When Japan Occupied Korea, What did they Expect From Korea?

I follow many posts and blog about Korea and Japan because I live in Korea, travel to Japan occasionally, speak both languages and have a Japanese and a Korean son in law.  I really want to be sure to stay in tuned with these countries. For example, I read an article about the Korean military that really surprised me because I only knew part of what they had written, and I wanted to be sure my daughter married to a Korean had that information. My Japanese son in law likes to pick my brain about what I know about Japan because he didn’t learn those things like I did in school. I found it funny that a Japanese was learning about Japan from an American.  Lately, I saw where someone asked a question about what Japan wanted from Korea when they were in Korea.  There is a very good answer. They wanted to make Korea part of Japan. That is what they had wanted for thousands of years.

This is a map of old Korea, Goguryo, the three united kingdoms. the orange part is old Korea.  If you look to the right toward the bottom, you can see Japan. It is light blue.  It is close to Korea. The Baejae Kingdom whose royal family fled to Japan would be where the yellow is on the Korean Peninsula. The water between the two countries is know by most of the world as the Japan Seas, but the Koreans call it the East Sea.  

Many, many years ago, when there were three kingdoms in Korea, the Goguryo, Baekjae, and the Shilla.  However, initially, there had been one large kingdom in Korea called Gojoseon, that lasted from 2333 B. C. to 108 B. C., but the Han Chinese had destroyed it. Between the first century B. C. to 676, three kingdoms formed on the Korean Peninsula who had a lot of influence from China and brought in the Chinese characters.  Baekjae was the kingdom closest to Japan, and they shared the Chinese characters and culture with Japan. Baekjae was down at Busan, half way down the Korean Peninsula.  Shilla decided to conquer the other two kingdoms in Korea and reunite the kingdoms into one kingdom.  When that happened, because of the friendship of Baekjae and Japan, the royal family of Baekjae escaped into Japan and married into the Japanese royal family.  In essence, the Japanese royal family is part Japanese and part Korean.

Osaka castle, a samurai suit, a samurai helmet, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi.


Korea was united as a nation a long time before Japan was, so these Baekjae royalty would have been rulers of just part of Japan. If Japan had been more united at that time, they may have had more success in trying to unite the countries then, but they had to wait until Japan was united until they came back for Korea.  Finally, in the 1500’s, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the shogun who lived in Osaka castle fought hard and united all of Japan.  After he united Japan, in 1592, he decided that Korea should also be part of Japan, and he brought his arm across the Japan Sea (The Koreans call it the East Sea) into Korea.  At that time, Korea was called Joeseon. The closest point is down at Busan where the Baekjae kingdom was. His ships came across there.  Now a days, there is  a ferry between Korea and Japan there. To the Japanese, it was logical to make the Koreans and the Japanese one country.  However, it was not logical to the Koreans, and the Japanese were unable at that time to unite the two countries.

In the first picture, you can see the picture of a figurine of a Korean woman who has been working.  They tie their hanboks (Korean clothing) up like this to make it more convenient when they work.  In the second picture, you can see a young Korean bride and groom.

In one of my favorite books about Korea, “Tales of a Korean Grandmother,” the Korean grandmother is always mentioning what pests those little men from Japan were because they were always coming over and trying to take over.  It is true that the Japanese religion, Shintoism, taught the Japanese that they were destined to take over the world, but it was more than that with Korea.  They truly believed Korea and Japan should be one country.  I have even read that in the distant past, Jeju Island, the vacation island just south of Korea that the Koreans are so proud of calling it the Korean Hawaii, was once part of Japan, but for many, many years, has been part of Korea.  When I went to the east coast of Korea and toured through one of their pottery museums, I learned that the Japanese used to come and capture Koreans potters and take them back to Japan to make pottery for them because Japan preferred the Korean pottery.  This thing between Korea and Japan is extremely old, long, and complicated.  Japan just flat pestered the Koreans forever.  That is probably why the Japanese feel so threatened by North Korea and North Korea targets rockets toward Japan.  North Korea has even been known to kidnap Japanese and take them to North Korea, brain .wash them, and send them back to Japan as spies for North Korea.  This thing has been going on forever, and it all started with Japan thinking Korea should be part of them.

These are pictures of Japanese in their kimonos.  The kimonos are completely different from the hanbok of Korea.

From what I understand, when Japan was occupying Korea between 1910-1945, Japan considered Koreans as Japanese citizens.  However, the Japanese were the ones actually in charge in Korea, not the Koreans.  Japan finally got what it wanted for so long for just a few short years.  Japan realized that the Japanese language and the Korean language were similar enough that they could require the Koreans to learn to speak Japanese.  If you wanted a job and wanted to get ahead during that time in Korea, you learned to speak Japanese.  The Koreans really didn’t like this at all, but they had no choice to go along with it and many learned to speak Japanese. Can you imagine being told that you aren’t supposed to speak your own language in your own country?  When I first came to Korea, I couldn’t speak Korean yet, and I was speaking Japanese to many of the older people. Even today, many young Koreans learn to speak Japanese because it is easy for them.

architectural photography of white and green church bell tower under clear sky
Christianity is strong in Korea, but very few Japanese are Christians.  In Korea, you can find a church building on almost every street corner. At night, you can look out your window in Korea and see crosses lit up everywhere.   Photo by Dan Whitfield on Pexels.com

At the top left, you can see a Shinto Shrine in Japan. The next picture is a Japanese lady at a Shinto shrine.  The bottom picture is how the Shinto say their prayers.  They write them on little pieces of paper and tie them to bushes around the shrine.  There are actually Buddhist in Korea who have also adapted the idea of writing their prayers and tying them to trees. They may have learned it when the Japanese were in Korea. One thing he Japanese and Koreans have in common is they both have a segment of their populations that are Buddhists.


The problem that Japan had not anticipated was that the Korean culture and the Japanese culture really are two separate cultures.  They are not as much a like as the Japanese thought.  Yes, they both take their shoes off at the door, but so do many other countries in the east.  Yes, they both use the Chinese characters, but the Korean also use the hangul, the Korean alphabet, and the Japanese use the hiragana and katakana, the Japanese alphabets, and now a days, the Koreans don’t really use the Chinese characters anymore.  The Japanese wear kimonos. The Koreans were hanboks.  The Japanese like food flavored with soy sauce. The Koreans like it flavored with chili spice.  The Koreans like Christianity, but most of the Japanese don’t.  The Japanese are Shinto and Buddhist, and the Koreans, Christians and Buddhist.  The Japanese take their shoes off because of their excessive need for cleanliness and order, but the Koreans take their shoes off at the door because it was more comfortable not to wear your shoes in the house.  Those are major cultural motivations. Even in their sameness, if you got to the core, the core was different. The Koreans are a much more relaxed people than the Japanese. The Koreans are also more emotional than the Japanese. The Japanese are known for completely control, almost like the Vulcans on Star Trek, and the Koreans like to express those emotions. The Japanese and the Koreans both sleep on the floor, but the Japanese sleep on mattresses on the straw mats, and Koreans sleep right down on a concrete or wooden floor without a mattress. The two populations may look alike from the outside, but they are completely different inside.


two people standing in front of temple
The Koreans used to build tall buildings up on hills with lots of stairs for their own protection.  Once the invader got to the top of the mountain, then to the top of the stairs, the invader was too out of breath to fight.  Now a days, they build some of the tallest buildings in the world because their land mass is small. In history, Korea hid from the rest of the world for their own protection. If you came to Korea, you were never allowed to leave because they didn’t want anyone to know they were here. Photo by Marius Mann on Pexels.com
low angle view of pink flowers against blue sky
The Japanese were not afraid of being invaded.  They were busy enjoying themselves at cherry blossom festivals. They were building their houses from wood with paper windows because the wood and paper would give when they had an earthquake.  Their wooden houses caused huge fires to go through cities at times.  The Japanese built Osaka castle tall and put gold on the outside so it could be a kind of light house and people could find it.  They ran into danger instead of away from it.  The two countries couldn’t be more different inside.  The differences between these two countries make it impossible for them to become one country. Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

I know from experience that if you are from another country, it is very hard to adapt to doing things the way another culture does them, and Korea wanted to do things the Korean way, not the Japanese way.  They were in their own country, but expected to adapt to the Japanese way and become Japanese.  In a lot of ways, I feel like Japan had good, but misguided intentions toward the Koreans.  They didn’t understand how different the Koreans were from them.  All through history, they had tried to unite the two countries, but it is something that is just never going to work. When I was in Romania, as an outsider, I could see many similarities between Hungary and Romania, but there is no way those two countries could every become one country. They have the same attitude toward one another that Japan and Korea have toward one another.  They are in close proximity to one another. Their cultures look similar on the outside, but their cultures are so far apart on the inside. Very few countries could unite with another country.  America and Canada are similar enough that they could do it, but then you would have the problem of who would be in charge, and each country would want to be in charge. All Japan wanted was to unite the two countries. That is all they every wanted from Korea, but the two countries are just too different, and Japan has had to come to the realization that it can never happen.

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