Thursday, July 3, 2008

Korean Kamikaze pilot memorial controversy.

An interesting story. The history of non-Japanese Asians who served in the Japanese military during world war two is often neglected and most certainly far from politically welcome. Nevertheless, large numbers of non-Japanese Asians, often motivated by anti-Western, anti-Colonialist sentiment, did serve in the Japanese military during the war.
Additionally, years ago, when traveling in Seoul, a fellow American had told me that he had met and had an interesting discussion with an old Korean man who had told him he had served as a kamikaze pilot in the Japanese armed forces during the war. Although the particular case is not verifiable at this time, because of this, the entire question of whether or not there were Korean kamikaze pilots in the Japanese forces has always stuck in my mind. Although I'd never made an attempt to look into the matter (just too many things going on) this is the first time I've seen actual evidence of the existence of Korean kamikaze pilots in the Japanese forces.

Peter Huston

July 2, 2008, 11:47PM
Kamikaze memorial met with anger from Koreans
Project shelved by those who still see the fighters as collaborators

Associated Press

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — For decades, Tak Kyung-hyun and 17 other Koreans who flew kamikaze missions for Japan in World War II were reviled as traitors at home.

A half-century after his death, however, Tak's hometown of Sacheon pushed to change that legacy with the first memorial in South Korea to a former kamikaze. But the 16-foot-high stone memorial stirred up so much protest that it was taken down and stored at a nearby temple.

The response shows just how much anger remains over Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

"Tak was a pro-Japanese collaborator who died for and pledged allegiance to the Japanese emperor," said Kim Hyung-kap, who led protests against a scheduled unveiling.

Traitors or victims?
The memorial was born out of revisionist thinking that the Korean kamikazes were not collaborators, but rather victims of the Japanese colonial period who were forced or pressured to take on suicide missions.

"It's time to save those who have been lost in the black holes of history," said Hong Jong-pil, a South Korean historian involved with the project.

It was also an attempt to foster closer ties between Korea and Japan. The state-run Korea Tourism Organization planned to promote the memorial to Japanese tourists.

Japanese actress Fukumi Kuroda proposed the memorial last year and paid most of the construction costs.

But city officials canceled the unveiling when protesters and riot police blocked Japanese officials and tourists from entering the site for the ceremony. Recently, Kuroda and Hong sent a letter to the city warning they would sue unless the monument was restored to its original site. "I feel sorry for Tak as I failed to bring his wandering soul to his hometown," said Kuroda, 51.

Kuroda said the project was inspired by a dream she had in 1991 in which she met a former kamikaze pilot on the beach in southern Japan.

"He was smiling, telling me he was a pilot who died here," Kuroda said, speaking fluent Korean. "He said he didn't care about dying during a war but felt bad because he died under a Japanese name although he is indeed Korean."

'Looked so lonely'
In 2000, Kuroda described the dream to the daughter of a former restaurant owner who was a mother figure for kamikaze pilots on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The mother, Tome Torihama, cooked the pilots' favorite foods, kept their farewell letters and gave them final hugs.

Her daughter, Reiko Akabane, told Kuroda that the tall, dark-skinned man in her dream "must be Tak."

"Reiko said her mother especially cared much about him as he always came to the restaurant alone, stayed there quietly and looked so lonely," Kuroda recalled.

On the eve of his mission, Tak, 24, visited the restaurant, jammed on his military cap and started singing Arirang, a popular Korean folk song on love and separation, "in the saddest tone they had ever heard," Kuroda quoted Akabane as saying.

Tak died in May 1945 when his explosives-laden plane is believed to have crashed in the water short of a U.S. warship that was his target.

Sacheon officials are waiting for the anger to subside before deciding what to do with the memorial, a rectangular pillar topped with a sculpture of a three-legged crow from Korean mythology.

Lee Hyung-chul, a Japan expert at Seoul's Kwangwoon University, expressed reservations.

"I know Kuroda means well, but reviewing history should not be conducted lightly," he said. "That is not something that we should do based on an individual's dream."

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