Wednesday, August 15, 2012

KOREAN HISTORY: Korean Independence Day (aka, Korean Liberation Day)

광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)

Google KOREA logo image posted on August 15, 2012
to celebrate 
 Korean Liberation Day

Korean Independence (Liberation) Day, commonly known as Gwangbokjeol1 (광복절(光復節)) or Pariro2 or Pal-Il-O (팔일오, “The Fifteenth of August”), commemorates the liberation of Korea from Japan, following the Japanese surrender to the United States and its Allies in World War II on August 15, 1945.  On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and took Manchuria and Korea on the same day.  To top it off, the United States deployed two nuclear weapons and had the first one, Little Boy, on the city of Hiroshima on August 6 and the second one, Fat Man, over Nagasaki on August 9. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally.  But in a tragic and ironic turn of fate, the Japanese surrender and the Soviet landing on the Korean Peninsula eventually led Korea to the seemingly permanent division which was initially meant to be temporary.  In fact, it was inevitable considering the fact the liberation of Korea was subject to the defeat of Japan and competition between major powers, i.e., the United States and the Soviet Union.  Korean Liberation Day also celebrates the establishment of the Republic of Korea, i.e., South Korea, in 1948 and is the national holiday of South Korea.

1. Gwangbokjeol literally translates to “’Restoration of the Light’ Day,” in which gwang (()) means “light,” bok (()) means “restore,” and jeol (()) means “national holiday.”

2.  Some of the Korean national holidays or historic events/days are customarily named in reference to the dates of their occurrence as seen below:

Yugio (yug=6 thus June; io=25)

Sailgu (sa=4 thus April;

Oilyuk (o=5 thus May); ilyuk=26)

Sibiryuk (sib=10 thus October; iryuk=26)

Sibisibi (sibi=12 thus December; sibi=12)

Oilpal (o=5 thus May; ilpal=18)

Some might think Korea’s independence was given, not earned, but during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), thousands of Koreans died or were killed fighting against Japanese colonial rule: There were such resistance movements as the Independence Movement, aka, March First Movement, Donghak Movement, Righteous Army, Korean Liberation Army, and the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, and so on and so forth; and there were so many resistance leaders and patriotic assassins such as Kim Gu, Jo Mansik, Ahn Changho, An Jung-geun, Lee Bongchang, Yoon Bong-gil, and Yu Gwansun, to name a few.  As follows is the Korean flag used by Korean Liberation Army in 1910 on which the soldiers scribbled down their names and words to express their determined will to fight against Japan.  The phrases and sentences are written either in Korean or in Chinese, some of which read:  "Independence and Autonomy," "Freedom," "We'll fight. We'll be strong," and "Pro Patria."

Under Japanese rule, especially during World War II, hundreds of thousands were trapped in forced labor in Japanese industries or as the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, in sex slavery, into which they were coerced, deceived, or forced and which they could never leave.  The Japanese colonial state was a highly atrocious regime.  This link will lead you to some pictures of Korean sex slaves but beware most of you will find them extremely disturbing.

BTW, during the 2012 London Olympics, Japanese designer Hiroko Koshino's uniforms for the Japanese gymnastics teams made me feel very disturbed:

(From left) Kazuhito Tanaka, Kohei Uchimura, Designer Hiroko Koshino,
Rie Tanaka and Yu Minobe. (Photo by Toshiyuki Hayashi)

When I first saw Rie Tanaka compete in that uniform, I went, “What?”  I just couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing.  And when I found out it was picked as one of the best Olympic uniforms by Entertainment Weekly (EW), I went “What the.” Bronwyn Barnes, a senior editor at EW, said they picked those Japanese uniforms ‘cause they “feature a stylized version of the nation's rising sun flag, combined with a zebra stripe motif and, naturally, crystals. Sometimes more is more.” (Link)  But Ms. Barnes, please do some reading before you write.  It’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag.  It’s no ordinary national flag; it's their military flag, called Kyokujitsu-ki. It’s considered very offensive in China, Korea, and other East Asian countries, the victims of Japanese war crimes.  Well, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself!  This link will lead you to the pictures of  the victims of Japanese war crimes but beware most of you will find them millions times more disturbing than the previous ones.

The Axis: Japan allied itself with Nazi Germany in World War II, along with Italy.
This photo shows the Japanese "Kyokujitsu" flag and the Nazi's "swastika" flag.

In short, it’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag, but a Japanese version of the Nazi flag.  In case you still don’t understand, I’ll put it this way: Just imagine how the Nazi victims and their family members would feel if they saw the German athletes compete in the uniforms using the Nazi's swastika symbol.

Today (8/15/2012), Kim Janghun or Kim Janghoon (김장훈), a Korean singer, philanthropist, and Dokdo islets advocate, swam from the eastern port of Uljin to Dokdo as part of a relay team to proclaim Korea's inalienable sovereignty of the islets.  According to the Yonhap news agency, before jumping into the water, he said, "I will never make such a comment as 'Dokdo is our territory' when I arrive there. It's meaningless to do so because they are undeniably our territory." (CNN Report: South Korean singer swims into island dispute with Japan)  And they safely entered Dokdo, after a 49-hour-long swimming relay through the storm and 13-foot-high waves.

It’s quite interesting and of course very annoying and disturbing that Japan’s annexation of Dokdo in 1906 was its first step toward invading and dominating Korea. (Click for more information.) Accordingly, it is really meaningful and noteworthy that Kim and others swam across the East Sea to enter Dokdo on Gwangbokjeol, Korean Independence Day, when Japan is still trying to encroach into the islets.

BTW, Korean people jokingly say, “We don’t need a passport to get into Dokdo, but you do; we don’t need international roaming in Dokdo, but you do.”  And here, “you” refers to You-Know-Who.

Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team in the waters off the Dokdo islets
Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team and other tourists
in the Dokdo islets 


  1. No comment on the politics, but you mixed up the order and dates of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings.
    * August 6, 1945: "Little Boy" thrown on Hiroshima
    * August 9, 1945: "Fat Man" thrown on Nagasaki

  2. Thanks, Rontombontom, I made corrections accordingly.

  3. Hi,

    I enjoyed reading about Korean's independence day, especially the lower part of the article.

    The "rising sun flag" is not something to take lightly of. I was just as surprised when I saw the Olympic uniforms.

    The same exact atrocities (and I must say, very disturbing acts) have also occurred in China under Japan's occupation (refer to Nanjing in 1939).
    Every time I read or hear about the invasion of the Japanese in Korea, China, Taiwan, etc, I feel very saddened because I cannot imagine how much fear and pain these victims have gone through.

    Aside from that, Japan has ignored this darkest part of history in their textbooks. That is what saddens me even more, it's like saying The Holocaust never existed.

  4. Thanks much, B. I hope Japan shows as much "true" repentance as Germany for the atrocities the country committed.

  5. First of all, I don't really get why you put "true" into quotation marks when talking about Germany.
    I am German. I was born in Germany, my whole family is German and I have lived in Germany all my life.
    I don't feel in any way offended by your blog post or the comments, but there are a few remarks I'd like to make:

    "...imagine how the Nazi victims and their family members would feel if they saw the German athletes (...) using the Nazis swastika symbol."

    Let me tell you one thing: That sight would probably be far more disturbing to fellow Germans than for the victims of the Nazi regime. And by saying that I'm not trying to belittle the victims/survivors of the Nazis in any way, don't get me wrong! The thing is, that Germany is still in shock about what happened in their country during the 1930s/1940s. No one is proud of what happened during that time, in fact there is no such thing as national pride in Germany up to this date. I never thought "I'm proud to be German!" and I've never heard anybody say it. We are always reminded of our unglorious past. I'm 19 years old and sometimes I feel guilty just for being German. That's the way we were raised, by school and society, and I think that's the difference to Japan.

  6. Anonym @ 6:43 AM, thanks a lot sharing your thoughts, I mean, A LOT. The last paragraph of your comment is basically what I wanted to say, especially sentences like "Germany is still in shock about what happened in their country during the 1930s/1940s. No one is proud of what happened during that time, in fact there is no such thing as national pride in Germany up to this date." But I thought such words should come out of the German (thus Japanese) people, not mine (Korean). And I added "true" 'cause Japan and many of its people consider themselves as "victims" of the nuclear bombs and shows no (or little) repentance.

  7. Wow, you really do reply fast. :)

    But don't you think the Japanese have the right to call themselves victims of the nuclear bombs? I mean, what other terms should be used in your opinion?
    Regardless of the term "guilt", which should always be used with great consideration when talking about war, and regardless of the war crimes Japan has committed: It does not verify the use of nuclear weapons. Cruelty does not justify cruelty. And victims are victims.

    I get that the relation between Japan and Korea is a very complicated one to say the least.
    The Japanese, as well as Koreans, are, as far as I can tell, both very proud of their country. This is a great thing, but it also can lead to the following problem: being biased.
    I'm not trying to say the Japanese are not guilty of their actions.
    However, you always have to take into consideration that different countries have different point of views regarding political issues, depending on if and in which way their country is involved in them.
    Korean history books may interprete things slightly different than the Japanese ones. Japanese grand-parents may tell their families other things than the Koreans are telling their families.
    To get back to my personal background: I don't think my own grandpa, who was a common soldier for Nazi Germany, thought of himself and his country as being the bad part in a fight against good people. Nobody thinks that way, because everyone likes to believe they are the good people.

  8. Anonym, of course they are victims. But it's a completely different story when they don't consider themselves as initiators and also active doers of such tragedies. And I'm not blaming the Japanese individuals who have already forgotten/are ignorant of/are not aware of what they did in the past probably because "everyone likes to believe they are the good people" or they have been brainwashed in class by their government. But nothing justifies their lack of repentance or "guilt". And I'm speechless when I watch them in anti-Korea protest for the past weeks (and until now), shouting "F*ck Korea," "Kill Korea" or "Conquer Korea" ( or when I read news like this:

  9. I'm on a commenting rage here. HA! Someone stop me!

    My country was attacked, and occupied for hunderds of years by Europeans, Japanese, Chinese. Everyone wanted a piece! (I heard that the Japanese were the cruelest of them all). Somehow even though the general public's mindset and self worth is still very low (ages of submission brainwashes people), our public isn't angry anymore at those conquerors. We gained freedom, I don't think we got any apology from any of them. The europeans don't seem to remember it when they go to our country, and we are not constantly reminded of it if we go to theirs.

    Strange enough, huh?

    What is left is only the cultural assimilation between the countries. How their words are somehow adapted in our language, how their food gets mixed with our spices but we kept their name (in their language but our phonetical writing). How our recipes are made and songs of each other are sung in their country and ours.

    I don't know why or how, whether we are stupid for forgetting the history most of the time. Someone needs to do a psycho analysis and let me know.

  10. I'll say it's the "geography" and you don't need any psycho analysis. lol Unlike your country, Korea is Japan's next-door neighbor. And to top it off, its sovereignty over the islets called Dokdo is threatened by Japan even at this moment.

  11. I see.
    Well we do have the same problem with one of our neighbouring country. But I guess it's much of a hotter issue with Korea and Japan.

  12. Japan still denies their atrocious acts during WW2. And still teaching nonsense history to their children! Is that excusable? Absolutely not!

  13. wonderful work! the way you discuss the subject i'm very impressed. i'll bookmark this webpage and be back more often to see more updates from you.



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