun refers to the “desperate and repeated question as to how to live.” And what is most important in his quest of thought is “pursuing the greatest absurdity and task of the era.” He thinks the three pillars constituting the identity of Japanese people are “worship of the West, the imperial ideology, and disdain of Asia.” The worship of the West and disdain of Asia are the two sides of a coin, which are rooted in discrimination and prejudice against the heterogeneous others. The imperial system, “forming the nucleus of Japanese nationalism asserting uniqueness and superiority and performing the oppressive and exclusive function internally and externally,” was the mechanism that made these thoughts possible. Under this mechanism Korea and the Korean people were imprinted in the minds of the Japanese with the gloomiest and the most negative images. In this regard, Japanese imperialism and Korean issues are mutually interrelated and form the core of modern Japanese thought.

Japan should have jettisoned its emperor system and established a republican democracy when it lost the war. However, the United States applied ambiguous terms in the surrender process and colluded with the Japanese ruling forces. The occupying power thus allowed Japan to maintain its monarchial system for its convenience in governing Japan as a bridgehead for its Cold War strategy in the Far East. It suppressed by force Korean residents and the Japanese Communist Party, who opposed the system most strongly, and revived the prewar elite forces including Nobusuke Kishi. Such a “reverse course” taken by postwar Japan exactly corresponded with a series of events that occurred in the southern half of the Korean peninsula under U.S. occupation, such as the annihilation of leftists, the civilian struggles in Daegu on October 1, 1946 and in Jeju Island on April 3, 1948, the bloody suppression of the uprising in Yeosu and Suncheon, and the taking of power by Rhee Syngman and pro-Japanese forces. A broad scope of cross-examination simultaneously delving into these crucial events in Japan and Korea is the biggest strength of this book. Perhaps it has an effect of triple vision expansion.
Korea`s biggest ideological challenge is building a unified country. This aborted task is closely linked to Japan`s original sin of colonial occupation leading to Korea`s territorial division and the U.S.-Japan alliance, which the postwar Japanese intellectuals thoroughly ignored. Shigeru Nanbara who led the “democratization” of postwar Japan and even Masao Maruyama who is known as “a leader and victor of postwar democracy” turned a blind eye to the problems of Korea and Koreans. Yoshimi Takeuchi, who was sympathetic to jainichi issues, talked only about Japan`s invasion of China and evaded the issues of Korea and Korean residents in Japan. Their self-centered “great power chauvinism” is apparent in taking issue with the so-called 15-year war from Japan`s invasion of Manchuria to its defeat but brushing aside its reckless assault upon Korea since the Sino-Japanese War. Yun points out that even Professor Haruki Wada whom he highly regards reveals his limitations by failing to criticize the emperor system straightforwardly.
From the Japanese intellectuals who simply define nation and nation state as “fallacy” and emphasize non-violence, tolerance, coexistence and reconciliation, Yun peeps at “an effort to free themselves from pressures of colonialism and nationalist issues” and also finds “the common illusion to shelve their responsibility as the wrongdoers.” Progressive intellectuals of the two countries once achieved a happy alliance during the democracy movement in Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. However, as reaffirmed afterwards through the history textbook controversies, comfort women issues, the rise of Korean “new rightists” and rapport by Japanese conservatives, “Japan basically has neither apologized nor compensated for its invasion and rule over Korea and the division of Korea, so the past history remains little liquidated.” Still worse, there seems to be little hope that this state of affairs will ever change in the future.
As for the argument by Park Yu-ha who has drawn applause from Japanese conservative intellectuals for her book “For Reconciliation,” Yun criticized it as “pseudo-rightist sentimentalism” showing no sympathy toward the national division of Korea and consequent sufferings. “Her logic is rough and shows a great deal of misunderstanding and distortion of historical facts,” he said.
Yun warned against hasty reconciliation, arguing that Park`s opinion welcomed by the Asahi Shimbun should probably be little different than the right-wing fascist Katsumi Sato`s view that “rejecting apologies should be the first step toward reconciliation.” The ultimate solution he suggests is that Korea should continue to demand Japan`s self-reflection and apology but without expecting its demand to be met. He says Korea should instead find the correct path to reunification and national prosperity on its own.
[ July 25, 2009 ]

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