[Century] Changing Identity: Koreans Told to Adopt Japanese Names
Distraught family members of the victims of World War II stage a rally to protest the remarks by a senior official of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, which glorified the atrocities Japan committed during its colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in this photo taken June 3, 2003. During Japanese colonial rule, Koreans, among others, were forced to take on a Japanese name. / Korea Times File
By Michael Breen
Korea Times Columnist
This is the 12th in a 60-part series featuring 60 major events in Korea's modern history from 1884 till now. The project is part of the 60th anniversary of The Korea Times, which falls on Nov. 1.
After the suppression of the independence protests of 1919, the Japanese colonial authorities set about absorbing Korea with a strategy combining force and sophistication that forced independence activists to operate overseas, where they were largely ineffective.
Koreans today are taught that the Japanese on the peninsula tried, through modern education and propaganda, to eradicate their culture and identity.
But the actual objective was rather more subtle. It was to convince the people to accept an adjusted national narrative that proposed Koreans and Japanese as cousins in the master race, under the same emperor.
In this context, Korean culture was sometimes upheld, rather as a provincial story might fit into a broader national picture.
This effort was directed at the educated classes, the upper echelons of Korean society and those from the lower classes smart or lucky enough to be able to go to modern schools. It was relatively successful because Koreans had few images of their history to counter this imperialist co-opting of their loyalties.
Toward the end of the Japanese rule, however, the gloves came off and assimilation took on an uglier look. Local newspapers, for example, were closed and all types of associations were replaced with government-controlled federations. Protestant denominations, the continuing source of resistance, were ordered to merge.
Use of Japanese language was expanded in schools to the point that not only was Korean study halted, but also all class instruction was to be conducted in Japanese.
Pupils could receive corporal punishment for speaking Korean. Leaders of the Korean Language Society were tried in the 1940s for compiling a dictionary.
The authorities introduced the Japanese Shinto religion with a vengeance. Koreans were required to worship at Shinto shrines.
This issue divided Christians into pragmatic and principled camps. Thousands of pastors and believers were arrested, thrashed and tormented by police torturers. Many continued to resist. Some died under torture, but many gave in.
But the ruling which caused the most widespread anguish, for it touched all Koreans, was a Japanese requirement that they change their names.
This instruction went into law in February 1940, the 2,600th anniversary of the mythical Emperor Jimmu's founding of Japan.
Although officially voluntary, low-level officials forced people to switch their family names if they wanted to go to school, register their names anywhere (marriage, for example), buy or sell land, or apply for work.
(For those old enough to remember, this was an ironic echo of an earlier proclamation. In 1911, the government banned ethnic Koreans from taking Japanese names because they wanted to know who was who. Koreans who had adopted Japanese names were ordered to re-register under their old ones.)
After this decree went out, all around the country, Koreans lined up outside police stations and government offices to register their new Japanese names.
They could take either the Japanese version of their Korean surname or a completely new Japanese surname. They were not allowed to register the Japanese version of a different Korean surname.
At schools, the new names were offered up to the emperor in Shinto ceremonies. Many of the elderly, in befuddled resistance, refused to choose and had names selected for them.
For a people who could trace their male ancestry back centuries and whose fundamental sense of meaning in life derived from the imperative to continue their lineage, this was the final subjugation.
For generations, a destitute Korean father above the slave caste had at least been able to bestow his name on his child. Now even that was taken away.
Many Koreans submitted their new names for registration wearing black armbands and went afterwards to pray at their ancestral tombs.
Parents begged their bewildered children to forgive them, and a new generation of nationalists discovered themselves in the crucible of their parents' misery.
In an autobiographical collection of stories "Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood," the writer Richard E. Kim describes how, as a young boy, he went with his father to register their new family name, Iwamoto:
The long line of people is still standing outside, hunched and huddled, rubbing their ears and faces, stamping their feet in the snow. My father pauses for a moment on the steps, one arm around my shoulders, and says:
Afraid, bewildered, and cold, I look up at his face and see tears in his eyes.
"Take a good look at all of this," he whispers. "Remember it. Don't ever forget this day."
Some people resisted and not necessarily because they were anti-Japanese. Most notably, Hong Sa-ik, a general in the Japanese army, came under pressure but kept his Korean name. (Hong ran the POW camps in the Philippines and was the most senior of the 23 Koreans executed by the Allies after World War II for war crimes.)
By 1944, around 84 percent of the population had registered Japanese family names.
After the Japanese defeat in World War II, the American military government issued a "name restoration order" in October 1946, allowing people to restore their Korean names.
Notable Figures With Japanese Names
Some years ago, former President Kim Dae-jung, created a stir of media criticism when, on a trip to Japan, he telephoned his old teacher and said, "Sir, this is Toyota-san."
When he started at Mokpo Commercial School, Kim was known, by the Japanese pronunciation of his name, as "Kin Dai-choo." In his second year of school, when the nationwide ruling went out requiring Koreans to adopt Japanese names, he became Toyota Hiroshi. This new name was sewn onto his school uniform. Informally, however, the boys still called one other by their Korean names.
Other contemporaries who later became famous were Masao Takagi, who reverted back to Park Chung-hee in 1946 and went on to become the founding father of the Korean economic miracle, and Emoto Ryumei, better known as Moon Sun-myung, the founder of the Unification Church.
korean wanted japanese name,then they claimed to japanese governor to get the right to have japanese name. i will explain with a lot of proves.