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ARTICLE: South Koreans welcome Japanese emperor's remark on his roots


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Reported by Yahoo! Singapore, Dec. 24th, 2001:

South Koreans welcome Japanese emperor's remark on his roots

South Korean political parties and newspapers welcomed Japanese Emperor Akihito's surprise remarks that his roots may partly be traced to the Korean peninsula.

Akihito's reference to a seldom mentioned historical record hit front pages of major South Korean newspapers with positive comment from academics.

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party on Monday hailed the emperor's reference as a landmark event in relations between the two neighbouring countries.

"With keen interest, we will keep close watch on the motivation behind the emperor's first mention of the historical truth," it said in a statement.

Other political parties and newspapers saw Akihito's remarks as a friendly gesture to Koreans.

Ties between Japan and South Korea have dipped to a low this year over a Japanese history textbook accused of glossing over Japan's wartime past and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to a war shrine.

"I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea," the emperor said prior to his 68th birthday on Sunday, citing centures of close interchanges between the two neighbouring countries.

He said it was recorded in an eighth-century official history document that the mother of Emperor Kammu (736-806) was of the line of King Muryong, who ruled one of three ancient kingdoms on the peninsula.

Akihito also said "those who immigrated or were invited to to come to Japan from Korea introduced culture and technology."

The possible blood kinship has been long known in Japanese and South Korean academic circles but is rarely mentioned in public, particularly in the light of Japan's harsh colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945.
ARTICLE: Japanese Emperor Acknowledges Korean Ties

Reported by Digital Chosun, Dec. 23, 2001:

Japanese Emperor Acknowledges Korean Ties

Japanese Emperor Akihito said Sunday he felt a connection to Korea through annotations made in the 'Continued Record of Japan,' which stated that the mother of Emperor Kanbu was a descendant of Baekjae's King Muryong. Emperor Kanbu was the 50th ruler of Japan from 781-806AD, and this is the first time the current incumbent has mentioned connections to Korea.

In a news conference, Emperor Akihito said that King Muryong had close ties with Japan at the time and scholars and doctors from Baekjae often visited. He continued that history books show there were many exchanges between the two countries and Korea introduced Buddhism, culture and technology to Japan.

The emperor noted that among royal musicians there were many who had ancestors from Korea even to the present day, and said it was fortunate that these transfers had taken place as it contributed to the development of Japan. Emperor Akihito also reflected on less fortunate times when animosity replaced this friendship. This is the fourth time the emperor has mentioned the ill-treatment of Koreans in his 12 year reign.

He hoped that the joint hosting of the 2002 World Cup would be a time for greater understanding and a deepening of the two countries' relations.

(Park Jeong-hoon)
ARTICLE: Akihito's Noble Gesture

Found another editorial, by the Korea Herald, Dec. 26, 2001:

Akihito's Noble Gesture

Japanese Emperor Akihito broke a long taboo when he said Saturday that he feels "a certain kinship with Korea" due to Korean blood flowing in his family lineage. He noted that quoting an eighth-century history book, "Shoku Nihongi" (Sequel to the Chronicles of Japan), the mother of Emperor Kammu (r. 781-806) was of the line of King Muryong of Korea's Paekche Dynasty. He also remarked that he appreciates the culture and technology brought to Japan from Korea that contributed greatly to Japan's subsequent development.

No doubt Akihito's remarks stunned many people on both sides of the strait because official Japanese history has persistently ignored these simple facts over the centuries. Little wonder Koreans welcomed his remarks as a first significant step that he initiated at the supreme crust of Japanese society towards settling the chronic conflict between the two nations over their different historical perceptions. The emperor made a historic gesture to lift the long, heavy curtain draped over his "sacred and unbroken" heritage of indisputable authority.

Given the centuries-old prohibition of questioning the holy origin of their imperial family among the Japanese, it is natural that Akihito's remarks touched off varied speculations regarding their implications among the Korean media and the public. Showing a stark contrast is the explicitly unnatural response from the Japanese. While reporting on the emperor's news conference given before his 68th birthday, where he responded to questions concerning Korea-Japan relations, most Japanese media killed the emperor's statement about his family history.

The silence itself may speak for the embarrassment, or the tacit disapproval, felt by most of the Japanese toward their emperor's surprise statement about a sensitive historical subject. It may also attest to the deep gulf between the two nations' popular notions viewing their bilateral relations as two immediate neighbours that have been more stressful than amicable through the centuries. In a word, the emperor spoke the truth that generations of Japanese rulers and scholars have struggled hard to conceal.

Now, these diehard nationalists should understand that the blood ties between their imperial family and Korean nobility date back much earlier than the eighth century. Many scholars specializing in early Japanese history suspect that the legendary empress Jingu (170-269) crossed the sea to Japan from Korea with her horse-riding warriors' contingents, not vice versa to conquer Korea and build a colony named Mimana. Even more, historians suspect that her son, Emperor Ojin (201-310), had more Korean blood running in him.

Emperor Akihito made sound comments about "a long history of human exchanges with Korea" introducing to Japan the court music, Chinese classics, and Buddhism. Nihongi has recorded about many prominent Paekche scholars, artists and technicians who arrived to serve the court of Ojin. Actually, the entire volumes of Nihongi and Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), another important book of early Japanese history that was also compiled in the eighth century, are richly interwoven with tales Paekche as well as Silla and Koguryo.

It would be unwise if the Koreans feel blindly exalted over Akihito's public statement about the contribution of their remote forebears to Japan's early nation-building and cultural and industrial development. And it would be equally against the emperor's unspoken intention if the Japanese find his gesture to undermine their national pride. Both nations need a clearer and healthier understanding of their shared chapters of history if they do not repeat their past mistakes - one as a perpetually dangerous neighbour and the other as its poorly-prepared victim.

In this regard, both nations' governments and academics should grasp this extraordinary momentum to increase mutual understanding and goodwill. They are urged to take the emperor's noble gesture as a welcome cue to embark on a joint study of history - a long overdue homework that has repeatedly been promised to ease conflict over historical disputes, but that has failed to materialize. Both nations would do well to do away with any complex or sense of superiority over their historical past through a joint academic project.

This time around, the two nations cannot afford to waste any time. The World Cup year is just around the corner, and they must show the world a true spirit of camaraderie as co-hosts of the global soccer event. The games could do an extra good for the two neighbours if they use the opportunity to clear the thick residue of emotion from their past and find ways to get along for the future.

Copyright Korea Herald
ARTICLE: Emperor's remark pours fuel on an ethnic hot potato

Just figure, "gagaku" has been Korean-influenced too... 😳

Reported by The Japan Times, March 12, 2002:


Emperor's remark pours fuel on an ethnic hot potato.

Staff writer

In December, a surprising remark by Emperor Akihito shed light on deep historical and ethnic ties that bind Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Still, contrasting media reactions highlighted a difference in historical perception across the Sea of Japan.
During a news conference to mark his 68th birthday, the Emperor drew the public's attention to a historical document that shows one of his eighth-century ancestors was born to a descendant of immigrants from the Korean Peninsula. In doing so, he said he felt a close "kinship" with Korea.

His remark received a warm welcome in Seoul, marking as it did the first time a member of the Imperial family publicly noted the family's blood ties with Korea. In his first public address this year, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung praised the Emperor for his "correct understanding of history."

During a meeting with members of the Imperial Household Agency press club before his birthday on Dec. 23, the Emperor, quoting from the "Shoku Nihongi" ("Chronicles of Japan"), compiled in 797, said the mother of Emperor Kanmu (737-806) had come from the royal family of Paekche, an ancient kingdom of Korea.

Voicing his desire to see the two countries deepen their cooperation before co-hosting the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, the Emperor also noted that those who emigrated or were invited to come to Japan from Korea in ancient times brought their culture and technology with them.

"I believe it was truly fortunate that such culture and technology was brought to Japan through the friendly attitudes of the Korean people," he was quoted as saying on the agency's transcript.

In sharp contrast to the flurry of media activity, these comments provoked in South Korea. However, most of the Japanese media either ignored or played down the remarks.

All of the major newspapers carried their usual stories on the birthday news conference in their morning editions Dec. 23.

Of the five national papers, however, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun ignored the Emperor's Korea reference. Only the Asahi Shimbun ran a story highlighting its significance.

The Emperor's remarks certainly surprised Shuichi Kanda, a media studies lecturer at Obirin University in Tokyo. Kanda said it was hard to believe the Imperial Household Agency would make public a remark of this nature.

Formerly a member of the agency press club as a reporter for TV Asahi, Kanda saw Emperor Showa, or Hirohito, the late father of Emperor Akihito, in 1984 tell then South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan during Chun's visit to Japan that the Imperial family had a "close kinship" with Korea.

"But it was only us who reported the comment, while all the other TV stations and newspapers dismissed it, favouring the agency's desire (to have the remark played down)" he said.

Kanda explained that reporters' questions to the Imperial family -- and even the responses of family members -- are, as a rule, strictly censored by the agency, minimizing the potential for public controversy.

"The media's hesitancy to report the Emperor's remark this time may reflect their confusion over it," he said. "In other words, the remark was very unusual, something that challenges the common view shared by the media and public."

Yuji Otabe, an assistant professor of modern Japanese history at Shizuoka Seika College, has written several books on the Imperial system and the Imperial family. He believes the remark challenged Japan's prevailing image of itself as an ethnically homogeneous nation.

"The remark took the Japanese public by surprise, which proved how this view still prevails," he said.

Otabe said he hopes the Emperor's comments will bring about positive social change in Japan by shattering its widespread ethnocentrism.

"The Emperor has long been a symbol of ethnocentric nationalism . . . the myth of Japan as an ethnically homogeneous country," he said. "By commenting on his kinship with Korea, the Emperor suggested a new form of Japanese national identity that objectively sees the historic influence from the rest of Asia."

The remarks were also welcomed by archaeologists and scholars of early Japanese history whose view of a strong historical connection between Japan and Korea has been supported by archaeological discoveries in recent years.

Lee Jing Hee, a South Korean-born professor emeritus of archaeology at Wako University in western Tokyo, believes Japan's early history was greatly affected by a constant trickle of immigrants from the Korean Peninsula. His theory is based on the scale of cultural and technological imports from the peninsula to Japan.

"Mainstream historians here underestimate the magnitude of the influx of culture and people from Korea, due to the myth of Japan as an ethnically homogeneous country," he said.

During the long preceramic Paleolithic period before the Jomon Period (which lasted from 10,000 B.C. to around 300 B.C.), there were strong cultural and commercial exchanges between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, according to Lee.

These are illustrated by archaeological discoveries of common stoneware and pottery, he said.

The subsequent Yayoi Period was characterized by more sophisticated ceramics, knowledge of metal-based technology and systematic rice farming.

According to Lee, all of these cultural developments, which laid the foundation for greater social stratification in Japan, were imported from the continent via the Korean Peninsula.

"This large-scale introduction of culture and technology could not have been achieved without a massive inflow of immigrants who knew how to produce or use the technology," he said.

"In this sense, a very great part of Japan's origins, both culturally and ethnically, can be traced back to Korea."

The new influx of immigrants, known as "kikajin," arrived in three roughly definable periods, according to historical records, aside from the pre-fourth-century immigrants, of whom no written records exist.

The first wave, which arrived at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth century, introduced silk-harvesting, horse-breeding and new pottery techniques.

Lee said archaeological and anthropological studies show that many immigrants from Korea settled in what is now known as the Kansai region during the fifth century. He also claimed these same immigrants might have had a great influence on the Yamato dynasty's birth, the first powerful political regime in Japan.

The second wave, which came from the late fifth century until the beginning of the seventh century, brought knowledge of learning techniques, government administration, economic systems and Buddhism.

The ancestors of Niigasa Takano, mother of Emperor Kanmu, are believed to have arrived in Japan in the early sixth century.

The third wave of immigrants came in the late seventh century and featured droves of people fleeing from warfare and political upheaval on the Korean Peninsula.

"An attempt to explain a country's cultural roots solely by its current culture usually makes one blind to the actual state of the past," Lee said. "Also, anyone who views history is required to overcome the notion of the modern nation-state and respect the great dynamism of cultural and personnel exchanges of the past."

Since around the 12th century, Japan and the Korean Peninsula have diverged in social and cultural developments. Korean immigrants' descendants to Japan in the sixth and seventh centuries gradually lost their distinguishing traits through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.

The two invasions of Korea have also marred the Japan-Korea relationship by Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. Japan's colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Historians note that despite the catalogue of cultural benefits Japan reaped from its links with Korea and China, many Japanese intellectuals started to look down on their Asian neighbours in the late 18th century, in line with an emerging nationalist fervour in Japan.

Eiji Oguma, an assistant professor of sociology at Keio University, said other parts of Asia have served as a convenient comparative backdrop for Japanese intellectuals to forge a distinct modern national identity.

"The view toward Asia has swayed between respect and contempt in the modern era, corresponding to Japan's position in international politics of the times," he said. "Asian countries have been a convenient tool for a Japan desperate for a strong national identity to offset its historical inferiority complex toward Western countries."

In his award-winning 1995 book, "The Myth of the Homogeneous Nation," Oguma argued that Japanese intellectuals had shifted their beliefs between emphasizing the distinctiveness of Japan's culture and its universal relevance as part of Asia.

The popular view regarding Japan's roots, according to Oguma, has tended to become more Asia-inclusive in times when Japan has challenged the hegemony of the West, such as the prewar period and during the asset-inflated bubble economy of the late 1980s.

However, during its relatively fallow periods in terms of global influence, the country has generally sought to protect its identity by emphasizing its "unique" heritage, he said.

One of Japan's foremost nationalists, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, wrote in 1968, for example, that Japan was effectively a homogenous country that had maintained an "absolutely original culture" for centuries.

In Ishihara's 1994 book "No-to-Peru Asia" ("Asia that can say no"), however, he described the perception of Japan as an ethnically homogeneous country as absurd, stating that Japan is a mixture of "all the ethnic groups in Asia."

"The image of Asia and its relationship with Japan has shifted in Japanese minds, but one thing that is consistent is that Japanese people have been very ignorant of the actual state and history of the rest of Asia for centuries," Oguma said.

While expressing gratitude for the Korean technological legacy, the Emperor reportedly told his birthday news conference that many Korean musicians also settled in Japan and their descendants served as Imperial court musicians for generations.

Music buffs may notice the Korean influence on "gagaku," or Imperial court music, during a joint concert tour of Japan and South Korea's court ensembles, scheduled for May.

Tokyo and Seoul have organized the tour to commemorate their co-hosting of the World Cup.

According to Hitoshi Mogi, the National Theater of Japan producer in charge of the concerts, which will be held in both Japan and South Korea, an Imperial court ensemble was founded in 701 by Korean musicians to Japan.

Music performed at the Imperial court incorporated various idioms -- from China, current Vietnam and other parts of Asia -- up until the middle of the Heian Period (794-1185), before the ensemble and its repertoire was reorganized for the sake of consistency, he said.

Mogi said the tour's significance is that it will see South Korean and Japanese court musicians aim to reproduce what is believed to have been the most common court music in Asia in the seventh and eighth centuries.

He said the original characteristics of secular gagaku, usually performed at parties and ceremonies, are better preserved in Japan than in China and South Korea. The latter two countries' tendency to eschew the cultural legacies of previous dynasties.

But the more orthodox gagaku, generally performed during rituals, was imported to Korea from China in the 12th century, by which time the ties between the two regions had waned. This style never arrived in Japan, he added.

"The true picture of the ancient Asian court music cannot be seen today without such an attempt (as the joint session)," Mogi said. "History must be something that cannot be reached without a global perspective that transcends the current national boundaries."

Copyright &copy The Japan Times
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