Era of Japanese Occupation in Korea. Who are you to say you are better, stronger, smarter, more superior? You can't. Because I am Korea, and you will never break me.
Until that day when
Mt. Baekdu is worn away
and the East Sea's waters run dry,
God protect and preserve our country!
August 29, 1910
Humiliation. The feeling that you are being looked down upon, laughed at, trampled over, lower than the dirt even worms crawl in.
That is how Korea felt when he received the news.
His country had just been officially annexed into Japan—the government was theirs, the land was theirs, his people were now theirs. Everything that symbolized Korean pride and dignity had been torn down in favor of Japanese culture. Schools were no longer allowed to teach Korean with all citizens having to learn Japanese, all Korean citizens had to take on Japanese names, land was being confiscated along with countless other rules and regulations that were now being imposed on the Korean people.
Korea saw flashes of red—literally—as he stormed through the silent streets towards a tall building in the distance. That was the former palace of Korea. A Japanese flag hung from it, a red dot on a stark white background, flapping brilliantly in the wind, mocking him as if to say, 'We've won.'
How dare they, these ilbon-saekki—these sons of bitches.
Korea stormed into the building, past the guards who scrambled to catch him, and into the room where he knew he would be.
Japan, dressed in his white military uniform, barely looked up from the letter he was writing. The impassive island nation had ugly bags under his eyes. He looked haggard and worn and pathetic and South Korea wanted nothing more than to punch him.
"Ah, Korea-san. I wondered when you would be coming," Japan didn't spare him another look as he dipped his brush into the well of ink on his desk, "How can I help you?"
"How can you help me?" Korea exploded. He crossed the room in three huge strides, and with one swipe of his arm, knocked everything off Japan's desk. The guards standing outside the doors lunged. Japan raised a hand, and they slid to a halt. Korea looked back at them; their eyes were distrustful and wary. As they should be. Korea was fierce and proud and strong; he had to be to have stood up to the other, larger Asian nations for so long. Japan just lowered the brush he still held in his hand to the desk and looked at Korea, waiting for him to continue.
Korea silently fumed and fought the desire to slug Japan then and there.
"How could you do this to me?" Korea's voice came out quieter and more broken than he intended.
"It is what must be done, Korea-san. The war with the West has been brewing for a while now. You know this. In order to properly defend ourselves from Russia-san, we needed access to the continent, which is why—"
"You took my land, my people, my culture from me?" Korea burst out, "You're killing my people. You're killing me."
Japan closed his mouth and folded his hands neatly in his lap.
"Believe what you will, Korea-san. What I do is for the good of my people and yours also."
"Our good? And tell me, Japan-shi, what good is this you speak of?" Korea clenched his trembling hand into a fist and forced it against his side, "Are you trying to tell me you believe that we are too weak to defend ourselves from the Westerners, that we are too stupid to know how to fight back and survive, that we are inferior to you Japanese?"
Korea watched with helpless anger as Japan remained silent. His breath felt restricted in his chest. He saw the awful things that were already happening to his people because this was not the first time Japan had attempted a take-over.
Centuries ago, the same thing had occurred, and although Korea had been able to fight Japan off before, it had not been without loss. The men had been taken as slaves for the Japanese, and the women had been taken and sold into prostitution for those Japanese pigs. And now, the same thing was happening again. But Korea was helpless to stop it. That fool of a prime minister had signed the annexation treaty.
So now what? Korea asked himself. Just like that, his culture was in danger of being destroyed. What was he supposed to live for now?
A flicker of movement brought Korea back. He watched as Japan stood from behind his desk. Their eyes were level, and Korea froze at the cool look in Japan's eyes.
"And if I am, Korea? What will you do about it?"
Before he knew what was happening, Korea had lashed out. Japan fell next to his chair, lip split, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. The guards rushed forth and seized Korea's arms.
As they dragged him back, he fought. He kept his eyes on Japan as the island nation rose. As he screamed obscenities of rage and desperation at Japan, he fought. As Japan's eyes flickered a strange kind of sadness, he fought. He would always fight. No matter how long this occupation went on or how awful the atrocities committed against his people were, he would fight.
Small as it was, the nation of Korea had survived as long as it had because of its spirit. Its people would not and could not be suppressed no matter how many were killed or how long these Japanese would insist upon their superiority.
These Japanese would not break the Korean spirit—no one would. He was Korea, and they would never break him.
As the pine atop Namsan Peak stands firm,
unchanged through wind and frost,
as if wrapped in armour,
so shall our resilient spirit.
August 11, 1945
Korea let out a joyous, helpless burst of laughter. He spread his arms wide and spun like a child.
35 years. For the first time in 35 years, Korea breathed the free air again. His people would no longer be sent into slavery, looked down upon, or treated like dirt.
The Japanese were leaving. The Americans and their fearsome death weapon were to thank for that.
Korea walked the streets of Seoul, a skip in his step. Already, he could feel a change in the air. The tension and exhausted pall that had hung in the atmosphere like an illness was dissipating. And now, it was time to confront Japan again.
Despite his happiness, Korea felt his throat tighten as he strode through the streets. What kind of state would Japan be in after the bombings? Would Japan be as distraught as South Korea was 35 years ago, or would he be the same as always—aloof and collected?
Bitterly, Korea wished Japan would be experiencing the former. After all, it was what those Japanese bastards deserved. After all the people of South Korea had been put through, Japan deserved to feel the same pain tenfold.
In the distance, Korea could see the palace. It was nostalgic. 35 years ago, almost to the day, he had been traveling this same route. Now, the mocking Japanese flag was no longer pinned to the palace. The country was their own once again.
There were no longer guards in front of the palace, and Korea strode in through the crimson colored gates unobstructed.
The palace was nearly empty as he went through. There were groups of Japanese guards who still lingered, but very few reacted to his presence. They all had this sad, dead look to them. They looked just as Korea had felt when the occupation first began—defeated.
Korea barely gave them a passing glance. He was more concerned with the one who was responsible for all of South Korea's pain and suffering.
Korea mustered up the gleeful feeling of being free, pushed open the doors, and stormed into the room.
Japan sat in the same chair as he did before, but no longer did he look calm and composed. There were bags under the island nation's eyes, and even his ebony hair looked limp.
Slowly, Japan looked up from the single sheet of paper on his desk.
"Ah, Korea-san. I wondered when you would be coming," Japan placed his brush on the table and folded his hands neatly on the desk, "How may I help you?"
For a moment, Korea was stunned. He could not think of anything to say. Had this war really taken so much out of Japan that he was now this withered husk of a nation?
"You're leaving," was all Korea could think to say. It was less of a question and more of a statement; he knew the answer but wanted to see Japan's reaction.
Japan closed his eyes wearily. "Yes, I am, Korea-san. We have lost, and so I am going home."
Perhaps Korea should have felt guilty over his satisfaction that Japan was defeated, beaten, and broken, but it was only what he deserved. After all, Korea had a right to be angry and bitter and now, he was grateful that it was Japan's turn to suffer. Korea stepped aside and swept an arm out towards the door. "Then there's the exit. Goodbye, Japan."
For a few moments, Japan and Korea regarded each other. Finally, Japan broke the stare. He pushed himself up off the desk and held the sheet of paper towards Korea.
"Korea is yours once again," he said.
The line of Korea's mouth tightened as he gestured towards the door again. "So it is," was his reply, "Goodbye, Japan-shi."
The unspoken threat to never return made the air tense like the second before a crack of thunder.
Japan sighed quietly and laid the paper back onto the table. "Goodbye, Korea-san."
Soon after, Korea stood in the room, alone. His arm still felt cold where Japan had brushed gently by. The paper laid on the desk at an angle, setting off the desk's perfect symmetry. Without realizing, Korea had reached a hand out and picked up the sheet.
It simply said:
"Following the destruction of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, I, the nation of Japan, hereby relinquish control of Korea."
Korea stared at the sheet, reading the single line over and over again. Finally, he turned on his heel and made for the messenger's wing. Korea was theirs once again, and it needed a new leader—someone strong, someone who could pull the nation back to its feet. Now was the time to push for democratic elections. No matter what, Korea would not be taken over again.
Roses of Sharon and Three thousand Li full
of splendid mountains and rivers;
Great Koreans, To the Great Korean way,
stay always true!
January 1, 2013
Korea listened to the muffled crunch of snow under his feet. Flakes of snow landed on his eyelashes and in his hair. The ground was all silvery and white. It made the gravestones he walked among appear as though they were dunes made of snow. In Korea, old graves were marked not by endless rows of tombstones in some fenced off part of the world but by mounds where the ancestors of Korea lay. In the summer, it was a place of quiet respectful beauty.
It was the Westerner's New Year's Day, and most of South Korea would be out vising family and enjoying the leftover holiday feelings from Christmas.
The day of the new year was for new beginnings, new life, and fresh starts. Korea, however, walked the graves. On a day like this, there would be few visiting the graves of their ancestors. As such, these ancestors would be lonely. After he was done here, he would go by those in South Korea's northern counterpart as well.
Korea stopped by one grave marked by a simple tomb. It read, "김 인수, 1940." (Kim In-Su.) Korea bowed his head to the deceased Kim In-Su. So this man had died during the occupation. Even now, remembering those years made Korea's blood boil with anger and hatred.
However, the bitter feelings were not as powerful as they had once been. After so long, perhaps the memories were not as vivid, which was why Korea had to work a little harder to muster up the same level of anger. Or perhaps it is because it had been so long. There were those in today's generation who knew of the bloody history between Japan and Korea, and yet, they were forgiving of the past.
Korea often spoke to the children of today's generation, and many were willing to let it go.
"It's part of Korea's history, but it's not my history," one of them had said, "We should never forget what Japan did to us back then, but that doesn't mean we can't forgive. The past has passed. It's time to move on."
The crunch of footsteps alerted Korea to another's presence.
"Good afternoon, Korea-san." Japan said quietly.
"Japan." Korea responded evenly, still kneeling in front of Kim In-Su's grave.
For a moment, there was silence. Then, Japan stepped closer to read the name engraved.
"Kim In-Su. I remember him."
Korea lifted his head and turned. Japan knelt in the snow beside him, clapped his hands twice, and bowed his head.
"I remember the deaths of all the Korean people from that time."
Korea watched with an even stare and waited for Japan to finish praying and to continue.
"This man was a teacher at a school in Incheon. During the occupation, as you know, it became illegal for schools to teach children of the Korea language and culture. This man, however, continued to teach, regardless of what the consequences would be." Japan lowered his hands into his lap. He just stared at the tombstone with sad, dark eyes.
"The Japanese police found out," Japan said, "They took him from the school and beat him. Then, they buried him alive."
Korea turned his head back to the grave and said nothing. He just closed his eyes and bowed his head again.
"His family found him, but he died from the beating on the way to the doctor." Japan finished.
Korea nodded and clenched his fists. Korea would never forget the cruelty of the Japanese. A sad tale like this only served as a reminder of why forgiveness did not come easily. The two nations knelt in silence, the snow piling on and around them. Every so often, one of them would reach out and brush more snow off Kim In-Su's grave.
Finally, it was time to leave. Korea put one of his fists to the ground and stood. Japan followed, brushing the snow from his shoulders and knees. He turned to Korea and bowed, "I will be taking my leave now, Korea-san. Happy New Year." Then, he was gone, a vanishing figure among the swirling snow.
Korea watched him go and remembered Kim In-Su's sad story and the Korean child's words.
Could he ever forgive? Perhaps.
Would he ever forget? Never.
Who are you to say you are better, stronger, smarter, more superior? You can't. Because I am Korea, and you will never break me.
With this spirit and this mind,
let us give all loyalty,
in suffering or in joy,
to the country's love.
일본새끼—ilbon-saekki—Japanese sons of bitches
씨—shi—Korean honorific (equivalent of 'san')
김 인수—Kim In-Su
I'll start by saying I did not intend for this story to be any kind of hate-on-Japan story. I am the first generation of my family to be born in the States, and as such, I admit that I do not have as much genuine Korean pride as one who is a native. However, I still love Korea as I consider it to be one of my two homes, which is why I feel as strongly as I do about the relationship between Korea and Japan.
Quite frankly, there are many Koreans, like my parents who were born in Korea but did not live through the Japanese occupation. However, they have very strong feelings about Japan, which differ from my own. Kim In-Su is a fake name I made up for my great great grandfather. That story, however, is very much real. Like I said before, this story is not meant to be some kind of pity story, but I wanted to give some kind of homage to my culture.
Koreans are extremely proud and needless to say, what happened during the Japanese occupation still has a great impact on the Korean-Japanese relationship today. This story is about a very proud nation being forced to the lowest point in perhaps its entire history and yet remaining strong and unbroken.
The blocks of italicized words are the lyrics to South Korea's national anthem, 애국가 (romanized as Aegukga). Aegukga means 'The Song of Love for the Country.'