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Imperialist vs Rogue. Japan, North Korea and the Colonial Issue since 1945

Impérialiste contre voyou. Le Japon, la Corée du Nord et la question coloniale depuis 1945
Adrien Carbonnet

Abstracts

The present paper is an attempt on grasping with the Japanese colonization in Korea through two main issues: the colonial past as an important stake in the Japan-North Korea negotiations since 1945, and the status of the Japanese colonization among the Japanese public debate.
In 1991, during the negotiations aiming at the normalization between Japan and North Korea, « settling the past » constituted a main issue before reaching to the consensus of the P’yŏngyang Declaration, the 17th of September 2002. The Declaration mentions apologies for the colonial domination and preconizes a strong « economical cooperation », meaning actually the payment of indemnities to North Korea, and re-enacting the same type of resolution decided toward South Korea some 35 five years ago.
In Japan, the persistence of regional security issues with North Korea (the threat of ballistic and nuclear missiles, repeated abductions of Japanese citizens) and the well mediatized idea of North Korea as a « rogue state » tends to obliterate, in the public Japanese mind, the colonial past and the former Japanese domination in Korea. Although very well documented et studied in Japan among scholars, the colonial domination, thus, constituted a weapon of choice in the self-legitimization rhetoric of the P’yŏngyang regime and Kim Il-sŭng, since its very foundation.

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Editor’s note

Original release: Adrien Carbonet, « Impérialiste contre voyou », Cipango, 19, 2012, 149‑171. [En ligne], 19|2012, mise en ligne le 15 mai 2014, URL : http://cipango.revues.org/1709 ; DOI : 10.4000/cipango.1709

Full text

  • 1 The Japan‑Korea Treaty of Amity (nitchō shūkō jōki 日朝修好条規), also known as the Treaty of Ganghwa ((...)

1As the first country forced by Japan to sign an unequal treaty,1 an object of rivalry during the Sino‑Japanese (1894‑1895) and Russo‑Japanese (1904‑1905) wars, made a protectorate in 1905 then annexed five years later, Korea occupied a central place in the foreign policy of Meiji Japan (1868‑1912). Having remained under Japanese domination for over forty years, the peninsula only regained independence following Japan’s surrender in 1945 and subsequently become a theatre in the conflict between East and West. On 8 September 1951, as the Korean War (1950‑1953) raged, Japan signed a security treaty with the United States that further consolidated its place in the Western Bloc. Accordingly, of the two Korean republics it was almost naturally with the South—which had swung over to the West—that Tokyo chose to establish diplomatic relations. This took place following long and arduous negotiations that ended on 22 June 1965 with the conclusion of a Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea (Nihonkoku to daikanminkoku to no aida no kihon kankei no jōyaku 日本国と大韓民国との間の基本関係の条約).

  • 2 Notable examples are the assassination attempts made by North Korean agents on the South Korean pre (...)

2Henceforth in a voluntarily exclusive relationship in a context of cold war, its cautious stance validated by the delinquent behaviour of P’yŏngyang,2 Tokyo did not normalise—and in fact never has—its diplomatic relations with the state lying north of the 38th parallel. This institutional void was nonetheless partially filled by the establishment of economic, political and intellectual contact between the two countries. On the Japanese political scene it was the Communist Party (JCP)—whose first programme in 1922 condemned imperialist Japan’s annexation of Korea and called on the party to do everything in its power to free the peninsula—that was the first to enter into talks with P’yŏngyang at the end of World War II. This role subsequently fell to the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), then to certain influential figures within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The North Korean authorities believed they had found in the party ruling Japan since 1955 political heavyweights capable of drumming up support in the metropole for Japan’s former overseas colony.

3The colonial issue on which this paper focuses is multifaceted: by turn an object of study for historians, a past to be recognised, denied or even exploited by politicians, and a real‑life experience for the peoples involved. It implies a variety of stances depending on who is adopting them, from a quest for the truth or the pursuit of national interest to a desire for acknowledgement and justice. These different levels of analysis, which are driven by their own logic but often intertwine, make a general approach to the issue difficult. Consequently, this paper will limit itself to two areas of reflection: the colonial issue as a focus of negotiations between Japan and North Korea; and the prominence of the colonial issue in the Japanese public sphere over the past ten years.

A Past to be negotiated

Settling the Past”

4Whether in Japan or Korea, one particular expression is frequently encountered when examining the issue of colonialism: “settling the past” or “clearing the past” (kako no seisan 過去の清算 / kwagŏ ch’ŏngsan 과거청산). For two of the three groups mentioned above—historians and peoples—this expression appears to be meaningless. Can historians truly consider the past to be “settled” once a consensus has been reached as to the realities of colonisation? Any balance achieved would necessarily be precarious, thrown into doubt by new historical research and challenged by new debates. Is the issue settled once relations between the two countries have been re‑established? Once the majority of a previously colonised population ceases to feel animosity towards its former coloniser? The criteria for evaluating the question seem to slip even further from our grasp when the focus of reflection shifts to the peoples concerned. In reality, “settling the past” only appears meaningful at a diplomatic level and in this case usually comprises two different elements: oral and/or written apologies made by a politician—usually a head of state or government—and the paying of reparations.

  • 3 For a study of state apologies see, for example, Jean‑Cassien Billier, “Le paradoxe des excuses” (T (...)
  • 4 Der Spiegel, which printed a front‑page photograph of the kneeling chancellor, accompanied by the w (...)

5The notion of apology is in turn not devoid of ambiguity. What constitutes a state apology?3 Does it mean kneeling down, as Willy Brandt did in 1970 before the memorial of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an act that today appears highly symbolic but which attracted criticism at the time?4 Does it mean declaring that the state “was mistaken in its national policy” and recognising the “irrefutable facts of history”, as Prime Minister Murayama Tomi’ichi 村山富市 did in a statement commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II on 15 August 1995?

During a certain period in the not‑too‑distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.

  • 5 The official title of this text, which took the form of a cabinet decision (kakugi kettei 閣議決定) and (...)

 わが国は、遠くない過去の一時期、国策を誤り、戦争への道を歩んで国民を存亡の危機に陥れ、植民地支配と侵略によって、多くの国々、とりわけアジア諸国の人々に対して多大の損害と苦痛を与えました。私は、未来に誤ち無からしめんとするが故に、疑うべくもないこの歴史の事実を謙虚に受け止め、ここにあらためて痛切な反省の意を表し、心からのお詫びの気持ちを表明いたします5

6This excerpt shows the fundamentally “open” nature of the apology, whether in terms of the addressee (the people of many countries), that which triggered it (aggression and colonial rule) or the consequences (tremendous damage and suffering). The aim is to arrive at a consensus, find a common denominator that might provide protection from historical controversies and political quarrels. Who today would dispute that Japan, “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations”? In a way, this is a “common sense” apology, and if anything were to spark debate it would be the fact the apology was made rather than its contents. Note also that unlike the traditional view of apologies and forgiveness as going hand in hand (an apology is offered in the hope that it will be accepted), the gesture of the guilty state is almost never followed by the forgiveness of the injured party. And it matters little, in fact, since such apologies are not so much addressed to the victims as to international society and are intended to help the state regain its honour and show that it is responsible and capable of facing History.

Parliamentarian Diplomacy versus State Diplomacy

  • 6 The “domestic” impact of this gesture must not be overlooked. At a time when the Soviet world was i (...)

7In the case of North Korea, a Japanese apology came on 30 March 1989. Questioned before the budget committee of the House of Councillors by the socialist Murayama Tomi’ichi, Takeshita Noboru 竹下登, the then prime minister, declared himself conscious of the “significant suffering and wrongs” (tadai no kutsū to songai 多大の苦痛と損害) inflicted by Japan and the Japanese people on its neighbours. He expressed his “deepest regrets and remorse” (fukai hansei to ikan 深い反省と遺憾) to “all the inhabitants of the Korean peninsula”—in other words, including those living to the north of the 38th parallel— before calling for dialogue between the two governments. This was a highly symbolic act for it was the first time a Japanese head of government had used the official name the Democratic People's Republic of Korea rather than North Korea, indicating its recognition of the state lying north of the 38th parallel.6

  • 7 The Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Socialist Party and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

8Following this statement, a delegation of parliamentarians led by the former vice prime minister Kanemaru Shin 金丸信, an influential member of the LDP, and Tanabe Makoto 田邊誠, then vice secretary‑general of the JSP—two important figures in Japanese politics who, despite their differing political affiliations, maintained close ties with North Korea—visited P’yŏngyang from 24 to 28 September 1990. This visit resulted in the signing of the Three‑Party Joint Declaration7 (Santō kyōdōsengen 三党共同宣言) which held that the three parties should “urge [their respective governments] to begin intergovernmental negotiations during the month of November [1990] with a view to establishing diplomatic relations and resolving outstanding issues”. Although the visit was generally well received by the press, the section of the declaration shown below provoked a general outcry, even within the LDP.

The three parties recognise the need for Japan to present a formal apology and provide suitable compensation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the suffering and damage imposed on the Korean people for thirty‑six years, as well as for the losses inflicted by Japan during the forty‑five years since the end of the war.

 三党は、過去に日本が36年間朝鮮人民に与えた大きな不幸と災難、戦後45年間朝鮮人民が受けた損失について、朝鮮民主主義人民共和国に対し、公式的に謝罪を行い十分に償うべきであると認める。

  • 8 See the study by Ōtake Hideo 大嶽秀夫, Koizumi Jun’ichirō popyurizumu no kenkyū 小泉純一郎ポピュリズムの研究 (A Study (...)

9The problem stems from the final part of the sentence, “as well as for the losses inflicted by Japan during the forty‑five years since the end of the war”. With Japan’s rule of Korea having ended with Japan’s surrender; it was deemed unacceptable for the minister of foreign affairs and the Japanese government to accept responsibility for the years since 1945. The political expert Ōtake Hideo attributes this blunder to Kanemaru Shin who, “in addition to being a novice in matters of diplomacy, with no experience of international negotiation, was easily taken in by emotions”.8 Consequently, “touched by the flattery and eloquence of Kim Il‑sŏng 김일성 金日成, the sumptuous welcome he had been given and his host’s promise to release [two Japanese sailors imprisoned in North Korea], he signed the joint declaration, which was an exact replica of the North Korean stance” (ibid.).

  • 9 The four topics were as follows: “fundamental issues” (in particular apologising for colonial rule) (...)

10Diplomats took back the reins on 30 January 1991 and eight rounds of talks were subsequently held in the period leading up to November 1992. The colonial issue, which accounted for three of the four discussion topics identified during the preliminary meetings,9 proved to be particularly thorny. The reason for this is that North Korea considered itself to have been at war with Japan and to have been victorious in 1945, hence its demand for “reparations” from the vanquished Japanese. P’yŏngyang also took advantage of the breach made by Kanemaru and Tanabe to demand compensation for the forty‑five years since 1945. The Japanese, for their part, argued that Japan and Korea had never been at war and that consequently there was no question of Japan paying reparations or compensation, much less so for the years since its surrender. North Korea put an end to this first series of talks in 1992 and three other meetings held between April and October 2000 saw no resolution of the issues relating to the past. It was not until a meeting between Koizumi Jun’ichirō and Kim Chŏng‑il 김정일 金正日 at a summit held on 17 September 2002 that the deadlock was broken. This visit, the first by a Japanese prime minister to North Korea—organised in secret and announced to the Americans at the last minute—ended with the Koreans acknowledging the kidnap of Japanese citizens (see infra) and the signing of the Japan‑DPRK P’yŏngyang Declaration (nitchō pyonyan sengen 日朝平壌宣言). This text, which provided for negotiations to normalise relations between the two countries (point 1), committed North Korea on issues of security (point 4) and the security of Japanese nationals (point 3). As for the colonial issue, point 2 stipulated that:

  • 10 It should be noted that the Japanese text uses owabi お詫び, a vernacular term, whilst the Korean text (...)

The Japanese side, recognising in a spirit of humility the facts of history by which Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Korea through its past colonial rule, expressed deep remorse and a heartfelt apology.10

 日本側は、過去の植民地支配によって、朝鮮の人々に多大の損害と苦痛を与えたという歴史の事実を謙虚に受け止め、痛切な反省と心からのお詫びの気持ちを表明した。

  • 11 Both parties agreed at the time to a lump sum settlement, aware that it would be difficult to prove (...)
  • 12 Tanaka Hitoshi 田中均 & Tahara Sōichirō 田原総一郎, Kokka to gaikō 国家と外交 (Diplomacy and the State), Tokyo, (...)

11The text also provided for the establishment of “economic cooperation” (keizai kyōryoku 経済協力) consisting of donations, long‑term and reduced‑interest loans, and humanitarian aid. This approach was not dissimilar to the solution adopted for South Korea.11 In fact, the Japanese diplomat who organised the meeting justified this decision by saying that it would have been impossible for him to adopt a different settlement method to the one used for the South just a few decades earlier.12 Although the talks entered into in the wake of this declaration ran aground over the abduction of Japanese citizens and the issue of nuclear technology, the signing of it seems to have well and truly “settled” the colonial issue. And the fact that North Korea began to demand “compensation” once again, notably during the thirteenth session of talks in February 2006—seemingly placing a question mark over the “economic cooperation” stipulated in the P’yŏngyang Declaration—, should be interpreted as an attempt to destabilise the Japanese rather than a real challenge to the agreement’s terms. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Japan would ever reconsider the form of compensation originally chosen.

Colonial Past and Public Sphere

Limited Interest

  • 13 See, for example, in French, Histoire abrégée de l’activité révolutionnaire du camarade Kim II Sung(...)

12Whatever the “Great Leader’s” exact role in the resistance—and it was certainly less important than the one attributed to him in the official hagiographies—,13 the fight against the Japanese, inscribed in the statutes of the Workers’ Party of Korea since its creation, legitimated Kim Il‑sŏng’s position at the head of both state and party until his death in 1994. This anti‑Japanese struggle, a central part of the personality cult surrounding Kim Il‑sŏng, monopolises the North Korean public space in its glorified version: it features in plays and literature, is projected onto vast explanatory boards in museums; it even shapes the capital’s architecture, at the centre of which, on Mansu Hill, stands a huge bronze statue of Kim Il‑sŏng flanked by a monument dedicated to the struggle against the occupier.

  • 14 George Orwell, 1984, Penguin Classics, 2013, p. 12.
  • 15 Some authors, such as Narushige Michishita in North Korea’s Military‑Diplomatic Campaigns 1966‑2008(...)

13This sacred struggle resembles a keystone underpinning the whole. Just like Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984, the man whose face appears on Oceania screens every day during the Two Minutes Hate, “the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching”,14 the North Korean government is obliged to keep the figure of imperialist Japan alive to ensure its own survival. These factors may in part explain North Korea’s persistence in demanding reparation and compensation for its colonial past. Renouncing its claim would mean yielding to the enemy once again, at the risk of shaking the regime’s foundations and weakening the entire edifice. With the worsening of its economic situation in the 1990s, P’yŏngyang was nonetheless forced to relax its stance: the money Japan might pay to settle its past—even in the edulcorated and ultimately somewhat shameful form of “economic cooperation”—would provide a welcome inflow of foreign currency and keep up appearances.15

14The necessary omnipresence in North Korea of issues relating to its past colonisation contrasts with the relatively limited interest shown in Japan. The table below presents the results of a series of opinion polls on diplomacy (gaikō ni kansuru yoron chōsa 外交に関する世論調査) conducted by the cabinet office (naikakufu 内閣府) in 2000, then every year between 2002 and 2011. Japanese respondents were asked which subjects relating to North Korea interested them (kanshin o motsu 関心を持つ). The first five items cited by those polled were taken into account.

  • 16 See for example Ōe Shinobu 大江志乃部夫 et. al., Kindai nihon to shokuminchi 近代日本と植民地 (Modern Japan and i (...)
  • 17 This response no longer featured as a possible answer in the 2008 and 2010 surveys. Although questi (...)

15Opinion polls must be handled with care since the answers of a researcher who has spent his or her life studying colonialism carry the same weight as someone who, prior to taking part in the survey, was unaware that Korea had once been a Japanese colony. Consequently, stating that the Japanese have no interest in their colonial past based on the findings of a survey would be to deny the thousands of pages written on the subject by Japanese academics.16 Opinion polls nonetheless provide an initial snapshot—admittedly only fully decipherable if placed in context—, and may indicate trends when conducted over a sustained period of time. The surveys compiled and presented below reveal first of all that the colonial issue features in the possible responses only through the prism of “settling the past”17 and not in phrasing such as “colony” (shokuminchi 植民地), “colonial rule” (shokuminchi shihai 植民地支配) or even the “history of Japan‑Korea relations (nitchō kankei‑shi 日朝関係史). They also demonstrate that the proportion of Japanese declaring themselves to have an interest in the “settlement of the past” has never exceeded a quarter of the population questioned and fluctuated between 24.6% (2000) and 16.9% (2004). This thematic trails far behind the abduction of Japanese citizens (more than 80% since 2002 with a peak of more than 90% in 2003) and security issues (whether nuclear arms, missiles, suspicious boats operating clandestinely, or illegal trafficking), and even behind “inter‑Korean relations” (between 20% and 30% since 2002).

16These surveys also reveal a correlation between those subjects receiving wide media coverage and the interest shown in these subjects by respondents. Thus, in 2000—year of the meeting between the South Korean president and the North Korean leader (which was covered by the Japanese media)—47.9% of Japanese declared themselves interested in inter‑Korean relations, compared to 27.7% two years later. The same applies for Japanese interest in North Korean nuclear arms which, after the first test in October 2006 and the second in May 2009, reached particularly high levels: respectively 79.5% and 76.8%.

Japanese Subjects of Interest in North Korea*

Japanese Subjects of Interest in North Korea*

(A) This concerns the return to Japan of Japanese women who went to live in North Korea with their Korean husbands or partners during the 1959-1984 mass repatriations to the peninsula.
(B) Negotiations held with the aim of normalising diplomatic relations between Japan and the DPRK.
* Surveys carried out in October every year on a population of 3,000 people (with the number of valid responses varying between 1,700 and 2,100 depending on the year) aged 20 or over and from all around Japan. Source: Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (Unit: %).

  • 18 Take just one such recent example. After the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won the general electi (...)

17The same observation can be made concerning interest in the North Korean government, which rose with the transfer of power from Kim Chŏng‑il to his son Kim Chŏng‑ǔn 김정은 金正恩 from 42.2% in 2009 to 50.7% in 2010. As for the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, the intense interest constantly shown in this issue is the result of massive media coverage since 2002 and the wide‑ranging efforts of associations working for the return of abductees (petitions, campaigns to boycott North Korean products, participation in television programmes, publications, symposiums, etc.) which over time have gained real influence within the Japanese public sphere.18

18What are the reasons for such vastly differing levels of interest in these issues? Three avenues of reflection suggest themselves immediately; however, given that they would require a separate study, I will content myself with describing them briefly. The first relates to the state of knowledge on the period in question and its dissemination; it stems from the importance attached to the issue of colonisation in academic research and teaching. The second concerns the notion of collective responsibility (responsibility felt by the entire nation for the acts committed) and transgenerational responsibility (feeling responsible today for acts committed in the past by another generation). It can be summed up by the following question: do the Japanese today feel responsible for the colonial rule imposed in a past they did not live through themselves? The third element—perhaps the most difficult to grasp—concerns the existence (or absence) of a taboo surrounding Japan’s colonial past. In addition to these three topics, two further hypotheses— which I will attempt to describe here—may explain why interest in the past is limited. They concern on the one hand the appearance of competing topics within the public space, and on the other the existence of a discourse portraying North Korea as abnormal.

The Emergence of Competing Issues

19Beginning in the 1990s, relations between Japan and North Korea came to revolve around two sources of friction. The first stems from the development of nuclear weapons (an initial crisis occurred in 1993‑1994 followed by a second beginning in 2002) and a ballistic weapons programme (launching of short‑range missiles towards the Sea of Japan and, above all, the launching of a Taepodong‑1 missile in August 1998 which flew over Japanese territory). The second source of tension is worth lingering over briefly, so preponderant is the place it holds in Japanese society today. It concerns the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents, mainly with a view to assuming their identity and procuring individuals capable of teaching the Japanese language and customs.

  • 19 See note 2 in this paper.
  • 20 The police gave only the initials “T. Y.” at the time and published an identikit.

20The first to broach the issue was the conservative newspaper Sankei in an article dated 7 January 1980. The journalist questioned whether the disappearance of three young couples in different prefectures during the summer of 1978, as well as an aborted attempt to abduct a fourth couple during the same period, could be the work of special forces belonging to a foreign power. Neither this article, nor those published in the Asahi or Mainichi on 28 June 1985, following the announcement by South Korea’s secret service that a North Korean spy had been arrested and had admitted to kidnapping a Japanese citizen, created much of a stir. In May 1991, at a time when Japan and North Korea were in negotiation to normalise diplomatic relations, police in Saitama Prefecture announced that Yi Ŭn‑hye 이은혜 恩惠the person who had taught Japanese to Kim Hyŏn‑hǔi19 김현희 金賢姫was in fact Taguchi Yaeko 田口八重子 20, a Japanese woman who had gone missing in 1978. Japan broached the subject at the third session of Japan‑North Korea talks, which opened on 20 May the following year in Beijing, sparking anger and indignation among the North Korean delegation who denied such practices existed.

  • 21 Kitachōsen ni yoru rachi higaisha kazoku renraku‑kai 北朝鮮による拉致被害者家族連絡会, often abbreviated as the “Fa (...)
  • 22 In March 1988 the head of the National Public Safety Commission, Kajiyama Seiroku 梶山静六, confirmed N (...)

21The abduction issue reached an important turning point in 1997 when the head of the Modern Korea Institute, Satō Katsumi佐藤勝巳, published an article in the journal Gendai Koria (Modern Korea 現代コリア) in which he claimed that Yokota Megumi 横田めぐみ, a young girl who had disappeared in Niigata in 1977, had well and truly been abducted by North Korean agents. This was the first time that the real name of an abductee had been mentioned. The information was relayed by the Sankei and the journal Aera on 2 February and the following day a Japanese journalist met with an agent who had defected to the South and claimed to have seen the young girl in P’yŏngyang. This story, which was broadcast on television, unleashed a wave of emotion within the Japanese population. Events subsequently gathered pace: 25 March saw the creation of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea,21 headed by Yokota Megumi’s father. One month later, the Parliamentary League to Rescue Japanese Citizens Suspected of Being Abducted by North Korea (Kitachōsen rachi giwaku nihonjin kyūen giin renmei 北朝鮮拉致疑惑日本人救援議員連盟) was formed. An official list of eight kidnapping incidents concerning eleven individuals was drawn up in March 2002.22

  • 23 The Asahi, for example, adopted a relatively flexible position regarding P’yŏngyang, calling on the (...)

22Once little covered by the press, the kidnappings received unprecedented media attention following the Koizumi‑Kim summit meeting of 17 September 2002, during which the North Korean leader admitted North Korea’s involvement in the abductions. An analysis of the editorials of four major Japanese newspapers—the Yomiuri Shinbun, Asahi Shinbun, Mainichi Shinbun and the Sankei Shinbun—from 18 September 2002, in other words the day after the summit meeting, shows that despite the undeniable differences between these four papers,23 each had marginalised the issue of Japan’s colonisation of Korea. Three topics dominated the summit meeting: the abductions, security issues and Japan’s colonial past. Yet despite this, in the Asahi editorial alone the words “colonial rule” (shokuminchi shihai 植民地支配) appeared just once, whereas the word “abduction” (rachi 拉致) appeared fourteen times and “nuclear” (kaku ) three. The same trend can be observed in similar proportions in the three other newspapers. Furthermore, the Asahi, Mainichi and Sankei contented themselves with providing a factual account (“Japan offered an apology”, “an agreement was reached on economic cooperation”) without offering further analysis or putting the events into perspective. The editorials failed to fulfil their traditional role of expressing the newspaper’s point of view. Only the Yomiuri deemed it appropriate to re‑examine the form adopted to settle the colonial issue, seeing “economic cooperation”—as opposed to the “compensation” demanded by P’yŏngyang—as a diplomatic victory for Japan.

  • 24 The Asahi titled its editorial “A Sad Conclusion. Accelerating Change [in North Korea] by Negotiati (...)

23Does the past not merit a more in‑depth analysis? Admittedly the very nature of the editorial format demands concision (particularly in Japan, where traditionally two separate events are covered in one editorial). Without going as far as talking of “sensational news diverting attention” (“faits divers faisant diversion”, Pierre Bourdieu), one cannot help but notice an imbalance—in the editorials but also in the other pages of the daily newspapers, an imbalance that is even more noticeable in the weekly papers—between on the one hand the abundant coverage of abductions using expressions designed to elicit the reader’s compassion,24 and on the other the cursory treatment of Japan’s colonial past.

An “Abnormal” Country

  • 25 Lionel Babicz, Le Japon face à la Corée à l’époque Meiji (Attitudes to Korea in Meiji‑Era Japan), M (...)
  • 26 In reality, considering these three “myths” as separate elements is a somewhat artificial distincti (...)

24Both before and during its colonisation, Korea was the subject of a certain number of discourses. While it is impossible to explore these in any detail, it is worth mentioning the work of Lionel Babicz, who has shown that “views on Korea” developed during the Meiji era (1868‑1912), and that despite “the abundance and complexity of thought on Korea, [it is possible to outline] a few main themes”.25 He identifies three: strategic, civilisational and racial.26 The first or “strategic” myth, which appeared at the end of the Edo period (1603‑1868) and acquired the status of “virtual official dogma” through the writings of Prime Minister Yamagata Aritomo 山縣有朋, portrayed North Korea as the first line of defence against Russia and China. The second or “civilisational” myth contrasted a barbarian and backward Korea with a civilised and advanced Japan. It took two conflicting forms: firstly, a civilising mission which Japan had a duty to see through to a successful conclusion, and secondly, the need for Japan to “leave Asia” (datsua 脱亜) and in doing so abandon Korea to its fate. Finally, the third, so‑called “racial”, myth underlined the similarities between the Korean and Japanese peoples and served as an argument to justify the annexation of Korea in 1910.

  • 27 For a detailed analysis see the second part of the book compiled by the Jinken to hōdō renrakukai (...)

25Following on from these discourses is one which, since the 1990s, has portrayed North Korea as an abnormal country. My aim here is not to discuss its validity but rather to examine its outward expression, which reached its height in September 2002 after Kim Chŏng‑il acknowledged the kidnapping of Japanese nationals. This led the press to devote its energy to describing North Korea as an entity outside the limits of normality.27 It was variously portrayed in the editorials of the main newspapers as an “inhuman country” (hiningenteki na kokka 非人間的な国家) by the Sankei, and “nothing other than a terrorist state” (tero kokka sono mono テロ国家そのもの) by the Yomiuri. The Asahi, criticised at one point for what were judged its overly favourable stances on North Korea, was equally reproached for referring to a “dangerous country” (kiken na kuni 危険な国), an “abnormal country” (ijō na kuni 異常な国), or even “a country of outlaws” (muhōsha no kuni 無法者の国). The Mainichi, for its part, spoke of a “scheming country” (bōryaku kokka 謀略国家). In an article dated 18 September 2002 the Mainichi’s political editor wrote that “it [was] Japan’s responsibility as North Korea’s neighbour to guide the country towards normality”. The same observation can be made in the editorial of the Asahi on 20 September: “the Japanese Government must take into account the fact that North Korea is an abnormal country and take measures, by beginning negotiations, to help it evolve towards normality.” This description was not limited to the written press. Takasaki Sōji, historian and specialist in Japan‑North Korea relations, describes the media atmosphere post‑17 September:

  • 28 Takasaki Sōji 高崎宗司, Kenshō nitchō kōshō 検証 日朝交渉 (Japan‑North Korea Negotiations under Examination), (...)

As of December [2002] the anti‑North Korea campaign reached unprecedented levels in the weekly newspapers, publications and on the television […]. Popular television programmes broadcast a constant stream of facile accounts gathered from North Korean defectors, sometimes as much as four times a day—morning, midday, early and late afternoon. They described the difficulties they had faced, including hunger, children begging, and wretched conditions in concentration camps. For viewers’ entertainment a compilation of North Korean programmes was also broadcast, showing military parades, buxom female dancers and children with forced smiles, all accompanied by the commentary of a pompously voiced North Korean presenter.28

  • 29 On this aspect of the issue I can cite, among others, Kitachōsen no kurashi 北朝鮮の暮らし (Daily Life in (...)

26A brief review of the books published at that time reveals a similar trend, with North Korea presented at times as a cruel and debauched regime, at times as a cabinet of curiosities.29 This view, expressed through various media—from scathing articles and manga to internet websites—makes dispassionate discussion or reflection on the country difficult. And as for the past, would it not seem out of place to rake over historical events when there was a monster threatening the present?

27The personal relationships linking certain high profile Japanese politicians to P’yŏngyang, the North‑South rapprochement and the collapse of the socialist bloc all led Japan and North Korea to hold talks in the early 1990s. These negotiations to normalise diplomatic relations between the two countries included a bitter debate as to how Japan should “settle its colonial past” before a consensus was finally found with the signing of the P’yŏngyang Declaration on 17 September 2002. This declaration carried an apology for Japan’s colonial reign and stipulated the implementation of “economic cooperation”, a euphemism for what was in fact financial compensation and resembled the solution adopted for South Korea over thirty‑five years earlier. Yet this agreement did not lead to the normalisation of relations between Japan and North Korea. The reason for this stems from the existence of security problems that have become particularly acute over the past decade: the development of ballistic and nuclear weapons, but also—and perhaps above all—the unresolved issue of the abduction of Japanese subjects, which North Korea admitted, through its leader, during the summit meeting of 17 September 2002. The persistence of these security issues (abundantly covered in the media), along with the resulting idea of a “rogue state” dominating the debate on the North, has caused Japan to forget its colonial history (despite it being abundantly studied), a history which P’yŏngyang has exploited from the start in order to legitimise the place of Kim II‑sŏng and his descendants at the head of the country.

  • 30 The Korean community that remained in Japan post‑1945 is organised, just like the division of the K (...)
  • 31 There are several North Korean schools in Japan. They are attended almost exclusively by Korean res (...)
  • 32 Yamaguchi Masanori 山口正紀, “Rachi isshoku hōdō ga kakusu ‘miseisan no kako’” 拉致一色報道が隠す〈未清算の過去〉 (A Und (...)

28Beyond the debate, the discourse portraying North Korea as abnormal brings with it a risk of amalgams and abuses. Was it not this discourse that led acts of violence to be committed against Japan’s Korean community, a relic of the country’s colonial past split in two by the Cold War?30 The journalist Yamaguchi Masanori suggests the figure of 291 cases of persecution or threats against North Korean schools31 or their pupils during the period from 17 to 24 September 2002, just after Koizumi Jun'ichirō’s visit to P’yŏngyang.32 On 17 September, for example, someone telephoned the Korean primary school in Osaka and threatened to “kill the students”. The following day, the words “I will kidnap you” could be seen on the website of a school in Tōhoku. That same day, a man kicked a young girl on a bus as she travelled to her school in Yokohama. This same school received a call ordering all Koreans to “go back to Korea”. It was as if there was no longer any distinction between the tyrant and the people he oppresses. As if stigmatising Japan’s Korean population would make it possible to rectify this abnormality or combat this faraway evil. Indeed, could the sins of the past not be absolved through this struggle?

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Notes

1 The Japan‑Korea Treaty of Amity (nitchō shūkō jōki 日朝修好条規), also known as the Treaty of Ganghwa (kōkatō jōyaku 江華島条約), concluded in 1876.

2 Notable examples are the assassination attempts made by North Korean agents on the South Korean president at the presidential palace in January 1968, and the National Theatre in August 1974. In terms of events directly relating to Japan there was North Korea’s welcoming of Japanese Red Army (Nihon sekigun 日本赤軍) members after they hijacked a Japan Airlines plane in March 1970. In October 1983, a bomb attack targeted the South Korean President Chŏn Tu‑hwan while he was on an official visit to Burma. He survived the assassination attempt but his minister of foreign affairs and other officials were killed. This act of terrorism led to the severing of diplomatic relations between P’yŏngyang and Rangoon until 2007. Finally, in November 1987, just a few months before the opening of the Seoul Olympics, there was the explosion in mid‑air of a Korean Air flight en route to Seoul from Baghdad. The entire crew and passengers perished. Two North Korean agents who disembarked during a stopover in Abu Dhabi were arrested; one of the two managed to poison himself while the other, a woman named Kim Hyŏn‑hǔi, was transferred to South Korea and admitted her role in the bombing.

3 For a study of state apologies see, for example, Jean‑Cassien Billier, “Le paradoxe des excuses” (The Apology Paradox), in Raison publique, no. 10, 2009, pp. 139‑156.

4 Der Spiegel, which printed a front‑page photograph of the kneeling chancellor, accompanied by the words “Should Brandt have knelt?” (Durfte Brandt knien?), published a survey in which 48% of respondents thought the gesture “excessive” (übertrieben), compared to 41% who considered it “appropriate” (angemessen).

5 The official title of this text, which took the form of a cabinet decision (kakugi kettei 閣議決定) and as such was backed by all cabinet members, is: “Murayama naikaku sōridaijin danwa ‘Sengo gojisshūnen no shūsen kinenbi ni atatte’” 村山内閣総理大臣談話「戦後50周年の終戦記念日にあたって」(Statement by Premier Minister Murayama “On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end”). The official texts and international agreements mentioned in this paper were taken from the Sekai to Nihon” 世界と日本 (Japan and the World) database on the website of Tokyo University’s Institute of Oriental Culture (Tōyō bunka kenkyūjo 東洋文化研究所) http://www.ioc.u‑tokyo.ac.jp/~worldjpn/. Full English translation available at: http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/press/pm/murayama/9508.html [Accessed on 29 October 2013]

6 The “domestic” impact of this gesture must not be overlooked. At a time when the Soviet world was in its dying days, relations between Japan and North Korea remained, along with the “Northern Territories” (hoppō ryōdo 北方領土)—claimed by both Tokyo and Moscow—and a handful of other territorial disputes, the last source of tension preoccupying Japanese politicians and diplomats. Consequently, if successful, the normalisation of relations between Japan and the DPRK would have seen Takeshita’s name go down in history—as Tanaka Kakuei’s did before him with China—, and maybe even enabled him to seek a new term of office.

7 The Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Socialist Party and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

8 See the study by Ōtake Hideo 大嶽秀夫, Koizumi Jun’ichirō popyurizumu no kenkyū 小泉純一郎ポピュリズムの研究 (A Study on Koizumi Jun’ichirō’s Populism), Tokyo, Tōyōkeizai 東洋経済, 2006, p. 204.

9 The four topics were as follows: “fundamental issues” (in particular apologising for colonial rule), “economic issues” (in particular reparations and the right to make a claim), “international issues” (in particular nuclear technology), and finally “miscellaneous issues” (in particular the legal status of Japan’s Korean residents and the fate of Japanese women who had settled in the DPRK with their Korean husbands).

10 It should be noted that the Japanese text uses owabi お詫び, a vernacular term, whilst the Korean text uses sajoe 사죄, which has a semantic and written equivalent in Japanese in the word shazai 謝罪.

11 Both parties agreed at the time to a lump sum settlement, aware that it would be difficult to prove each despoilment and estimate the value of each item despoiled. Signed in 1965 along with the Treaty on Basic Relations, the agreement concerning the settlement of problems relating to property, claims and economic cooperation provided that Japan should pay the Republic of Korea a fixed sum of 300 million American dollars and grant the country long‑term soft loans equalling 200 million dollars. Additionally, a note exchanged between the two governments stipulated that Japan must grant private trade credits to the Republic of Korea and/or its citizens amounting to more than 300 million dollars. For a French‑language commentary on the Japan‑South Korea treaty see Lazar Focsaneanu, “Les Relations nippo‑coréennes et les traités de Tokio du 22 juin 1965” (Japan‑Korea Relations and the Tokyo Treaties of 22 June  1965), in Politique étrangère, vol. 30, no. 4, 1965, pp. 369‑409.

12 Tanaka Hitoshi 田中均 & Tahara Sōichirō 田原総一郎, Kokka to gaikō 国家と外交 (Diplomacy and the State), Tokyo, Kōdansha 講談社, 2005, p. 49.

13 See, for example, in French, Histoire abrégée de l’activité révolutionnaire du camarade Kim II Sung (A Concise History of the Revolutionary Activity of Comrade Kim II Sung), published by the Party History Institute of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Éditions en Langues Étrangères, 1969.

14 George Orwell, 1984, Penguin Classics, 2013, p. 12.

15 Some authors, such as Narushige Michishita in North Korea’s Military‑Diplomatic Campaigns 1966‑2008, London, Routledge, 2009, consider regime survival and the acquisition of economic assistance (in reality the two are linked) as the DPRK’s main objectives since 1990, thus explaining P’yŏngyang’s desire to normalise diplomatic relations with Tokyo.

16 See for example Ōe Shinobu 大江志乃部夫 et. al., Kindai nihon to shokuminchi 近代日本と植民地 (Modern Japan and its Colonies), Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店, eight volumes published between 1992 and 1993.

17 This response no longer featured as a possible answer in the 2008 and 2010 surveys. Although questions remain as to the reason for this absence, the fact that it was proposed as a possible answer until 2007 seems to prove that, for the survey designers, the expression “settling the past” was not merely something to be considered in the framework of interstate relations. Otherwise, with Japan and North Korea having reached a consensus on the issue in the P’yŏngyang Declaration of September 2002, it would have been illogical to continue offering this response thereafter.

18 Take just one such recent example. After the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won the general elections in August 2009—putting an end to the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) virtually uninterrupted reign since 1955—, a rumour went around that Tanaka Hitoshi, architect of the Koizumi‑Kim Chŏng‑il meeting of 17 September 2002 who had left the ministry of foreign affairs in 2005, was in the running to take up a position in the new government. The National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (Sukuu‑kai 救う会) and the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (Kazoku‑kai 家族会), the two main associations working to return the abductees, reacted on 4 September 2009 by publishing a joint communiqué in which they declared themselves to be “firmly opposed to any participation, in whatever form, by Mr Tanaka in the new government and the decision‑making process”. These associations hold Tanaka in poor regard for having promised his North Korean contact that the five Japanese abductees who had returned to Japan “temporarily” after the September 2002 meeting would go back to North Korea. Whether or not the rumour was true, Tanaka Hitoshi did not join the government. On the other hand, new prime minister Hatoyama Yukio 鳩山由紀夫 did not fail to make a clear reference to the abductions in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September 2009.

19 See note 2 in this paper.

20 The police gave only the initials “T. Y.” at the time and published an identikit.

21 Kitachōsen ni yoru rachi higaisha kazoku renraku‑kai 北朝鮮による拉致被害者家族連絡会, often abbreviated as the “Families Association” (kazoku‑kai 家族会).

22 In March 1988 the head of the National Public Safety Commission, Kajiyama Seiroku 梶山静六, confirmed North Korea’s role in the abductions before the budget committee of the senate. The number of kidnappings officially recognised by the Japanese Government has evolved over time. May 1997: seven abduction cases involving 10 victims; May 2002: eight cases with eleven victims; October 2002: ten cases with fifteen abductees; April 2005: eleven cases with sixteen abductees; November 2006: twelve cases concerning seventeen abductees.

23 The Asahi, for example, adopted a relatively flexible position regarding P’yŏngyang, calling on the Japanese Government to continue dialogue and not impose economic sanctions on the regime. The Mainichi was the only paper to point out—quite correctly—that Kim Chŏng‑il’s acknowledgement of the abductions and his apology do not appear on any of the official documents revealed to the public. The Sankei for its part underlined the contradiction between the all‑powerful status of the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the fact that, according to him, he knew nothing of the events in question.

24 The Asahi titled its editorial “A Sad Conclusion. Accelerating Change [in North Korea] by Negotiating for Normalisation” (Kanashisugiru ketsumatsu. Henka o unagasu seijōka kōshō o 悲しすぎる結末 変化を促す正常化交渉を) and opened its piece by announcing to readers a “painful conclusion” (itamashii ketsumatsu 痛ましい結末). It continued by describing acts deemed “unbearable […] when one thinks of the bitterness of the [victims’] families” (sono kazoku no munensa o omou to itatamarenai その家族の無念さを思うと、いたたまれない), before putting itself in the families’ position to declare that “one simply cannot imagine what they have endured” (sōzō o zessuru taegatasa ni chigai nai 想像を絶する耐え難さに違いない). The Mainichi spoke of “unbelievably cruel” acts (amari ni mo mugoi あまりにもむごい) and suggested it would be “difficult [for the Japanese] to get over [their] shock and anger” (kono shōgeki to ikari wa yōi ni norikoerarenai この衝撃と怒りは、容易に乗り越えられない). It then put itself in the victims’ position by stating, “how they would have loved to come home to their families” (donna ni kazoku no moto he kaeritakatta darō どんなに家族のもとへ帰りたかっただろう). The Sankei for its part began its editorial with the following sentence: “17 September 2002 will no doubt be remembered as the day Japan cried bitter tears over a cruel outcome” (amari ni mo hidoi ketsumatsu ni nihon ga dōkoku shita hi toshite heisei jūyonen kugatsu jūshichinichi wa kioku sareru dearō あまりにも酷い結末に日本が慟哭した日として、平成十四年九月十七日は記憶されるであろう). A few lines later in the same editorial, one reads that the Japanese people “shared anger and sadness” (ikari to kanashimi o kyōyū suru 怒りと悲しみを共有する) over this “state crime”.

25 Lionel Babicz, Le Japon face à la Corée à l’époque Meiji (Attitudes to Korea in Meiji‑Era Japan), Maisonneuve & Larose, 2002, pp. 220‑221.

26 In reality, considering these three “myths” as separate elements is a somewhat artificial distinction since, as L. Babicz points out, “the three forces work together simultaneously, forming a whole, distorting reality, explaining the present, helping to stir up feelings and generating so many conceptions of Korea”, ibid., p. 221.

27 For a detailed analysis see the second part of the book compiled by the Jinken to hōdō renrakukai 人権と報道連絡会 (Liaison Committee on Human Rights and Mass Media Conduct) Kenshō ‘‘rachikikokusha’’ masukomihōdō 検証・「拉致帰 国者」マスコミ報道 (A Study of Media Coverage on the Return of Japanese Abductees), Shakai Hyōronsha 社会評論者, 2003. It carries an in‑depth analysis of articles published on the subject of North Korea in Japan’s daily and weekly press between 17 September and 12 December 2002.

28 Takasaki Sōji 高崎宗司, Kenshō nitchō kōshō 検証 日朝交渉 (Japan‑North Korea Negotiations under Examination), Tokyo, Heibonsha, “Heibonsha Shinsho” collection 平凡社新書, 2004, pp. 189‑190.

29 On this aspect of the issue I can cite, among others, Kitachōsen no kurashi 北朝鮮の暮らし (Daily Life in North Korea) by Miyatsuka Toshio 宮塚利雄 (Shōgakukan, December 2002.), which is an annotated catalogue of everyday objects used in North Korea (soap, car number plates, condoms, etc.); Kitachōsen toribia 北朝鮮トリビア (North Korean Trivia) by Katō Masaki 加藤将輝 and Nakamori Akio 中森明夫 (Asuka Shinsha, 2004); Kitachōsen no fushigi na jinmin seikatsu 北朝鮮の不思議な人民生活 (The Strange Everyday Life of North Koreans, Takarajimasha, October 2006), whose covers promise a description of the life of North Koreans using “lots of exclusive and important photos”.

30 The Korean community that remained in Japan post‑1945 is organised, just like the division of the Korean peninsula, around two entities: the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Zainihon daikanminkoku mindan 在日本大韓民国民団, known as Mindan for short), which is pro‑South, and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Zainihon chōsenjin sōrengō‑kai 在日本朝鮮人総連合会, known as sōren), which is pro‑North.

31 There are several North Korean schools in Japan. They are attended almost exclusively by Korean residents in Japan “affiliated” to North Korea. Known collectively as “Korean schools” (Chōsen gakkō 朝鮮学校), these establishments provide an education from primary school to the end of secondary. There is also a university affiliated to North Korea.

32 Yamaguchi Masanori 山口正紀, “Rachi isshoku hōdō ga kakusu ‘miseisan no kako’” 拉致一色報道が隠す〈未清算の過去〉 (A Undigested Past: What Is Concealed by the News Focusing Solely on the Abductions) in Jinken to hōdō renrakukai, op. cit., p. 58. Yamaguchi draws on the figures provided in issue 1124 of the journal Hantennōsei undō Panchi! 反天皇制運動パンチ!, from 15 October 2002, published by the Liaison Committee of the Movement Against the Imperial System (Han tennōsei undō renraku‑kai 反天皇制運動連絡会).

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List of illustrations

Title Japanese Subjects of Interest in North Korea*
Caption (A) This concerns the return to Japan of Japanese women who went to live in North Korea with their Korean husbands or partners during the 1959-1984 mass repatriations to the peninsula.(B) Negotiations held with the aim of normalising diplomatic relations between Japan and the DPRK.* Surveys carried out in October every year on a population of 3,000 people (with the number of valid responses varying between 1,700 and 2,100 depending on the year) aged 20 or over and from all around Japan. Source: Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (Unit: %).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cjs/docannexe/image/1064/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 168k
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References

Electronic reference

Adrien Carbonnet, « Imperialist vs Rogue. Japan, North Korea and the Colonial Issue since 1945 », Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies [Online], 4 | 2015, Online since 17 November 2017, connection on 11 December 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cjs/1064 ; DOI : 10.4000/cjs.1064

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About the author

Adrien Carbonnet

CEJ‑Inalco

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