Saturday, August 15, 2009

History Lesson

Today is Korea's Independence Day. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Korea spent about 35 years under the rather oppressive rule of Japan.

Korea spent a lot of its history being everyone else's punching bag, pretty much. In 1905, Japan more or less bullied Korea into signing the Eulsa treaty, which made Korea a protectorate of Japan. Five years later, Japan full-out annexed Korea. Korea didn't regain sovereignty until Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces at the end of World War Two. Even then, Korea still got the shaft, as most Americans know (since Korea doesn't really get a mention in history classes until the Korean war). But still, much preferable to living with the Japanese, who were prone to violently beating protesters (sometimes to death) and destroying whole villages based on rumors of hidden insurgents. Forget about freedom of the press. Koreans learned Japanese at school and had Japanese names. Granted, there are two sides to every story—you can argue that Japan forced Korea to reject feudalism and embrace technology and modernity quicker than they would have otherwise (prior to colonial rule, Korea was extremely isolationist), but atrocities are atrocities.

Korea hasn't exactly forgotten about this, and their relationship with Japan seems a bit odd. On the one hand, some of my students will tell me that they want to go to Japan, and they love anime about as much as geeks in America do. On the other hand, you have movies with less-than-flattering portrayals of the Japanese, like Fighter in the Wind and 2009: Lost Memories. Koreans go crazynuts when international sporting events pit them against Japan. I think they're also a bit resentful of the fact that when Westerners think of "(East) Asia," they think of...Japan. As one of my friends put it, "A lot of Japanese culture comes from China or Korea. It's just that the Japanese market themselves really well."

I've never really been a cheerleader for Japan (despite being in the anime club in college). I don't get the fascination that some of my fellow geeks have. Korea's own ambivalence has rubbed off on me and now I'm even more tepid.

That being said, the day was uneventful for me. KBS was airing some kind of documentary piece about Korean WWII veterans, but otherwise things were pretty sedate. Normally, this would be a day off from school, but since it's a Saturday, no dice. There's no "token day off" practice here like we have at home when a holiday falls on a weekend. Maybe Koreans are out drinking even more than normal, but that seems to be it.

1 comment:

  1. Japan screwed over a LOT of East Asia (China and Korea, especially). China's different in that it occasionally fought back, so there's a lot of back and forth there, but still.

    Yeah, there's a reason my mom kinda hates Japan. That, and apparently their men are douches. According to her, at least.