I Live In Korea

My name is Ben Gwynne. I USED to teach English in Incheon, South Korea. Here's some photos, stories, videos, etc.

Diary Topic: Korea Vs. Japan

Korea and Japan have a pretty contentious history. Mainly due to…

1. Dispute over an island called “Dokdo
2. Nearly 4 decades in the 20th century where Japan ruled Korea
3. Upwards of 200,000 women in Korea forced to be sex slaves for Japan during WWII

…and a lot more to be honest. It’s interesting to get the kids take on it, since they are 11-13 years old and writing in another language. I had some free time in one of my classes a month or two ago and asked the kids where in the world they would go if I gave them 10,000,000 Korean Won (about $8,500 I think) and one of the kids said Japan, so I asked why and he said…

“Teacher come here, I show you”
I walk towards him, he points to a map he drew in his book of Japan with a giant circle around it…
“Bomb here…” points to the middle of Japan “boom” points to the circle around Japan he drew which is apparently the blast radius. Wow.

In no way, shape, or form am I making fun of the students' English, I sure as hell didn’t know any foreign languages when I was 11 or 12 years old, I’m simply pointing out funny things I’ve read from them that's all. The following are all direct quotes...

“Japan people bad because fight Koreans. Japan afflicts and Korean girls sexual harassment. Japan people very very bad. Japan mans are most bald. Japan people most a snaggletooth. Japan people plain features. Japan people are not stylish.”

“Korea vs. Japan is not interesting because Korea never lose. Korea food is delicious and Japanese food is not. Korea’s soccer is good and Japan’s soccer is not good. I love Korea, Korea is good.”

“Korea is very hurry. Nowadays Korean food is simple but Korean have good relationship it is good make friends. Japanese is very bad. Japanese sometimes tell a lie so I hate Japanese and I hate Japan.”

“Japan is advanced than Korea. Japan is bad because they attochcked us. So many people think Japan is bad. I like written bread.”

“Japan steal East Sea. Japan steal kimchi. Japan is still everything Korean people and hurt. I don’t like Japan.”

“Many Korea person doesn’t like Japan because in old times Japan person kill and afflict the Korea person. The Korean young person went Japan war and died. Also, Dokdo is Koreas land. But Japan insistence Dokdo is Japans land and changed Dokdo name! Dokdo is our land! Also, the East Sea, but Japan turned to Japan Sea. It is not fact! It is fabrication!”

“I love Korea because it’s my country but I don’t like Japan. Because a time Japanese imperialism however they are good at instruments. I like their animation characters. I have an example, I like Belpheger. I wonder why my country don’t have animation characters. If not imperialism, I love Japan, but I don’t like Japan but their animation. Other it’s bad.”

“I think about Korea vs. Japan. I don’t like Japan people because Japan people selfish. Very very selfish. They say Dokdo is in Japan. Japan is strange. I want Japan die.”

“Sometime, from one thousand nine fifty five, Korea and Japan had a soccer game to figure out who will get third and fourth place. At the second half of the game, the impresario and the coach both forced to leave, nevertheless we did not lose hope and went on until the overgame the shootout and at the end we won. Koreas vs. Japan is Korea won.”

“I don’t dislike Japan because bygone days, Japan plundered Korea but it is bygone. Bygone days is not today and there are Japaneses all of like Korea however most Koreans dislike Japanese. I think “World is only one.” Is the world will doesn’t a fight, world will does develop. Someday Korea will like Japan.”

“Korea is very favorite state because my is Korea Born. But Japan very god because my favorite music Japan music. Korea many music but Japan music sad music and happy music and powerful music. I think Japan is my other favorite country.”

Those are mostly pretty strong opinions for such young kids, I wonder how they are taught those things in school or at home from their parents, and when (or if) those feelings begin to go away.

Volume II
Volume I
Diary Topic About their teacher


Steve said...

I have taught in Korea before, and I was always amazed at the crazed sentences that I got from my fifth graders. Nationalism is still found in so many facets in that peninsula, both north and south.

Ben Gwynne said...

You've got that right Steve. It was weird talking about places the kids have traveled, one of them went to Japan and I asked if she liked it. She was hesitant to respond, probably because the students were saying "no no no, Japan is bad."

It's weird, the kids here are extremely respectful and peaceful, they seem to love the US, Canada, England, etc. and show no ill will towards other countries, but Japan rubs them the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

what is your problem i think its rude saying all Japanese people are rude just because the goverment made wrong decisions. You dont go calling America rude for taking away Alaska from russia. I think you are just one racist person. Cause i find that at my school people are fasinated when japan comes up.

Ben Gwynne said...

Did you even read the entire post Anonymous? First of all, I'm talking about KOREANS take on Japan, not Japan's on Japan. Also, I ended with these two quotes for a reason.

“I don’t dislike Japan because bygone days, Japan plundered Korea but it is bygone. Bygone days is not today and there are Japaneses all of like Korea however most Koreans dislike Japanese. I think “World is only one.” Is the world will doesn’t a fight, world will does develop. Someday Korea will like Japan.”

“Korea is very favorite state because my is Korea Born. But Japan very god because my favorite music Japan music. Korea many music but Japan music sad music and happy music and powerful music. I think Japan is my other favorite country.”


Anonymous said...

Ben, it takes long time for wounds to heal. Japanese occupation during WW II has left permanet scars including destruction of Korean hisotrical texts, culture, historical landmarks and monuments. War crimes and war atrocities committed by Japan are truely beyond imagination including maruta (various live human experimentation and vivisection), sexual slavery, mass killing of civilians, and cannibalism (and more). These aren't something that can be easily forgotten or easily forgiven. A major reason for this continued animocity toward Japan is due to the fact that their government has done and continue to do everything in its power to hide and distort their terrible deeds.

I also think that Koreans can be nationalistic, but that nationalism is what allowed Koreans to keep their identity during the occupation and to weather through the tough times. In my opinion, Korean nationalism is pale when compared to Japanese emperialism -- as many Japanese people still wave their emperial flags during international sporting events. This is like Germans waving Nazi flags -- which is unimaginable.

Could you really forget and forgive those that caused 911? We went to war for 911. Multiply 911 by 100 times and you can only begin to imagine what Korean people went through during the occupation.

Ben Gwynne said...

I respect your opinion, but you have to realize the ones guilty of the crimes 60+ years ago are more than likely dead.

A lot of my students had very horrible things to say about Japanese people and their country. I was appalled that children so young had such strong opinions, which means they got them from their parents or grandparents.

I don't hold people responsible that aren't responsible for the crimes done, even if they are from the same country.

I'm not absolving them of guilt for what they did. I just wish people would look forward more rather than focus on the past that's all. Again, I respect your very well thought out opinion on the subject.

Are you Korean?

Anonymous said...

Ben, I am a Korean American who emigrated to US at a very young age.

I think your intention behind the question could be to see if my thoughts had been influenced by same sources that are influencing the kids in your class. Indeed, I had majority of my elementary education in Korea and the rest in the US.

As you have pointed out and as evidenced by the responses from your class, I do not deny that these kids (very young) have antagonistic feelings toward Japan/Japanese -- perhaps due to something that they learned in school or some programs that they watched on TV or some stories that they heard from their grand parents. It may be shocking to many that kids so young who never experienced the occupation and who are probably too young to form opinions in this matter have antagonistic view. But you have to remember that the occupation only ended 65 years ago. The effects of the occupation and the effects of the political unstability that followed (which later resulted in Korean War) probably lasted much longer even after the end of the occupation. So in reality, this past was much closer than 65 years. I believe it will take few more generations for the recent memories of the occupation to be forgotten. I believe that Korean people are still in the process of "healing", if I can call it that. Moreover, as these kids grow and learn the Korean history as well as the world history, they will form their own opinions and thoughts.

I do not advocate for brooding hate, but at the same time, this is a very complex issue -- the one that has many faces to it, such as human nature, political tension, territorial disputes, and historical inaccuracies among many others. As the issue is a very complex one, there doesn't seem to be a simple solution -- especially when some of problems are on-going, such as territorial disputes (e.g. DokDo island) and distortion of historical facts (e.g. portraying Japanese occupation as being beneficial and choosing to deny as well as omit any negative events and effects of the occupation in history texts).

Anonymous said...

Japanese attitude toward the occupation, in my opinion, can be described as denial and lack of any remore. Here, I define "Japanese attitude" as the collective attitude, as represented by the government's official stance on the occupation.

This is in sharp contrast to the approach that Germans took for their WW II crimes against humanity. German government fully acknowledge their crimes against humanity and teach these historical facts in hopes that they will never make the same mistake again. They made numerous amends with the nations that suffered under their occupation. This definitely helps with the "healing" process.

I think it is very important to distinguish between disliking individuals and disliking a system. Most Koreans (except those who may hold extreme vies) would agree that they do not dislike Japanese individuals, but the views that they hold as a collective -- which is menifested in their official government policies and statements around the occupation.

This issue is not as simple as not holding someone accountable for the crime they did not commit themselves. I think this type of reasoning is too simplistic and naive. Consider a firm that produces consumer products, where few individuals, in order to cut cost, use materials known to cause cancer. These individuals may have committed the actual deeds, but the effect is that the firm's image is tarnished and the firm (as a whole) ultimately must be responsible for producing safe product. Perhaps, this analogy isn't a perfect one, but the point I am trying to make is that the issue is not so simple.

Anonymous said...

I think it is also important to make a distinction between expressing anger toward something in words vs expressing anger through a physical harm. If you can think of a country as a person, I think it would be reasonable to express her anger in words when she had been done wrong -- as long as she is not out to kill the one who has done wrong. Although, in a secular sense, even the latter could be reasonable.

Here, your shock seems to be coming from the fact that the kids (who are considered to be innocent and pure) from your class seem to have ill will towards Japan. While I don't think children should be taught this kind of ill will, they are simply reflecting the state of Korean emotion towards wrong that had been done and nothing more. I hardly doubt these children really want physical harms to be done to Japanese individuals.

I see that I've made some spelling errors in my previous post -- which is a bit embarrassing (emperialism -> imperialism).

Ben Gwynne said...

My intention behind the question was to see if you were Korean, and if you weren't, it would show you just have a huge interest and are very knowledgeable about the situation, that's all.

One of my kids drew a picture of a map of Japan and showed where he would put a bomb, right in the middle of the country, and showed the blast radius around the country destroying it entirely.

I don't think they all hate Japanese people, and I'm sure there's American kids who have done similar things about countries in the Middle East, but that doesn't mean that I don't understand the attitude.

You mention Germany going about it a different way. It seems like there is more difficulty amongst Asian countries to admit wrongdoing in the past, maybe it's a cultural thing, I don't know....

Maybe I'm simplifying it all. You know a lot more about the history/situation than me and you're personally closer to it. I just hope the attitude and what the students are being taught changes soon, but I'm skeptical about that.

I've enjoyed this conversation a lot. My email address is on my blog at the top if you want to discuss further. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am a Korean American currently living in NY. I was also born in Korea, but was brought up in NY since young elementary years. I found all of your posts to be very humorous bc I understand both worlds. It's my opinion that Korean culture isn't very healthy, but the issues surrounding your post IS quite complex. I just wanted to share an experience I had on a native American reservation during my college years. I had an opportunity to spend a week on a Navajo reservation with a family living on the mountains. It was at that time that I found how this family... and many other Native American families (after 200+ years) have such strong sentiments against "Americans". The surprising thing wasn't the anti-American sentiments. It was the strong fear they had of the "American" government, quoting history from 200+ years ago. The family played a large role in the community and was very respected by many around them. Like you, I found it strange and somewhat crazy that they carried such strong emotions on something that happened so long ago. I say all this to underscore the complexity of deep wounds that pass from generations to generations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm from NYC too. Living there was a unique experience and although some things I didn't understand, I loved my time teaching and getting to know Korean. Thanks for reading!