Controversies of Japan’s Distortion of History

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Starting as early as 1895 and throughout the early 1900s, the Japanese empire started to establish Imperial Japan in the Western Pacific and East Asia region. With the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905, the Korean Empire was deprived of its diplomatic sovereignty and made Korea a protectorate of Japan. From the Treaty, the origins of controversies of Japan’s distortion of history began to spark. It not only started to distort the history and spread the incorrect geographical names but also started to distort the historical heritages of Korea as well. What was presented to the world in types of medium, such as maps and documents, during the Japanese colonialism still aren’t corrected. When the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) was founded during the time period of colonialism, the Japanese empire put the East Sea as the Sea of Japan due to the fact that Korea lost its rights as a country. However, still 70 years after independence, the labels are not changed and no active promotion has been done to correct the history. 

In 2001, Japanese scholars published a textbook stating that Japan invaded and conquered to liberate Asia. While this statement comes to controversy, Japan has neglected the wrongdoings during colonialism and distorts the facts so that their crimes are not recorded correctly. In the new textbook, there is no mention of crimes against humanity, including the comfort women, and have written that Dokdo belongs to Japan. The more alarming news is that Japan has passed a law to only use one version of a textbook with distorted history, hence there is no way for the Japanese citizens to be aware of the many issues relating to Korea, including Dokdo, the East Sea, nationalism, massacre and more. In 2005, what was widely perceived as whitewashing Japan’s atrocities, was approved by Japan’s Education Ministry, which erupted violent protests across China. The rhetoric and the words that are used to describe Korea in textbooks of many international countries are very limited, and oftentimes Korea is presented as a country that was continuously colonized by Japan and China. With Shinzo Abe, the idea of Seikanron, the advocacy of the punitive expedition to Korea is revisited frequently among the Japanese citizens, and it seems like another uprising of digital imperialism. 

There are numerous historical documents that tell the truth about how long the Koreans have been living and controlling the area for thousands of years. Dokdo is close enough from Ulleungdo Island for people to see with bare eyes, meaning Korea was capable of indicating when people inhabited the island. From the geography book of the Sejong chronicles, it writes where the Usan (Dokdo) and Mureung (Ulleungdo) are located, and the fact that the distance is not too far enough to see them clearly from each other. Not only so, but many geography books, including ShinJeung DongGook YeoJi SeungRam (동국여지승람, 1530), DongGook MunHun (동국문헌비고, 1770), ManKi Yoram (만기요람, 1808), JeungBo MunHeon Bigo (증보문헌비고, 1908) proves the long history of how Dokdo belonged to Korea. 

Still more than 70 years after WWII, East Asia remains with chilly relations while western Europe is closer than ever with the establishment of European Nations and close-knit associations. Germans have not only spent decades on properly confronting and atoning the crimes by the Nazis, but also recompensated for the victims and has learned the lessons from history. Today, Germany is welcomed as a world leader in global politics, and its military forces fight together with those from the UN and NATO operations. In 2004, in the 60th-anniversary commemoration of the Normandy invasion, the former Allies invited German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Standing beside Germany’s former adversaries, Schröder celebrated the day as an anniversary for Germany’s liberation from fascism. By contrast, in Asia, Japan’s neighbors still keep a wary eye on the country that brutalized their culture, heritage, land, and people. Tokyo’s official apologies for its past aggressions are dismissed as improper, and too late. Former victims are often angered by Japan’s denials and calls of revisionism.

To consider history as something merely of the past may be dangerous thinking; the effects of colonialism are far-reaching and remain in the economies and societies of many nations, including Korea today. In response to such actions of publishing biased textbooks, many conscientious Korean, Chinese, and Japanese scholars established an organization called Asia Peace & History Education Network to publish a common textbook among Korea, China, and Japan. While decades have passed since the colonial era, the struggle of scholars and citizens to preserve historical truth remains a fight in progress.  

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