Korean Patterns

Korean Patterns: Imprint of the Japanese Occupation, part 1 of 3

The following chapters are excerpts from Paul Crane's book "Korean Patterns", which explains in a clear fashion many of these topics on Korean culture. Keep in mind that the book was written in 1965, by the son of missionary parents, and since 1947, he has served as a surgeon at the Presbyterian Medical Center in Chonju. He has lived for most of his life in Korea.


Imprint of Japanese Occupation on Korean Patterns, Part 1

When Commodore Perry anchored off the shores of Japan in 1853, he set off concussions that still reverberate throughout Asia. Japan turned her face to the West and, under the Meiji Restoration, promptly studied and adopted Western technology and administrative reforms which helped her to become the undisputed power in the Far East. China resisted the invasion from the West and fought a losing battle to remain traditional.

Korea, under the suzerainty of China, continued her policy of isolation and kept her gates closed to foriegners. She was left without protection after Japan's victories over China in 1895, and the Russian Navy on May 27, 1905 in the Korean Straits, when 32 of 35 Russian ships were sunk. Korea thus had little alternative but to acquiesce in Japanese claims upon her as their prize of war.

There was an attempt by a group of young Korean gentlemen to open the doors to new ideas. They first toured the United States, Russia and Japan in the early 1880's and returned from their trip with many ideas which they urged the court to adopt.

This early history can be illustrated by the story of the beginning of the postal system. In 1884 the first post office was opened in Seoul and Inchon with stamps printed in Japan. On the day of the official celebrations opening the new postal system, the progressive elements attempted a coup d'etat (the Kap Sin attempt), to drive out the conservatives who were backed by China. The coup failed and the young Minister of Posts was cut down in the Secret Gardens of the Chang Duk Palace in Seoul, thus bringing to a close the postal system for the next ten years. The Japanese had established their own postal system in the treaty ports of Pusan and Inchon for their own nationals. By 1905 they were able to merge the Korean and Japanese postal systems under Japanese Administration.

By 1910, the annexation of Korea by Japan was largely a formality which met with little organized resistance. Japan set out to make Korea a model colony, after the custom of the great nations of that day. She planned to use this base on the land mass of Asia to extend her influence over all of eastern Asia.

She attempted to serve in an advisory position to Korean officials, but soon found that, without actual control, it was impossible to institute the reforms in administration which she felt were essential to develop her new colony. The Japanese followed a paternalistic system of government. Following the traditional Conducian protocol, they attempted to gain the respect of Koreans, if not their love, but in general it can be said that they usually failed to obtain either.

Aside from the assassination of Marquis Ito in 1909 in Manchuria, and the 1919 demonstrations of young Christian and other leaders against Japanese rule, there was relatively little open resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea. However, there was continuing passive resistance of varying degrees to the Japanese throughout the occupation.

Depending on the personality of the Japanese Governor General in Seoul, the Koreans were treated harshly or kindly, and they were made to realize that only as a part of the Japanese dream of greatness in Asia was there hope for survival.

Korean customs and manner remained little affected by the occupation forces until the 1930's, when the Japanese took an aggressive turn toward fulfilling their dream of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. From this time on, Koreans were strongly pressured to conform to Japanese standards. The Korean language was prohibited in the schools and in public use. The teaching of Korean history and culture was forbidden. Koreans were required to take on Japanese names, and the program of full integration of the Korean peninsula into the Japanese Empire was greatly accelerated.


Imprint of Japanese Occupation on Korean Patterns, Part 2

Early in their occupation, the Japanese set up a complete school system for Japanese children in Korea, based on the German model. A parallel system was set up for Koreans, but it was of inferior quality. Only the children of those who cooperated completely with the Japanese rulers were allowed the special honor of attending Japanese schools. The price for having one's children educated in the better schools was complete collaboration with the Japanese regime.

The Japanese introduced modern buildings constructed along European archetectural lines. German medicine was introduced into the Imperial University in Keijo (Seoul), and this influence remains to this day in Seoul National University. The Japanese military machine was patterned after the Prussian model. Port facilities and extensive irrigation system, with reservoirs and hydro-electric plants were built. Gold mining was developed as well as coal and tungsten mines. Large fertilizer plants and cement
plants were built.

Silk culture was expanded and a textile industry was developed, as well as a tobacco monopoly system created under government control. The government monopolies ran all major industries and utilities. Japan used Korea as a training base for her armies and air force in preparation for the invasion of Manchuria and China in the 1930's.

During the period of Japanese occupation, Koreans were allowed to hold only subordinate positions in government. They were used as cheap labor for Japan's industrial development. Korean thus observed the manners and patterns of Japanese behavior from the sergeant's point of view. They came to resent their second class citizenship and the fact that they were not given training in managerial skills. The Koreans who suddenly found themselves in positions of authority after the Liberation in 1945 tried to copy the external antics of the Japanese without adopting the strict controls essential to make their authoritarian system work.

Since the Japanese concentrated their efforts in urban areas, the 80 percent of the population comprising the farmers made few changes in their traditional attitudes and patterns of action.

The cities under Japanese occupation were poor copies of Japanese cities, with shops full of Japanese goods and business conducted along Japanese lines. Some city people became hardly distinguishable from the Japanese rulers. Some Koreans tried to pass as Japanese, and fully adopted Japanese manners, language, and culture in so far as they had the opportunity.

Since the occupying forces had complete control of the police, the courts, transportation, utilities, communications, mass media, the schools, hospitals, and large industries, few Koreans dreamed that the Japanese would ever be forced to leave. Many settled fo trying to succeed under the Japanese, and found that the more like them they could become, the more chance for success. A few Koreans were appointed to the police on the lower levels and some were actually appointed as judges in the lower courts. Japanese tended to use Koreans to do their dirty work, both in Korea and elsewhere in Japanese-controlled areas on the mainland.

Twenty years after Korea's liberation from Japan, it is interesting to note what vestiges of Japanese thought patterns and attitudes still remain. The schools are still built and run largely along Japanese lines. The government monopolies of tobacco, salt, and major industries are still operated along Japanese administrative lines. The irrigation system, the agricultural cooperatives, the banks, the courts, and the police are essentially patterned after the former Japanese system. The Korean army has been largely generaled by men who served in the Japanese armed forces, although it has, since its beginning, been subject to strong United States influence. Since the Korean War, the Republic of Korea Army has been trained and completely supplied with American equipment.

When a Korean over 35 years of age figures arithmetic, he will revert to the Japanese language, for this is the way he learned his arithmetic; he flounders if he tries to figure things out in Korean. Ceremonies used by the government are based on the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto pattern. School uniforms, teaching methods, and the rank system for teachers are all based on the Japanese plan. Railway stations are run along Japanese models; the Station Master with his white gloves follows the way he remembers the
Japanese acted in the same job.

Vestiges of the Japanese army system can still be seen in the manner in which Korean soldiers carry the ashes of fallen comrades at military funerals. They wear white surgeon's masks, white gloves, and carry the ashes in a box slung from the shoulders by a white sash. A picture of the departed is displayed on the front of the box. This is the custom for Japanese military funerals. At public ceremonies, the bowing of heads for a moment of silence, honoring the spirits of the dead, follows Japanese Shinto practice. Civilian funerals of public figures are patterned after the Japanese model.


Imprint of Japanese Occupation on Korean Patterns, Part 3

At the end of World War II, General MacArthur set up his Supreme Headquarters in Tokyo and, in the early days of the occupation, directed the military government in Korea. It was early decided to keep most of the Japanese laws in force, and only gradually to change them as circumstances required. This decision, which was considered the only practical one under the existing circumstances, has tended to perpetuate the principal aspects of the Japanese legal and government administrative system.

President Syngman Rhee had violent emotional hatred for Japan, but he did not revoke the Japanese system when his new Republic of Korea government assumed office in 1948. He used the powers of his office to educate young Koreans in a reflex reaction of hatred for anything Japanese. Older Koreans did not openly oppose this approach, but many stated privately that they did not have the same feelings toward the Japanese as did the President. For bargaining purposes, in trying to force Japan to return national treasures and pay reparations for their exploitation of Korea, it was useful to continue the "hate Japan" approach up until the conclusion of the normalization treaty with Japan in 1965.

Many Koreans felt that the Japanese must somehow be made to confess publicly and seek Korea's public pardon for the sins they committed in Korea during their occupation. It was only after fourteen years of fruitless negotiations, during which it became apparent that Japan was not dependent on Korean goodwill, that the Koreans finally became reconciled to a settlement and re-establishment of formal diplomatic relations with Japan. The fear and suspicion of possible Japanese aggressive economic moves against Korea exist side by side with admiration and envy of Japanese economic development and technical
ability. Japanese goods are highly prized in Korea and are available in many stores. For a time Korean-knit sweaters, when shipped to Japan and returned with a Japanese label, sold for three times the price of the same article bearing Korean labels.

Those who were educated in Japanese schools and universities remain proud of their degrees and still play a vital role in educational and governmental circles. Japanese education is still more highly respected by many Koreans than is American education. Koreans are quick to notice and to attempt to follow the Japanese example in social and business trends. One of the possible reasons for this may be that Koreans feel that Japanese attainments are possible for Korea, whereas Western economic and technical development and Western culture and ideas are so far re moved as to be beyond the realm of possibility.

Remnants of Japanese superstitions still hold sway among Koreans. The unlucky number four, sa, which has the same sound as the word for death, is still avoided by many Koreans. Hotels do not have a fourth floor, in the same way that Western hotels skip the thirteenth floor. No Korean military unit uses four in its unit designation since the 14th regiment revolted in Yosu in 1948 in an abortive Communist attempt to take over the army. Telephone numbers and license plates on cars used the number four mainly for foreigners, as most Koreans would object to such a number. This is a little joke played on foreigners, who are considered not to know about the meaning of four.

Writing a person's name in red, for example on a place card or a Christmas card, signifies death and should be avoided. A sentence of death used to be written in red. Another superstition is that girls born in the very unlucky "White Horse Year" (1966) have great difficulty finding a good husband; some women are said to resort to abortions to prevent childbirth during such an unlucky year.

More interesting perhaps than the Japanese adaptations are the many Japanese things that Koreans did not adopt. The strong religious forces of Shintoism and Zen Buddhism, and the lively pantheistic world of Japanese demons and spirits, have never been accepted to the same degree in Korea. The strict Bushido code of Japanese militarism, in which the warrior was glorified, did not displace the scholar who, in Korea, remains the object of reverence and admiration.

Koreans are, perhaps, more skillful in diplomacy than the Japanese, who, in the past, have tended to use strongarm techniques in Asia. While adopting the bureaucratic system of the Japanese, the Koreans have not accepted the disciplines which in Japan make the system work successfully. Koreans never adopted the Japanese diet; and, although there is a re-opening of many Japanese restaurants in Seoul, most Koreans prefer their own dishes with strong kimchi. Koreans continue to sit comfortably on the floor with their legs crossed rather than adopting the more difficult and uncomfortable Japanese way of sitting on their flexed knees and feet. The continuous social bowing of the Japanese was quickly abandoned in favor of the single bow in greetings.

Certainly twenty years of liberation and relatively strong American influence in Korea have not erased the marks of forty years of Japanese domination. In spite of these forty years, some fifteen years of which were directed at trying to make the Koreans into Japanese, the Koreans have remained Korean. They have adopted only those externals from the Japanese which fitted into their traditional patterns, and have rejected most mannerisms and customs which were distinctly Japanese.

Koreans have thus again proved their ability to resist assimilation by a foreign power. Like the ancient Hebrews, they have remained a distinctive nation, even though submerged periodically by powerful neighbors both near and far. Korea has been likened to ancient Palestine, with the Romans as the Japanese of their day, and the Greeks as the Chinese of their day, passing to and fro through the land. It absorbed from each certain externals and new ideas, but accepted changes in methods and techniques rather than in basic philosophy. Koreans have remained true to their own culture and patterns to thought as developed through the centuries.

** Special thanks to Glenn Uesigi of Hawaii for the above

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