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Japanese Poetry in South Korea March 28, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Art, Korea.

A profile of two Korean poets who were called unpatriotic for practicing Japanese forms of poetry.

Like other Koreans who grew up under Japanese colonial rule, from 1910 to 1945, Son and Rhee learned Japanese, rather than Korean, at school. When the Japanese withdrew after their defeat in World War II, many of these Koreans found themselves without a true mother tongue – ashamed to speak Japanese but unable to read Korean well.

But unlike others, Rhee and Son maintained their love of Japanese poetry long after the liberation.

For that, they paid a price: a lifetime of disregard or disapproval from fellow Koreans.

(And North Korea test-fired more missiles. The U.S. called the test “not helpful.” There is a deadlock over what will happen with North Korea’s nukes. Seems Kim Jong-Il wants the world’s attention back on him. What good is it being in the Axis of Evil if you have to fire a missile to get a headline?)



1. Gerald Ford - March 28, 2008

If the movie “Team America” has taught me anything, Kim Jong-il is a very lonely person. :p

Anyways, it’s a shame to see Koreans ostracized for their interest in Japanese poetry, but resentment toward the colonial government of Japan still runs deep. On the one hand, I can’t blame Korea for being angry, given how much damage Japan caused in 30-40 years of colonial rule, but on the other hand, I wonder if the government of South Korea is stoking anti-Japanese fires to make themselves look better too.

2. Marcus - March 28, 2008

Hi Gerald,

As you know, I’m currently on my third trop to South Korea and have spent over three years here altogether. All of that time I’ve spent teaching English to adults.

Koreans make no secret of their hatred of the Japanese. Only last week, when I told my class my girlfriend’s name is Ikumi, one of my students asked if she was Japanese. When I said yes one woman said – to my face – “I hate Japanese”.

This is a very widely shared attitude. Did you see the last world cup? The Japanese fans supported the Korean team. The Korean fans supported whoever played against the Japanese.

The examples are endless of Korean hatred for Japan. Only last month the Korean government finally decided to look into Japanese complaints that for over TEN YEARS Korea had been dumping waste into Japanese waters.

I can honestly say that among my students, 90% would agree with the statement “I hate Japanese people”.

Sometimes we discuss this. I ask why my grandfather, let alone myself, doesn’t hate the Germans. Why the Vietnamese don’t hate the US (and the Koreans) etc. Why is it only Korea that hold these grudges for so long.

I don’t know the answers. But I do know that my Japanese girlfriend living with me here in Korea has to be very careful at times about revealing her nationality and has often called herself Chinese simply to avoid problems.



3. Marcus - March 28, 2008

PS – Tricycle….is the link to the article about the poets broken?

4. Marcus - March 28, 2008
5. Philip Ryan - March 29, 2008

Oops. Thanks, Marcus!

6. Rinchen Gyatso - April 13, 2008

I’m going to Korea to join the Jogye order after 6.5 years as a monk in the Tibetan tradition. From what I can tell so far, Korean Buddhist love foreign (especially Western) monastics, but I’ve heard that secular society or lay society in South Korea isn’t so welcoming, regardless of your ethnic background, though I’m not surprised at the lingering anger over the Japanese occupation in South Korea. I lived in Japan for several years and have friends who love Korean dramas and who have even vacationed in South Korea. I wonder if they’re aware of the hatred many South Korean still feel toward their people. They never said anything to me about it.

I am surprised that this is the only article under the “Korea” category on the Tricycle blog. There’s got to be a lot more going on out there related to Korean Buddhism.

7. Marcus - April 13, 2008

Hi Rinchen,

It’s wonderful that you”re coming to Korea. A really good place to start finding Dharma friends is this new site here:


You say that you are “not surprised at the lingering anger over the Japanese occupation in South Korea”.

Why? Do you really expect the great-grandchildren of victims to hold onto the resentment of their great-grandparents?

Would you expect, today, deep widespread on-going resentment among French people towards German people?

I think, once you arrive here, you’ll soon become aware of the fact that all this anger over “Japanese occupation” has very little to do with the events of 60 years ago and much more to do with simple Korean nationalism.

But, yes, there is so much more to Korea than just anti-Japanese and anti-foriegner feeling! The temples and the Jogye Order are truely wonderful and I’m sure you benefit enormously from your move.

Don’t forget that website.


8. Rinchen Gyatso - April 15, 2008


No, I don’t expect great-grandchildren to hold grudges for what happened to their ancestors. I don’t even hold grudges for what happened to me when I was a kid. Some of the effects of the occupation are still being felt, however. A major piece of that is the divide between the North and South. I certainly won’t defend the communist North, but in one sense, they were simply patriots trying to get rid of an occupying force. After the Japanese left, they saw the Americans as simply another occupying force and so the conflict continued. Then there’s the continuing finger pointing about the presence of married clergy in the Buddhist community today. Couple all that (and more, I’m sure) with the fact that the Japanese have never really apologized for what they did. All of that has an effect on a people.

Would you say to American Indians (or Native Americans) that they should just get over the genocide their ancestors experienced or that African Americans no longer experience any ill effects of slavery and therefore have no right or reason to feel pain over what they and their ancestors have experienced?

So I wouldn’t say it’s OK to hold a grudge, but I do think that it’s a good idea to not let the Japanese (let alone my own people–white Americans) forget what their ancestors did. History has a tendency to repeat itself, especially if we don’t know our history.

The fact that I’m not surprised at the lingering anger over the occupation doesn’t mean I agree with it or that I would necessarily participate in it myself. At least I hope I wouldn’t.

9. Marcus - April 15, 2008

Hi Rinchen,

I really don”t think there is any comparison between Native Americans in the US and the Korean people in Korea!

Many many times I’ve seen and heard angry Koreans demand that Japan apologise, but surely that ought to be directed at the Japanese government and not at the Japanese people?

(I tend to think – Apologise for what? It was a different government that carried out the occupation!! The new Korean president, thankfully, seems to think the same and has said that this old demand for an apology should no longer be government policy.)

I must say I AM sirprised at the anger. I’ve met literally thousands of students in my years teaching here and can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this hatred expressed – even by kids who could not even name the dates of the occupation.

As for history repeating itself, it’s madness to think that Japan has any intentions on Korea! It even has the smallest army in E.Asia. Meanwhile, the Communist North with its nuclear weapons and constant provocation, are lauded by some in S.Korea as friends.

Enough from me! Let’s hope we can soon meet up in person!

With palms together,


10. brooke - April 23, 2008

Hi my name is Brooke, I live at a school with about 18 koreans, 6 chinese, 2 vietnamese and 1 japanese student here ( i am one of the 10 americans here) i see every day the seperation between all asian cultures and i do think that its wrong of them to hate each other so much, and yea it is mostly the koreans who seem to hate every one and if you ask them they will tell you they dont like Japan yet the one japanese boy here, every one loves, including the koreans. So i think that its not so much what our generation of koreans think its what there country and there parents have brain washed them into thinking.

11. Rinchen Gyatso - April 23, 2008

Actually, I also live at a school with people from all over Asia, including Korea, and although there has been some discussion about the Japanese occupation period (mostly because I’ve been researching Korean Buddhism and the occupation was a big piece of the early 20th century), I see all of the students eating together and doing things together. I’ve never heard anyone say they hate any ethnic group. In fact, the Japanese here might be an easy target as there are only two of them.

12. Marcus - April 24, 2008

Hi Rinchen,

That’s excellent. Wonderful.

I hope you find the same when you arrive in Korea itself.


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