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Japan’s colonial rule of Korea was ‘moderate’


Inuhiko Yomota writes from Antananarivo that the Madagascar capital is so dusty and so polluted with car exhaust that he’s almost gotten sick.

“Madagascar is said to be the poorest country in Africa and its capital has just one bookstore, small and Catholic. Japan’s former colonies, both Taiwan and Korea, have made remarkable economic and technological advances, but none of the former French colonies has accomplished anything of the sort.”

Yomota, the international traveler-scholar par excellence, has taught at a dozen universities outside Japan, from Columbia University in New York to Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro. In South Korea, he has taught at Konkuk and Chung-Ang universities, both in Seoul, and in Taiwan, at the National Tsing Hua University, in Hsinchu.

He wrote from Madagascar this time because he is writing “Yomota Around the World” for the publisher Chikuma. He adds: “France didn’t even bother with infrastructure in Madagascar” — France annexed the large island country in 1896 and gave it independence only in 1960 — “while Holland thought only of trade in Jakarta and Britain nothing but exploitation in India.

“In contrast, Japan first thought of sanitation, education, and infrastructure” in its colonies.

Yomota’s letter came when I was thinking of George Akita and Brandon Palmer’s “The Japanese Colonial Legacy in Korea: 1910-1945: A New Perspective” (MerwinAsia, 2015). For decades now, what John Kenneth Galbraith would call “conventional wisdom” on Japan’s rule of Korea has been markedly negative, and this historiography attempts to correct it, at times in great analytic detail, at times as fascinating anecdote.

Martin Fackler expressed this conventional wisdom most typically in his dispatch from Seoul for The New York Times (March 22, 2014, “U.S. as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry”).

“The conflict is rooted in grievances going back to Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and its attempts to extinguish the Korean culture,” he wrote.

Here Fackler was reporting on the Korean success in taking the “campaign” on “comfort women” to the U.S. and beyond, although for Korea this internationalization of the matter is “an irony,” Park Yuha, professor at Sejong University, in Seoul, argues in “The Empire’s Comfort Women” (2014), a deep, thoughtful study of the comfort women controversy from a global perspective of imperialism.

That’s because, she points out, Koreans have “lived for nearly 70 years since the liberation (in 1945) by erasing their memory of collaborating with the suzerain” — Japan — “and subordinating themselves to it.” For one thing, many of the managers of comfort women were Korean.

For anybody who needs evidence for what Park says, I might point to the diary that one such Korean manager of “comfort stations” in Burma and Singapore kept during the war. An Byeong-jik, emeritus professor at Seoul National University, uncovered it in 2013, and Kazuo Hori, a professor at Kyoto University, has translated it into Japanese.

The Koreans also “ignore their other face,” Park points out. It is the fact that they have procured comfort women for American soldiers stationed in Korea, just as the Japanese had done following their defeat in 1945.

By ignoring these things, they have “enjoyed a moral arrogance through a moral superiority” over Japan. This “moral arrogance” is not just utterly unwarranted; but it also makes the Koreans blind to “the shame and regrets of those who have committed crimes.”

Was Japan’s colonization of Korea “brutal”? The New York Times editorialists, ever ready to condemn others, gladly adopted the “brutal colonization” branding in reporting on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stance (“Another Attempt to Deny Japan’s History,” Jan. 2, 2013). Shin Yong-ha, professor at Hanyang University, in Seoul, went further and said: “Koreans lived under the most ruthless colonial rule ever known in history.”

Naturally, one basic question arises, and Akita and Palmer ask it: In comparison with what?

Japan committed one extensive brutal act after it annexed Korea in 1910. On March 1, 1919, Koreans calling for independence started to gather to protest in large numbers. Assemblies were illegal. The governor-general of Korea reacted and set out to suppress the demand. The GGK’s persecution ended more or less only at the end of the year.

The number of Koreans the Japanese authorities killed in the process ranges from 553 (Japan’s official figure) to 7,509 (the figure that the Korean independence-fighter Park Eun-sik, 1859-1925, cited in his history, “The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement” (1920)). Either figure you take, it’s a large number of people to kill.

But, if you compare the Japanese killings with some others, the scale may pale. For example, take the number of people the Americans killed in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902. As a result of the harsh U.S. actions and measures, “600,000 Filipinos died of disease and in concentration camps or on the battlefields of Luzon alone,” Gen. Franklin Bell (1865-1919) testified before a Senate committee.

Still, the GGK was distressed enough by the uprising and the consequences of its suppression to reverse its policy, from a “military (budan) governance” to a “cultural (bunka) governance.” Thereafter, the Japanese policy concentrated on “a modern infrastructure, education system, and economy,” Akita and Palmer point out.

More notably, throughout its colonization period, Japan never practiced any of the “forced labor, economic exploitation, and destruction of recalcitrant villages, with occasional forced relocation and racial segregation,” Akita and Palmer say.

Many are likely to object to this statement, so let’s modify it by saying everything is relative. And let’s see what some of the major imperial powers did.

Among them, Belgium’s forced labor in the Congo Free State (1885-1908), which Joseph Conrad memorably depicted in “Heart of Darkness” (1899), reduced the Congo’s population from 20 to 30 million to 8.5 million by 1911.

Holland’s compulsory labor and taking as much as half of the harvest of crops in Indonesia led to frequent famines, “including one in 1850 that killed upwards of 300,000 people.” Portugal’s forced labor in Angola killed over 300,000 Africans.

And, yes, France practiced forced labor to harvest coffee in Madagascar until after World War II.

Of course, killings and exploitation in some form or another continue to this day. But relative to the era of colonialism, Japan’s rule of Korea was “moderate,” even “almost fair,” Akita and Palmer judge. I must agree with them.

Hiroaki Sato is an essayist and translator based in New York.

  • TV Monitor

    Wrong, this poorly educated author doesn’t understand the immense damage that Japan has inflicted on Korea.

    Let us rewind back to late 19th century; Korea was a kingdom stretching from Korean peninsular to East Manchuria; yes, Korea held a Manchurian territory as large as peninsular territory known as Kando. Imperial Japan illegally handed over Korea’s Kando province to China via the Kando treaty. Then following the surrender of Imperial Japan it was Korea that was divided, not Japan, and Korea pays for the price of Japan’s crimes to this day. Unfortunately, most Japanese including the writer of this editorial are clueless because of Japan’s poor quality history education.

    This is what makes Japan the worst colonizer in history of past 300 years in terms of damages it left behind, and why a true reconciliation is impossible.

    • Tachomanx

      So was it wrong to say that Japan brought infrastructure, education and sanitation to Korea? I think the korean population lacked many of these and was highly illeterate

      Or that during the war there were even korean generals in the imperial army among the many korean volunteers that served in it?

      Or the author’s assertion that it was koreans who were providing the “comfort women” to Japan and later on to the U.S.?

      Also, it was the Soviet Union and the U.S. who divided the peninsula, not Japan. You should complain with them on how they decided to handle it since they were the victors and to them the spoils I guess.

      As for the Kando issue, it seems the region was contested between Korea and China prior to Japan’s involvement. But well that’s history for you. Mexico suffered a similar fate under similar circumstances and it’s not about to recover anything and it’s pointless to remain bitter about it at this point. Then again holding a grudge seems to be a korean trait. You can always take the issue to China though, I bet they’ll be very understanding and hand it over after Korea’s unification…

      • TV Monitor


        So was it wrong to say that Japan brought infrastructure, education and sanitation to Korea?

        Korea would have had those WITHOUT Japan.

        Or that during the war there were even korean generals in the imperial army among the many korean volunteers that served in it?

        There were no volunteers, only the forced recruitment.

        Or the author’s assertion that it was koreans who were providing the “comfort women” to Japan and later on to the U.S.?

        Make this clear, Comfort Women were forcibly recruited against their wills via deceptions by the order of Imperial Japan. The Japanese troops in China even kidnapped the comfort women themselves, hence this is why there is a Dutch bishop on his way to sainthood for sacrificing his and 8 other monk’s lives in an attempt to protect 200 Chinese women from the Imperial Japanese troops who were trying to kidnap women at a gunpoint.

        And the US troops did not ask for private prostitution, it had nothing to do with them. Ditto for the ROK troops.

        Only Japan had an industrialized legal mass prostitution system from the ancient times, until banned by the US GHQ.

        Also, it was the Soviet Union and the U.S. who divided the peninsula, not Japan.

        The division would not have taken place if.

        1. Japan never invaded Korea
        2. Or at least Japan surrendered by the end of 1944 instead of fighting a meaningless war to the last man.

        Japan is 100% responsible for the division.

        As for the Kando issue, it seems the region was contested between Korea and China prior to Japan’s involvement.

        Another Japanese crime against its neighbor that cannot be undone.

        The damages Japan has caused to its neighbors is so great it is not even possible to list them all. Just remember that the Communist China and North Korea is of Japan’s own creation. Had Japan not started the Second Sino-Japanese War, the KMT army would have exterminated Mao’s red army and you would have a friendly Republic of China in the mainland.

        So whatever the Chinese Communist Party decides to do on Japan, Japan deserves all of it, since Japan created the Communist China.

      • Tachomanx

        Korea was a feudal kingdom with chastes. The elite kept the low born from getting education or improved modern infrastructures. In a way, Japan kickstarted Korea’s further development down the road, not to mention that today’s education system in Korea was inherited from the one during the colonial era.

        Conscription into the Imperial Army didn’t took place until 1944 when the war was all but lost. before that it was an all volunteer recruitment for the Koreans. I think some of your early generals and presidents were part of this military.

        Korea was freed after the war and that it ended up the way it did was the U.S. and the Soviet Union’s fault since they failed to respect the newfound sovereignity of the korean people. To blame Japan over not surrendering before is rather a feeble attempt to cast attention away from the actual culprits.
        Also, Korea was victim from the grand geostrategic moves that took place at the end of the 19 century and early 20th when the world was ruled by empires. On that regard, Korea can only blame it’s own weakness in such a time when everyone was grabbing what wasn’t “theirs”

        And there you go turning to your run of the mill warmongering. Must make your cringe that despite all relations are improving this year. Wish I could see your face when the trilateral summit is carried out.

      • TV Monitor


        Korea was a feudal kingdom with chastes.

        I suggest you go back to dictionary and study what feudalism means.

        Japan was a hereditary feudalistic society, but Korea was not. In case of Korea, all free male were eligible to take the government officials exam(This was difficult in practice as farmer’s sons had to work at the field, but there have been several officials and generals who were born farmers and studied at night to pass the exam), all regional governors/administrators were appointed for a specific term and were then reassigned. All government officials had to pass the exam and no one inherited one’s government positions, even if one was the son of a prime minister. No exception.

        By comparison, Japan was truly a feudalistic society, as one inherited his father’s jobs for generations. Ie, a daimyo’s son was a daimyo, a samurai’s son was a samurai, a chef’s son was a chef, a burakumin’s son was a burakumin even to this very day, etc.

        You are making a stupid and an ignorant comment like this because of your poor history education.

        In a way, Japan kickstarted Korea’s further development down the road,

        Korea was already in the process of modernization and didn’t need Japanese interventions at all.

        Conscription into the Imperial Army didn’t took place until 1944

        Japan already agreed to display at its UNESCO sites about the forced recruiting of Korean laborers before 1940, so you are debunked by your own government.

        Korea was freed after the war and that it ended up the way it did was the U.S. and the Soviet Union’s fault

        No, 100% Japan’s fault.

        On that regard, Korea can only blame it’s own weakness in such a time when everyone was grabbing what wasn’t “theirs”

        Well, Japan then can only blame its own weakness when the mighty China seizes the Diaoyu Islands by force. Heck, even Korea might go for the Tsushima Islands when the timing is right, since the taking of this island is in the war manual and is drilled each year.

      • Tachomanx

        My bad, Korea was a country ran by an elite. An elite that didn’t seem to accomplish much if it was so weak that couldn’t stand up to China or Japan in time.

        Yeah, it was so far ahead that couldn’t resist being China’s vassal (for centuries) in the first place and eventually end up Japan’s colony next. Never mind the 35 years of development during the colonial era which the new liberated Korea took advantage from to continue on.

        I was speaking about the military. As for the Meiji industrial sites, only in a handful was labor conscription an issue and both Korea and Japan are reaching a deal on them at UNESCO.

        Nothing but your irrational claim based on nothing but “if” scenarios. Koreans could have asked the soviets to leave and they should by all means. How can a defeated Japan be responsible for Stalin’s whims?

        China won’t dare seize the Senkaku as they are part of the defense treaty with the U.S. not to mention that China isn’t there yet where it can hope to beat Japan on naval or aerial warfare.

        As for your dellusions regarding Korea…well I think I have clarified enough how disturbed you are over your traumatized upbringing product of Korea’s victmist centric identity. Such an event would cost Korea it’s alliance with the U.S. and likely put in the same boat as Russia.
        Why? Because Japan renounced using force to take over the Liancourt Rocks, only you still believe that such a thing can still happen.

      • zer0_0zor0

        While it is apparent that you have studied some of the relevant history, you are missing much that is important.

        Japan’s annexation of Korea was cynical and opportunistic, and not excusable in any way shape or form. But that leads to other questions, such as the geopolitical background to the Meiji Restoration.

      • Tachomanx

        I agree it was opportunistic though it was the trend of the times as western empires were also encroaching on Asia. Russia in particular was eyeing not only the peninsula but also several japanese islands in the Sea of Japan like Tsushima itself.

    • Hendrix


  • Richard Solomon

    What an elaborate attempt at rationalizing and justifying colonialism this is! To call the exploitation and suppression of another culture/country ‘moderate,’ let alone ‘fair,’ is to deny the reality of the impact which such act it ivies has on the victims. For this writer to call the Koreans ‘arrogant’ is the most powerful example of the extent to which Japanese like the writer are in denial about what took place in Korea from 1910 until 1945. If this writer and other Japanese actually believe their perspective on the Japanese occupation of Korea, it borders on delusional. Tragically, there is little hope for reconciliation between the two countries if this represents mainstream Japanese thinking about these issues. This is exactly what the Chinese want: if the Japanese and the S Koreans cannot reconcile, it will be that much easier for China to have its way in the East and South China Seas.

    • TV Monitor

      Richard Solomon

      If this writer and other Japanese actually believe their perspective

      They really do believe that Imperial Japan did many goods in places like Korea, Manchuria, and Southeast Asia.

      This is exactly what the Chinese want:

      Blame Japan for this situation.

  • Liars N. Fools

    五十步百步 — comparative brutality is not and should not be a course of study. It misleads more so than enlightens.

    Japan did not legally colonize Joseon; Japan annexed Joseon. This is significant because at one fell swoop the Joseon people became Japanese. But the practice was not annexation in which the Joseon people were the equal of Japanese but colonization in which the Joseon people became second class in their own home lands. The machinery of politics and economy was dominated by Japanese, and many Japanese from then overpopulated Japan came to take over real properties that was suddenly open to them but not to the original occupants.

    The historic irony is that Meiji Japan probably could have led an anti-Western imperialism coalition of China, Joseon, and itself. Many of the “modernizers” in Qing China and Joseon looked to some Japanese for help. Sun Yat-sen lived in Japan, as did Lu Xun. Philip Jaisohn sought advice. But Japan opted for its own imperial path which led to its tragic adventures in the Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, and China.

    Too arrogant in their own ultra-nationalism, the Japanese imperialists and militarists never could quite understand why the Koreans and Chinese resisted Japanese “enlightened” views. After all, they just wanted to bring sanitation, transportation, and industry. That they also brought death, rape, rampage, and oppression is the main source of negative feelings in China and Korea against that era, which unfortunately Abe Shinzo wishes to sanitize.

    Many Japanese understand this historical reality. Denying it or sanitizing it is not helpful.

    • zer0_0zor0

      While there is some merit to points in your comment, you should study the history a little more.

      Teddy Roosevelt officially recognized Japan’s “interests” in Korea after the war between Japan and Russia, which Japan won in 1905.

      If you want to learn about the Meiji period, read Marius Jansen’s book, “Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration”.

      • Liars N. Fools

        You should follow your own advice.

        The more apt Jansen book is “The Japanese and Sun Yat-sen” which describes the ultimately abortive attempts to form Pan-Asianism. Ryoma was assassinated just before the Restoration. So the Jansen book does not cover the desire of Saigo Takamori to invade Korea, using the disenfranchised samurai (Satsuma had a high ratio of samurai to overall population).

        I suggest you read John Dower. In addition to the “Embracing Defeat” book there are shorter essays that talk about the “soft peace” promoted by the Americans that helped give impetus to the revisionism, including the embrace of Abe’s war criminal grandfather.

        You might also try Michael Barnhart’s “Japan Prepares for Total War” or James Crowley’s classic “Japan’s Quest for Autonomy.” Sadako Ogata’s “Defiance in Manchuria” is also a classic in describing how the military essentially drove Japan to leave the League of Nations.

        Although not history per se, Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy and other works reflect the mindset of a famous rightist intellectual, as does his suicide.

      • zer0_0zor0

        Thanks for the recommendations.

        A point that needs to be emphasized, though, is that the USA helped bring about the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had maintained peaceful relations with Korea and China for approximately 250 years.

        Rebels like Sakamoto Ryoma were directly aided by Americans.

        Saigo Takamori felt betrayed by the Meiji government, thus he rebelled against it. He is not representative of them.

      • Hitokiri 1989

        Thats the sort of reasoning that I’ve seen from James Bradley in his books. While it is true that the Americans played a role, exaggerating their role denies agency to the Japanese in the sense that they acted on the American’s opinion and advise rather than their own appraisal of the then geopolitical situation. Note the argument that the Americans convinced the Japanese to take the supreme position in Asia falls flat since by the 1930s, America was doing everything they could to undermine Japan. The Japanese had their own ambitions, they didn’t need to be pushed by the Americans

  • Bruce Chatwin

    “Madagascar is said to be the poorest country in Africa and its capital has just one bookstore, small and Catholic. Japan’s former colonies, both Taiwan and Korea, have made remarkable economic and technological advances, but none of the former French colonies has accomplished anything of the sort.”

    What of Japan’s other former colonies? Say the Philippines or Burma/Myanmar?

    Is the author suggesting a causal connection between Taiwan and Korea’s economic and technological accomplishments and Japan’s colonisation of those countries?

    Who are George Akita and Brandon Palmer?

    The author makes no mention of the Death Railway, Sandakan, or Bataan, to name but three Japanese atrocities. Not to mention the Battle of Manila in 1945.

    The author makes some good points about the behaviour of other colonial powers but ruins his article by diminishing or ignoring Japanese brutality.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      To be fair, the Japanese did not rule Philippines and Myanmar to make any real difference. As for the causal connection between Taiwan and Korea’s economic accomplishments, an argument can be made that there was. Nonetheless an argument can also be made that the legacy of Japanese imperialism is also what explained why those two countries had authoritarian leaderships for most of their development.

  • At Times Mistaken

    Surprising read. Just when you think it can’t get any worse. The writer sinks to new depths of bad.

  • Jonathan Fields

    This is exactly the kind of white-washing that makes people so angry with the Japanese. But it’s nice to see all kinds of different opinions on JT, I suppose…

    • Paul Martin

      It’s also known as efficient journalism much to the disdain of despots !

      • Jonathan Fields


      • Paul Martin

        Is that the extent of your vocabulary ?

      • Jonathan Fields

        Could be be any more of a worthless troll? Jesus, man.

      • Paul Martin

        Ah but I have the credentials to back me up…..and there’s the difference !

  • Red Chairman Toad

    Korea was not colonized but annexed into Japan.

    BTW, except Japan, have any other former master states or colonial powers ever officially apologize and compensated for their overseas rules?

  • Kyle

    Pure delussoon. The argument is not about Japanese Colonialism compared to the rest of the world. The question is, was it criminal, cultural genocide, exploitation, illegal, and a violation of human rights? The answer is yes! Japan and Korea will get over their history, but ignorant hack writers like Mr. Sato do nothing to bring reconciliation. Certainly Japan was not the worst colonizer in history, does that somehow make their crimes “fair”? The ignorance by Mr. Sato is stunning.

  • 151E

    It would be interesting if the Japan Times could arrange an exchange / debate on the topic between Hiroaki Sato and Niall Ferguson.

  • Paul Martin

    I have often visited Korea and Taiwan for long periods and noticed that their entire systems are based on Japanese education and architecture even their police forces are shaped after the Japnese, so they owe their prosperity to Japan because they were all peasants before !

    • zer0_0zor0

      Ludicrous, and insulting.

      You obviously now nothing about history.

      • Paul Martin

        History is rewritten by governments who do NOT want future generations to learn VERITAS about the misdeeds of their ancestors !

      • Toolonggone

        And that gives people like you justification to blame the victims who fell into the cracks of unjust war? Well, that’s exactly what I see in your comment.

      • Paul Martin

        All wars are HELL and unjustified. They are humankind at worst and their is NO real justification for killing other humans or animals for that matter !
        My comments are based on my personal evaluations and exercising my right to free speech. I do NOT envisage or expect everyone to agree with every comment or opinion. That’s why good journalism invites opposing views and debates.

      • Toolonggone

        >All wars are HELL and unjustified.

        But your initial comment suggests that it is ok as long as perpetrators left what you call socio-economic foundation so that former colonized nations will prosper in the next several decades– and they will(or should be) grateful to that. Such cultural logic–which is widely common among those so called “reformers” in the US and/or Europe– is exactly the product of hegemony coming from the west, Paul.

      • Paul Martin

        If the West really wanted hegemony they could have easily grabbed the whole region when Macarthur ran the show !

        Land grabbing goes way back beyond when America was even a country. Ghengus Khan,Attila the Hun, Chinese and Japanese Emperor dynasties, Mongolian invasions as far as Rome.
        America keeps the peace all over the World, without the US, regardless to what anyone thinks about them, Beijing and Moscow would call the shots and people like Putin would make hegemony seem like kids play !
        To America’s critics, I say, I would rather be led by America, where as a Brit. I have lived some 25 years, than anyone else at the helm !

      • Toolonggone

        Contrary to what you say at the beginning of the third paragraph(“America keeps the peace all over the world”), history shows that they give out helping hand to the wrong regimes that brutally killed and tortured innocent citizens who protested to discrimination, corruption and autocracy. South Vietnam, South Africa, Central America, Iran, Chile, etc. Does Frontier Myth stand you out something about everlasting perpetuation of exceptionalism around the world? Oh never mind.

      • Paul Martin

        It’s true that some powerful Americans like the Masons (George Washington was a member) and the John Birch society, Rockefellers, J.Edgar Hoover despised the every thought of communism and it’s spread. But most Americans have absolutely NO control over the actions of their government and the mega rich who support them into power.
        Yes SOME misguided Americans have committed unspeakable crimes and rights violations around the World because in their mindsets they were acting for right and freedom and sanctioned by their government and more than a few have been held accountable.
        But whatever BAD things those few Americans did doesn’t even come close to their counterparts including Britain who always try to cover and deny barbarisms done in their name !
        Unlike other countries where the press is suppressed by governments, the American media does pursue those who do un-American deeds as we saw with Watergate and the NSA farces just to name a few. These cause Presidents to resign.(NIxon)
        America is NOT perfect, we are ALL sinners in this World (I am NOT religious)
        The self righteous among us are usually the biggest hypocrites !]
        Anyway, I quote again the words of a great American revered the World over………

        ” Sure I fly the American flag…can you think of a better flag to fly ?
        And sure I love my country with all it’s faults,
        I have never been ashamed of that…never have…never will ”
        John Wayne

      • Toolonggone

        Way to go Paul. You are making my point crystal clear!

    • Toolonggone

      Your comment well explains how western hegemony is perpetuated in a way to defend perpetrators–instead of victims– from misconduct of heinous crime. Like ALEC-Koch sponsored GOPs and self-serving corporate reformers.

      • Paul Martin

        Well wait until China’s hegemony further expands. WE haven’t seen anything yet !
        Expats are still Westerners and we will NEVER be accepted as equals in countries where class status quos are dominant.
        Anyone who is married to an asian, even with children knows this.Whereas in America and Western countries asians are accepted and hold prominent
        positions in academics, government, business and high political posiitions. THis could not happen in asia !

      • Toolonggone

        >Expats are still Westerners and we will NEVER be accepted as equals in countries where class status quos are dominant.

        Funny. What makes you believe you will be treated equally in Japan?

      • Paul Martin

        I don’t !

  • KenjiAd

    In Sato’s logic, even if I broke into his house, declared it mine, and used it for some 45 years, he would thank me, as long as I installed a brand new A/C that he would be able to use after I got busted. Yeah right. I’m impressed.

  • Bruce Chatwin

    Brandon Palmer, co-author of “The Japanese Colonial Legacy in Korea: 1910-1945: A New Perspective”, accepted the 2014 Japan Study Encouragement Award from the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. George Akita sat on the board recommending the 2014 award. Henry Scott Stokes also sat on the board. The board recommending the 2015 award included Akita, Stokes, Palmer, and Kevin Doak. The right-wing revisionist Japan Institute for National Fundamentals is chaired by Yoshiko Sakurai and Shinataro Ishihara is a director. Many of the board members are also members of the right-wing, revisionist organisation Nippon Kaigi.
    Kevin Doak, who writes the forward to Akita and Palmer’s book, is also the winner of a prize awarded by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Doak’s chair at Georgetown is paid for by the Nippon Foundation which traces its history back to the self-declared fascist Ryoichi Sasakawa’s Sasakawa Foundation.

    • At Times Mistaken

      That’s good to know. Thanks for the 411.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      Excellent research there. Note how charges of “Conspiracy” or “bias” don’t apply whenever some right-winger writes a piece of history. Now If it were a work critical of Japan’s Imperial past you can bet the authors will be accused of being left-wingers, Communists or in the pay of the CCP.

  • Hendrix

    Yet more warped logic by a Japanese right winger who wrote this article, Colonialism is never moderate and just robs a country of everything… it really amazes me how this story even got published and also a disgusting attempt at rationalising Japans past crimes.

    • Toolonggone

      Based on the information provided, the author is not the same kind of right-wingers. He’s a pro-American Haiku writer. But it’s obvious his limited informed account of western hegemony(he doesn’t have expertise in Asian history) blindsides his ignorance of tyranny and colonialism in Asia/Pacific.

  • Bruce Chatwin

    The author, Hiroaki Sato, notes Holland’s (use of) compulsory labor and taking as much as half of the harvest of crops in Indonesia led to frequent famines, “including one in 1850 that killed upwards of 300,000 people.”

    Sato neglects to note the use of compulsory labour by the Japanese in Indonesia. Sato ignores the use of forced laborers referred to as kinrōhōshi and romusha by the Japanese. The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that the Japanese military used between four to 10 million rōmusha from Java. Romusha sent to other countries (eg Burma/Myanmar) by the Japanese military had a death rate of 80%.

    The author also fails to note that during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, an estimated 2,400,000 people died in the 1944-5 Java famine.

  • Sam Gilman

    This article is typical of a problem, perhaps better a sickness, that affects all the countries caught up in the imperialist adventures of the past two centuries, with the possible exception of Germany: trying to pretend away ones own crimes by pointing at those of others. It of course affects the Japanese right, particularly at the moment. But it also affects the US and western Europeans. It affects China. (I say “possible” exception of Germany because it was not swift to recognise the crimes it committed in Africa (apologies were forthcoming for some only in 2004, but no compensation.) )

    The behaviour of the US in the Philippines does not diminish the crimes of the Japanese. The crimes of the Japanese do not diminish the crimes of the Dutch or Belgians. The current British Prime Minister refuses to apologise for massacres in India and describes the British Empire as something to be proud of; how many Britons have even registered this? No one in Japan should deny the horror of the Nanjing Massacre, but does that mean we give a pass to China’s devastation of Tibet? (Or: no one should deny the human devastation caused by China’s occupation of Tibet but does that mean we deny the horror of the Nanjing massacre? Isn’t it funny how the order changes the meaning?)

    For some reason, too many people find it too difficult to look at the horrors of their country’s own past, while finding it so easy to look at the horrors of others. Were there moments in various colonial histories that were relatively peaceful and in the strictest sense, liveable? For many of the occupied nations, yes. Yes, you can point to those times and those places. But effective subjugation is not some benevolent moderation. Why deny the violence lurking at either end of these periods, and that flows under them? What is so addictive about the colonial experience that makes it so difficult to surrender it fully? I don’t know, but the extent to which so many people from so many of these countries kick back against facing up to what their compatriots and ancestors did really disturbs me.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      Ironically, the same lame excuses said to praise Japanese colonialism in Korea and Taiwan can also be used for the Chinese annexation of Tibet. After all didn’t both powers overthrow a corrupt feudal elite, brought infrastructure, provided opportunities that were not available.

      • Sam Gilman

        This is precisely my point – that there is a general problem whereby many people from colonial and “former” colonial countries are unable to shake off the self-justifying psychology of imperialism. (Japanese nationalists attack China on Tibet, but don’t see how this condemns their own history too.) You can see in the other reply to me a textbook example, which seems supremely unself-aware. I’ll provide examples directly to him/her later from recent British history to provide context for their claim that the British are good at “owning up”.

        (To point out the similarities in the tactics of denial and apologism between countries is not to deny or diminish the atrocities and crimes of any of them. I don’t understand how condemning all colonialism is taken as justifying or whitewashing some of it.)

  • Sam Gilman

    That’s a very interesting reaction to someone simply saying that Hiroaki Sato’s article reflects a broader global apologistic pattern in postcolonialism. Nowhere did I seek to diminish Japanese colonial crimes. I went out of my way to emphasise all the reasons that they and all other colonial crimes should not be downplayed.

    I must confess I’m not sure if you were trying to parody precisely the problem I was describing or are a very good example of it: trying to turn the spotlight away from your own country’s crimes (you appear to be British) by getting into some kind of competition about who wasn’t as bad as the others. Yes, the article is about one Japanese interpretation of their colonial history. Are you trying to say that there is something uniquely Japanese about failing to come to terms with crimes of colonialism?

    Let’s focus on the UK since you specifically want to absolve the UK, and I’m British. I said Britain hadn’t apologised for massacres in India. You told me to look at a Wikipedia link. It said what I said: no apology has been offered for the Amritsar massacre. There is a recognition that it was bad but no apology. You didn’t notice that? (And yet think how much has been said about the precise wording of Japan’s apologies) Here is what David Cameron himself said:

    “In my view,” he said, “we are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and which Winston Churchill described as ‘monstrous’ at the time and the British government rightly condemned at the time. So I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologise for.

    “I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened.

    “That is why the words I used are right: to pay respect to those who lost their lives, to remember what happened, to learn the lessons, to reflect on the fact that those who were responsible were rightly criticised at the time, to learn from the bad and to cherish the good.”

    I’m not quite sure what the difference is between that and the noises that come out of Abe’s mouth (and I’ve not heard Abe openly say we should cherish the good bits of the Japanese occuptions, although it wouldn’t surprise me in private). One of the defences the Japanese Right use about comfort women, or about the rape of Dutch women in Indonesia, is that they point to contemporaneous condemnations of criminal behaviour to give the impression that these things were just aberrations in otherwise wisely moderate and uplifting rule. Just as we see with the US media casting white mass murderers as aberrant but black criminals as a reflection of their origins, so we get post-imperialists of all countries doing the same. Bad eggs, everywhere, but the chicken is healthy.

    But Amritsar is small fry, and well, maybe we should adopt a statute of limitations arbitrarily set at forty years before the current Prime Minister’s birthday. So what about postwar Kenya? For sixty years the British government covered up and destroyed evidence of violence and torture in Kenya during the Mau-Mau rebellion on a massive scale. For decades, the British government, despite knowing the claims were true, simply said that whatever the victims claimed, it was all lies. What “lies”?:

    “forced sodomy with broken bottles and vermin and snakes and just horrific, horrific things”

    “[Nzili] testified that he was taken to Embakasi, a notorious prison camp which was run by a sadistic police officer called Mr Dunman who was known for castrating suspected Mau Mau fighters. Running away from the movement was no defence. On the fourth day inside the camp Mr Nzili was publicly castrated with a pair of pliers normally used on cattle.”

    “In fact, in total [only] 32 Europeans died,” Elkins says. “As opposed to that, nearly 1 1/2 million Kikuyu were put into some form of detention, where they were tortured and forced to labor.”

    When you and I were growing up in our nice “we won the just war against the forces of evil” glow, all of this was bluntly denied.

    Once the government was forced by the courts to release what material it had, did it suddenly own up, apologise, prostrate itself and compensate? No, it took up a new stance: Yes, all these things happened, and wasn’t it awful, but it was damn well going to fight any claims for compensation or admit liability. Only when this legal strategy did not work, and the battle against paying compensation ended in an out-of-court settlement, did the British government apologise. In 2013. But still, in settling and expressing regret, the foreign secretary, in reference to what happened, said

    Many members of the colonial service contributed to establishing the institutions that underpin Kenya today and we acknowledge their contribution.

    Hmmm. Didn’t Japan build all those schools in Korea? Doesn’t that exculpate Japan from its crimes? No, not one bit. Nor does any kind of thing like that exculpate the British of their actions in Kenya or elsewhere. So why say it? Why this need to say “Yes it was bad, but…”

    Did your view of Britain as a country that faces up to its crimes form only after the events of 2013, or has it been a belief you’ve held for much longer? Do you want to say “yeah, well, that was just Kenya”? Then I can point you to Aden, where we had torture cells there, too. People being made to sit on pipes that inevitably were forced by bodyweight into their anuses. People thrown in refrigerators. Beaten, sexually abused. This was going on all around the empire, as the now vindicated Harvard researcher Caroline Elkins points out. Batang Kali, Cyprus…there’s a lot out there that most people have never heard of.

    Then there’s more from India on a huge scale. The Bengal famine in 1943 – an event barely acknowledged or known about in general British society – where the British deliberately chose to starve Indians (while carefully guaranteeing rations in Britain) resulting in the deaths of around four million people. Seriously: food aid from the US and Canada was refused. Can we plead the exigencies of war? No. We would not have done the same to British citizens. We starved these people. When Churchill was challenged, his reply was that if there was a food problem, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”.

    As Bruce Chatwin rightly points out in the comments here – the famine deaths in Indonesia during the Japanese occupation are the responsibility of the Japanese occupiers. The same goes for us. Have we apologised? No. OK, so do we confront it fully? Do we recognise properly what our colonialism did? You might comfort yourself with that idea that we do, but here’s what David Cameron said about the Empire in general:

    “Speaking after his visit [to the site of the massacre he refuses to apologise for], he said: ‘I think there’s an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British Empire did and was responsible for.

    ‘But of course there were bad events as well as good ones.’ “

    The point here is not to compare the severity of the crimes. They are all awful, and beyond the pale. We are not comparing the theft of sandwich with the theft of a fortune, but deaths in the millions. The point is to show that this habit of downplaying, of trying to deflect, of ignoring is part of a general pattern across the former colonial and slaving powers. (How many on the American Right think Twelve Years a Slave is just liberal propaganda? Why can’t even a left-wing French President such as Francois Hollande apologise for the Algerian war?) How many people demand that the Japanese confront their crimes fully in their school history lessons, but don’t know about most of the stuff I’ve mentioned here. When Robin Cook – promoter of “ethical foreign policy” – moved into the Foreign Office, he famously removed a huge portrait of some old governor of India, being as it was the corrupt sign of empire. In its place he put a huge portrait that radical father of parliamentary democracy, Oliver Cromwell. First visitor? The Prime Minister of Ireland, who naturally threw a fit. Neither him, nor his highly educated civil servants saw that coming. Oh, we’re soooo good at facing our past.

    One cannot properly confront someone like Hiroaki Sato and the nonsense he writes without grasping that it’s not some ineffably Japanese thing he’s doing. One certainly cannot properly confront someone like Hiroaki Sato if one is guilty of the same thing. When Japanese nationalists try to throw other countries’ crimes in their face, very often I see people respond with “Oh, but we weren’t as bad as you.” This to me is the wrong response, a poor response that only strengthens their rhetoric of victimisation. I think a better, more disarming response is to dig up the very worst thing your country did, something they likely didn’t even know, and say “I can confront this – why can’t you confront what your country did? Why do you try to hide it?”

    • Hendrix

      Piece of advice, keep things short and sweet, i have no desire to read someones thesis, you have too much time on your hands… and your final assumption that i try and hide what my country did shows that you are full of BS and assumptions… you are boring

      • Sam Gilman

        Piece of advice: if you can’t bear to read even a few paragraphs detailing what we did, don’t boast about how well you know your country’s history.

        The two don’t go together.

      • Hendrix

        interesting how my last comment was removed, … my last piece of advice for you is get out of your ivory tower and stop looking down your nose at the world… i dont need a lecture from some kid out of college…. oh well thats another comment of mine removed..

      • Sam Gilman

        “get out of your ivory tower”

        So you think all those atrocities I listed in my post that you say you didn’t read are “academic”? Does that include the bit about the public castration of political prisoners?

  • tisho

    I have never seen nor heard a Japanese writing negatively of Japan, even the most obvious things are somehow twisted in a positive way for the country. I see and hear Koreans and Chinese talking negatively and rationally about their countries all the time. Every time i see a topic that is negative for Japan written by a Japanese or discussed by a Japanese, i immediately know that the Japanese fault is going to be either downplayed, denied or twisted somehow, and i am always right.

  • AJ

    Claiming credit for two of the Asian tigers’ economic miracles and making a moral relativistic case that this makes Japanese imperialism “moderate”, even “almost fair”, is such a galling and dismissive insult that the gall is astonishing.

    The Japanese weren’t the most brutish or exploitative imperialists of the era, but that should not lead in any way to the conclusion that the Japanese were not brutish or exploitative.

    I could agree with the points that Japan did more than bring hate and misery to Korea and Taiwan or that Western powers were just as bad if not worse in many of their own cases, But these points don’t make Japan’s crimes any less heinous nor rub out the shame Japan should feel in acknowledging the uglier moments of its history. If Japan wanted to go along this line, it should seek to become a model of admitting its guilt and then pressure France and Holland to more fully acknowledge that their history of imperialism are also disgraces.

  • GIJ

    This column was about as persuasive as something written by an arrogant white Englishman claiming that the British Empire brought parliamentary democracy, “free” trade, and railways to the world. Even in the most prosperous of ex-British colonial holdings (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore, Ireland, Hong Kong, Barbados, Bahamas, Malta–all of which are countries or territories where living standards are close to or exceed what is seen in present-day South Korea) you’re just not likely to find too many people who buy such reasoning.

    In the final analysis, humans will likely respond more strongly to injustices committed against them by outsiders than by people they consider their own. Therefore, no person who is not a fool will dare to tell black Africans that European imperial regimes on their continent were less repressive than what preceded them in the pre-colonial era, even if that were true (and whether that conclusion is true is highly debatable).

    I know this is a common argument among defenders of Japanese rule in Korea, i.e. that Japanese rule over Korea was better and more enlightened than the dynastic rule of native Koreans on the peninsula until 1910. In other words, Japanese governed Korea better than Koreans. This argument will go nowhere for eternity, plain and simple. Why? Because such an argument rests on the unspoken assumption that Koreans in 1910 were an inferior people incapable of effective self-governance. Again, telling Koreans or anybody else that foreigners did a better job of governing their country than natives did is an argument that will NEVER gain traction.

    Some people in Japan, a country never subjected to the humiliation of direct foreign rule (sorry, the 1945-52 occupation by the USA doesn’t count), perhaps have a certain amount of trouble understanding this crucial point. There’s more to life than infrastructural development.

  • Testerty

    So what happened to the Japanese colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippine, British New Guinea etc etc?