Korea under Japanese rule

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Dec 11, 2023

Table of Content


At the beginning of the 20th century, Korea came under Japanese rule. In 1905, Korea became a Japanese protectorate, and in 1910 it was fully incorporated into the Japanese Empire by annexation as a Japanese colony with the name Chōsen. Colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula ended officially with Japan's surrender on September 2, 1945, but de facto only completely with the transfer of the province to the victorious United States on September 9, 1945, or de jure with the establishment of the Republic of Korea on August 15, 1948. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is not recognized by Japan, but the Republic of Korea (South Korea) is considered to represent all of Korea. Therefore, the annulment of the annexation treaty is "interpreted" by the colonial power of the time to be on that very date.

With the surrender of Japan, Korea came between the interests of the United States and the Soviet Union, and later the People's Republic of China, in the emerging Cold War. This led to the creation of two hostile successor states - North and South Korea - and the Korean War.

The administrative unit of Chōsens essentially corresponded to the incorporated Korea, i.e. the Korean Peninsula and its offshore islands. Only the administrative jurisdiction of the Takeshima archipelago was assigned to the new colony by Shimane Prefecture.

The administrative system of Greater Korea was adopted. Names were also adopted, with Chinese characters no longer read in Korean, but in Japanese. This also applied to places and squares. The provinces of the former Korea were therefore pronounced as follows:

Korea under the hegemonic ambitions of other great powers

After the forced opening of Japanese ports by U.S. ships and the first steps of the Meiji reforms, there were efforts in Japan to annex Korea: They wanted to establish an "empire like the European countries" and have colonies in order to become equals and not become dependent themselves (Inoue Kaoru). At that time, Korea was an autonomous, tributary vassal state of the Empire of China under the Qing Dynasty. However, it was advantageous for Japan that Korea was relatively weak and isolated at that time. In addition, Korea offered a strategically ideal starting point for further expansion into China and Russia.

In 1876, Japan enforced the Japan-Korea Friendship Treaty by sending warships: the "Hermit Kingdom" of Korea was opened to the Japanese economy and diplomatic relations were established between the two states. The rapidly growing imports of goods and technologies, following trade agreements also with the Chinese Empire and Western powers, opened up new influence in Korea, especially for Russia and also Germany.

Due to the social conditions in Joseon Dynasty Korea, which were characterized by corruption and oppression, the Donghak Rebellion occurred in 1894, against which Chinese help was called. Under the 1885 Treaty of Tientsin, Chinese intervention gave Japan the right to intervene on its part, which it exercised by sending its own intervention troops. With both sides seeking hegemony over Korea and neither side willing to be the first to withdraw its troops after the rebellion had temporarily ended, tensions resulted in the First Sino-Japanese War. Defeat in 1895 for the Empire of China was followed by the Shimonoseki Peace Treaty, in which it recognized the "full and comprehensive sovereignty and autonomy of Korea," thus losing its protectorate status and much of its influence over Korea.

Under Japanese influence, Western reforms were carried out. These included the abolition of Confucian state examinations for civil servants and the introduction of German civil law, which had already been implemented in Japan. In 1894, Japanese forces occupied the royal palace in Hanseong as part of the Donghak Uprising. As the then Queen Myeongseong was hostile to Japanese policies, she was assassinated by Japanese and Korean contract killers a year later on October 8, 1895. On February 11, 1896, King Gojong, his new wife, Princess Eom Sunheon, and Crown Prince Sunjong sought refuge in the Russian Embassy. They left this again in 1897, proclaiming an Empire of Greater Korea, which officially ended the Joseon Dynasty.

After the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan had to return the strategically valuable Liaodong Peninsula off Korea to China. This happened due to international pressure in the Shimonoseki intervention. China leased the peninsula to Russia, which wanted to establish an ice-free naval port at Port Arthur. Japan perceived this as a threat to its sphere of interest. Tensions increased as Russia sought greater hegemony over the Korean Peninsula and stationed troops in Manchuria. As a result, in 1904

Korea as a Japanese protectorate

As a result, the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905 was concluded in Hanseong on November 17, 1905, whereby Korea became a Japanese protectorate and lost its sovereignty.

The post of President General was created for the central administration and foreign representation of Korea; he was the head of the protectorate and representative of the Japanese government. From 1905 to 1909, Itō Hirobumi held this post. As Resident General, he also took charge of internal administration and military administration. Under the protectorate administration, Japanese officials took over the administration and courts and introduced Japanese administrative rules. The police and penal system were likewise Japaneseized, and the Korean army was disarmed and disbanded. In June 1910, the Japanese military police were given a commander-in-chief, who was also given oversight of the civilian police.

Nevertheless, violent resistance to Japanese rule was also formed, starting especially from the Confucian schools and youth groups. A partisan army was formed, albeit poorly armed, which, in addition to attacks on railroads and telegraph stations, also engaged the Japanese colonial army in combat. In the end, however, the partisans had to move to Gando, north of the Yalu River (in 1908, 83,000 Koreans lived in this disputed area between China and Korea, in addition to 21,000 Chinese), where they resisted until 1915.

Annexation of Korea as a Japanese province

After Itō Hirobumi, a politician important to Japan, was assassinated by Korean independence fighter An Chung-gun in Harbin on October 26, 1909, while traveling in Manchuria, the Japanese government forced the signing of the annexation treaty on August 22, 1910, thus incorporating Korea as a new province of Japan.

In this treaty, the Korean Emperor Sunjong, who had in the meantime succeeded Emperor Gojong from his throne, ceded all sovereign rights of Korea to the Japanese Emperor. He received the title of king, as promised by the treaty, but without operational and administrative rights. The rest of the Korean ruling house was also integrated into the Japanese imperial family with "mutual right of succession," including the marriage of the later Crown Prince Yi Eun to the Japanese Princess Nashimoto-no-Miya Masako.

The governor-general, who replaced the president-general in his function and in adaptation to the newly created foreign policy realities, was also installed as supreme commander in formal terms, and all of Korea was thus visibly annexed as a Japanese province under the name of Chōsen (kor. 조선, Joseon), thereby extinguishing Korea's international legal capacity. The people of Chōsen accepted the treaty without any kind of rejection when it was signed as well as when it was proclaimed on August 29, 1910.

Japan gave itself the appearance that Korea was an integral and accordingly equal part of the Japanese Empire after a union of states since 1910. Nevertheless, only one Korean-born person belonged to the Japanese House of Representatives (1944), and in the same year a single Korean-born person became a member of the House of Representatives. A total of 54 persons of Korean descent were members of the Governor General's administration in Chōsen.

Society and culture

The total population of Chōsen at the beginning of incorporation was approximately 9,670,000. The presence of non-Korean residents increased steadily between 1906 and 1935:

Most of these people came from the other parts of the Japanese Empire, many of them again from the main Japanese islands.

Not all the rights that were granted to the Japanese were also granted to the Japanese who had been of Korean origin since 1910. These included the right to assemble and organize, freedom of speech, and an independent press: All Korean newspapers and magazines had to cease publication in 1910, leaving one Korean-language newspaper, one English newspaper, and a few Japanese newspapers published by the provincial government under censorship.

With the incorporation into the Japanese Empire, the state Shintō was also introduced as a state religion. Daily participation in the temple rituals became compulsory from 1925, especially for pupils and students. The governor general at the time, Saitō Makoto, was aware of the problems of intervening on such a fundamental basis. He therefore declared that visiting the Shintō shrines was not for the purpose of accepting that religion, but that the shrines were dedicated to the ancestors and that visiting them was therefore a patriotic act. From 1935 onward, pressure to attend increased, so that some Christian schools closed themselves in protest. Among Korean-born parents, in turn, there was considerable concern and resistance to such protest measures, as they wanted their children to have the opportunity to receive a "good education." Because of this rejection among parents, Saito's declaration was now accepted by Christian schools in 1937, and instruction thus continued. In addition, the Chinese calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar commonly used in the Western world. The Japanese language became the national language and, from 1915:11, the sole language of instruction.

From 1886, i.e. still under the Joseon dynasty, girls' schools were established - partly at the instigation of foreign Christian missionaries - in which schoolgirls enjoyed a Western education. The Chanyanghoe Society (讚揚會) was formed for this purpose in 1898. Japanese rule, however, allowed for a further softening of previously comparatively rigid social structures, particularly a change in gender roles: The Japanese school system, with its educational content, was introduced, which now provided education for the entire population of Chōsen, not just the aristocratic upper class as before. What is now Ewha Womans University, which grew out of a girls' school, offered college courses. Women generated their own income and were able to rise socially through education and occupation more easily than under the Joseon dynasty. The Maeilsinbo newspaper published statistics in its July 21, 1931, issue showing that in the capital prefecture there were 9779 male industrial workers compared with 3337 female industrial workers, who were especially numerous among the younger cohorts. In the 1920s, the first organizations of working women were founded, some of which were very popular.

After the death of the penultimate king, Gojong, in January 1919, anti-Japanese riots broke out across the country, culminating in the declaration of independence by the March First Movement in 1919. Immediately after the reading of independence, the uprising was bloodily put down, with 553 people officially killed and 185 injured. As a result of the suppressed protests, a Korean government-in-exile was formed almost immediately thereafter, on April 10, 1919, in Shanghai with the participation of Rhee Syng-man and Kim Gu. On the international level, the incident had no impact.

Nevertheless, the provincial government managed to tone down its colonial policy: in August, for example, a new governor-general, Admiral Saitō Makoto, was appointed; his second colleague was a civilian. Saitō advocated the protection of Korean culture and customs, and he also promoted welfare and wanted to serve the happiness of Chōsen's inhabitants. Temporarily, the Korean language was again allowed as the language of instruction, and some Korean-born residents of Chōsen were involved in the administration of the new governor-general. Although the police force was subsequently increased by 10,000 men, the Japanese military police force that had maintained order until then was replaced by a civilian police force. The press sector was also affected by the relief measures. In the course of the 1920s, the number of Korean-language newspapers increased to five, including the daily newspapers Tōa Nippō (Eng. "East Asian Daily") and Chōsen Nippō (Eng. "Korean Daily"), founded in Keijō in 1920. In the first half of the 1920s, the first women's magazine called Yeojagye appeared on the market, followed in the 1930s by modern women's magazines based on Japanese models, such as Yeoseong by the editor of Chosun Ilbo.

The Governor General's Residence was built in 1926 on the site of the previously partially demolished Keifukukyū Royal Palace. This rose on the visual axis palace - city. The building, used by the provincial government for the parliament and national museum, was demolished by South Korea on August 15, 1995, exactly fifty years after Japan's surrender in World War II. On the site of the Shōkeikyū Royal Palace, the Japanese provincial government established a zoo, a botanical garden (called Shōkei Park), and a museum. The South Korean government had the zoo and botanical garden removed in 1983.

Nevertheless, there were always protests, such as the one in Kōshū on October 30, 1929: as a culmination of some class boycotts, Korean-born students took to the streets to demonstrate for the reintroduction of the teaching of Korean history as well as the reintroduction of Korean as the language of instruction. The protest prompted other students Chōsen-wide to demonstrate as well. The protests and class boycotts were initiated by student organizations. Without achieving their goal, the student protests collapsed mainly due to internal disputes.

Many of the above-mentioned facilities were reversed with the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the subsequent World War II, and in some cases the old regulations were strengthened. Also, the local government under Governor General Minami Jirō tried to introduce Japanese culture and way of thinking into Chōsen as well. The policy of total assimilation, implemented under the slogan Nae-son-il-chae ("Chae" = body), was intended to ensure the resources needed for the wars fought on several fronts since the attack on Pearl Harbor, especially in terms of people for the military and industry. Governor General Minami, in a 1939 speech, explained the slogan "Nae-son-il-chae" as follows: "Korea and Japan must become one in form, in spirit, in blood, and in flesh"; the ultimate goal would be complete equality of Koreans with the Japanese; all discrimination, even in the military, would be abolished. On the other hand, as is evident from a 1942 speech in Tokyo, Minami knew of the difficulties of implementation: "Koreans are a completely different people in terms of worldview, fellow humanity, customs, and language. Therefore, the Japanese government must design colonial policy in full awareness of this fact." Behind this was the conviction "that the Japanese, to whom the Koreans must always look up, must always be a few steps ahead. For the Japanese are called to always teach and lead the Koreans, and the latter are to follow with gratitude and obedience the Japanese who go ahead." This policy manifested itself in everyday life in Chōsen as follows: From 1938 onward, the use of the Korean language was now forbidden even in private and secured by a system of informers extending into the family sphere. The former Korean culture also suffered; for example, the Korean costume was banned.

Beginning in February 1940, attempts were made to change or convert Korean names to Japanese; the effort, scheduled to last only six months, yielded only the meager success of 7.6% of Koreans registered with Japanese names by the end of April 1940. When ration cards, mail deliveries, assignment of work, and acceptance of official applications were made only to persons with Japanese names, many gave in. By August 1940, 79.3% of the population was registered with Japanese names.

Due to Japan's precipitous surrender in World War II and Chōsen's almost immediate secession from the Japanese Empire, the nae-son-il-chae policy could never be fully completed and thus equality between the Japanese- and Korean-born inhabitants could not be created. Thus, until the end of Japanese colonial rule, the ever-present ban on marriages between these two populations was never lifted.


In the Japan-Korea Friendship Treaty of 1876, the same foreign trade conditions had been imposed on Korea by Japan as had been imposed on Japan in the America-Japan Friendship and Trade Treaty of 1858: Exchange of diplomats, opening of three ports to trade, allowing Japanese citizens to trade and live in these ports, guarantee that these persons remained under Japanese jurisdiction, and minimized import duties on Japanese goods. However, Japan had recognized Korea's independence from China.

In 1905, with the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty, Korea completely transferred Korea's foreign trade to Japan, and in 1910, with its incorporation into the Japanese Empire, it also transferred domestic trade.

In most cases, companies with a Japanese owner were now given preference in the distribution of orders. Thus, one year later, although 110 companies were operating or had been established in trade and industry in Chōsen, 101 of them were Japanese-owned. In addition, there were 19 Japanese-owned companies with branches in Chōsen. This lopsided relationship was further reinforced by the closure of two major and successful Korean-owned companies, the Korean Land and Maritime Transportation Company and the Korea Hide Company, and by the nationalization (and subsequent modernization) of ginseng production and mines.

In Korea, internal trade was very weakly developed. Japan therefore built up the economy in Chōsen from scratch and in a targeted manner: The south of the peninsula was not very suitable for energy and resource extraction, so the development of industry tended to focus on the north and agriculture was promoted in the climatically favorable south.

The construction of Chōsen was primarily intended to serve the military and the prosperity of the population on the main Japanese islands. The development of agriculture in southern Chōsen as a new "granary" was also intended to help further industrialize the other regions of the Japanese Empire and overcome the agricultural structure there, with an 80% peasant population.

The regional imbalance of the economic structure in Chōsen led to south-north migration within the province on the one hand, and emigration of people from the southern area of the province to Imperial China, Hawaii, and the other parts of the Japanese Empire on the other.

Railroads (and roads) were built to open up the entire country. The infrastructure built during this period played an important role in Chōsen's economic development. This also applies to the two successor states, especially North Korea, insofar as the infrastructure was not destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953).

Beginning in 1912, the Japanese provincial government stepped up expropriation, especially of small farmers. Through new surveys and land inspections of the agriculturally usable land, this initially took place in favor of the "Eastern Real Estate Corporation". To this corporation, established in the early years after annexation, all land with uncertain ownership fell and was passed on to Japanese-born immigrants and pro-Japanese Korean-born provincial residents. Thus, 36.8% of the arable land in Chōsen Province was recorded as being in Japanese-owned hands in 1916, 39.8% in 1920, and 52.7% in 1932. The amount of rice available in the province decreased from about 2.3 to about 1.8 liters per person between 1912 and 1918.

As the "granary" of the empire, Chōsen was supposed to support all other provinces. Therefore, over the years, more and more rice was exported to the other Japanese provinces (according to plan specifications, mostly increasing). For example, in 1919, the tax quota for rice was 1

Due to the drop in the amount of rice available and the ever-increasing demand for rice in the other provinces of the empire (also due to the war), agriculture in the 1930s was increasingly focused on the cultivation of rice, while traditional peasant farming with vegetables such as cabbage, radish, garlic and spring onions, some livestock (for self-sufficiency and as rent) and - as far as possible in the warmer south - silkworm farming was displaced. Rice acreage expanded from 14,890 km² (1919) to 17,360 km², while total agricultural acreage grew by a smaller area, from 43,700 km² to about 44,520 km².

Although the planned targets for increasing rice yields by about 75% were far from achieved, exports to the other provinces of the empire were increased as planned. Thus, by 1933, more than half of the harvest had been shipped. The failure to meet the target was due in part to the increase in Chōsen's population from 17 million to about 23 million.

Rice monocultures led to a one-sided economic dependence of the farmers, who were forced to make a living in the event of poor harvests or only lower yields, especially since the costs of fertilizer and transport were added to the rental fees. This led to many farm abandonments; in 1939 alone, 340,000 households engaged in "nomadic farming" by slash-and-burn agriculture in remote mountain areas after abandoning their farms. In this way, more farmland was given to people of Japanese origin.

Fishing was also largely taken over by (small) companies of Japanese origin, the fleet was modernized and the economy intensified. Thus, in the peak years, up to 90,000 fishermen were active off the coasts of Chōsens. The same was true of the forestry industry.

While the colonization of Korea was originally carried out from a military perspective as a deployment area against China - in particular Manchuria - and Russia, and from an economic perspective as a sales region for industrial products, it was not until the 1920s that industrial exploitation came to the fore: low wages and long working hours promised investors in the energy sector (hydropower) and the chemical industry (for fertilizers and above all munitions) high returns. In line with military needs, the chemical industry quadrupled its production since 1925; in addition, steel, coal, tungsten and lead were extracted, especially in northern Chōsens. The industrial workforce increased from 50,000 workers (1911) to 1.5 million workers (1945), most of them conscripted.

The Japanese Empire opened up the province through transportation, energy supply and communication networks. These networks and supply complexes, as far as they were not destroyed during the war, could be used for Korean purposes after 1945.

Forced labor and forced prostitution

Beginning in 1938, as part of this labor mobilization, hundreds of thousands of young people and experienced workers of both sexes were forcibly organized into the National Labor Service, which comprised some 750,000 units, and - similar to the forced laborers from all over Europe in Germany - had to replace Japanese-born men needed for military service in mines and factories throughout the territory of the Japanese Empire. There, in what little free time they had, they were forced to visit Shintō shrines to pray for the success of Japan's hallowed mission in Asia and for victory over China. It is believed that there were about two million forced laborers between 1930 and 1945. On the day of the surrender, there were about 2.3 million Korean-born people living in the main Japanese islands; well over 30% of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Korean-born forced laborers: 40,000 out of 140,000 dead and 30,000 irradiated victims.

The population remaining in Chōsen was simultaneously organized into neighborhood squads, each comprising 10 households, which took over the collection of taxes and other levies on behalf of the provincial government. Thus, while rice grown in Korea was collected in kind-as was common in pre-modern Japan-these neighborhood squads distributed barley and other inferior food to the population for sustenance. Likewise, exploitation was also served by regular events such as the "patriotic day" established around 1937 and the "day in the service of the rise of Asia," united in 1939: the first day of each month was dedicated to the collective drudgery of the Chōsen population for World War II.

Particularly from 1940 and again intensified from October 1943, the colonial policy intensified: thousands were sentenced and imprisoned as "thought criminals", "undesirable persons" and "rebels".

From Chōsen - as from other Japanese-controlled areas - many thousands of young girls and women were taken to the fronts and raped in rows for years in soldiers' brothels; these war victims are euphemistically called comfort women. After the end of World War II, they often lived in Japan as in their Korean homeland as outcasts and hidden persons. It was not until demonstrations in the 1990s and the establishment of the private Japanese Asia Women's Fund following confessions by former Japanese officers that their fate became public to a wider public. Since the Japanese government to this day does not acknowledge state responsibility and does not open government archives, one has to rely on estimates (for all of Asia) of 50,000 to 300,000, a large portion of whom are said to be from Chōsen, to assess the numbers.


After the incorporation of Korea, a large contingent of military police was established. In addition, the Chōsen Army was made responsible for Chōsen as the colonial army of the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1915, recruits were drawn from the Chōsen population for the 19th and 20th Divisions, both of which remained in Chōsen until 1937.

The Japanese military recruited Korean-born men beginning on February 22, 1938. These were used in particular in the infantry. Initially, they were very reluctant - similar to Nazi Germany for racial ideological reasons - and accepted only very few of the volunteers, for example in 1938

There was also strong pressure on the 6500 Korean-born students (1943) (exceptions: medicine and technical subjects) in Japan, 5000 of whom were drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army; many fled and hid in Chōsen Province or Manchukuo, most escapes ending in military court. There were also Korean-born individuals who volunteered for military service. These underwent training and service in the Japanese army often in the hope of serving a future free Korea as trained and experienced soldiers.

Korean political and military resistance

After the collapse of the volunteer army in Manchuria in 1915, a regular army was formed there from 1920 with the cooperation of the "Korean Provisional Government", which was founded in 1919 after the incident of the first of March in Shanghai, which, on the one hand, fought against the Japanese occupation in the territory of the Far East region of Soviet Russia and was forcibly absorbed into the Red Army after the expulsion of the Japanese, and, on the other hand, fought more successfully in Manchuria against the Kwantung Army, such as in the four-day battle at Cheongsan-ri in October 1920.

The conquest of North China during and after the Second Japanese-Chinese War cut off supplies for the Korean Volunteer Army. Only the possibility of underground assassinations remained, especially by the "Korean Patriotic Legion" established by the president of the government-in-exile Kim Gu (since 1927) in 1930:

After 1933, Chiang Kai-shek admitted Korean cadets to the Chinese military academy, making regular training of Korean officers possible again for the first time since 1905. It was not until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in response to which the government-in-exile declared war on Japan and Germany on December 9, 1941, that it succeeded under Kim Gu in making itself heard internationally from Chinese exile with the Euro-American Liaison Committee in Washington. It sent observers to the Cairo Conference in 1943, and at the suggestion of Chiang Kai-shek, the Cairo Declaration there incorporated the plan for Chōsen's future independence and self-reliance. Subsequently, it also expanded special forces in the Pacific region in cooperation with the U.S. OSS, with the goal of deployment also in the conquest of Chōsens.

After 1943, the formation of regular Korean units succeeded, which fought on the side of the Allies on the Chinese front and in the Pacific War; in addition, Korean emigrants and deserters from the Japanese army belonged as individuals and groups to individual armies of the Allies, including the communist groups around Kim Il-sung, who served as a captain battalion commander in the II Far Eastern Army of the Red Army.

Approaches to Korean self-government

From the beginning of August 1945, the Japanese administration under Governor General Abe Nobuyuki prepared to hand over the colony, which was no longer sustainable in the long term due to the war, to the local population in order to prevent a power vacuum and to allow its own people to withdraw in an orderly manner. On August 8, Yuh Woon-hyung declared his willingness to initiate the reconstruction of a Korean self-government and to form a government: the Korean People's Government (KVR) with Yuh Woon-hyung as vice premier.

End of the colonial period

Toward the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union failed to reach agreement on the future of Korea. It is true that the Cairo Declaration of 1943 had already stipulated that Korea should form an independent state after Japan's surrender. However, this was to take place only after a certain transitional period ("in due course"), as both sides felt that the country needed to be completely rebuilt politically and economically after years of foreign rule. The Soviet Union finally accepted the U.S. proposal to temporarily divide Korea into two occupation zones along the 38th parallel. The northern zone was to be placed under Soviet administration, the southern half under U.S. administration. Initially, the Americans had wanted to leave the peninsula entirely to the Soviets.

On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, having already terminated its neutrality pact with Japan on April 5, 1945. The Soviet Union thus missed by one day its commitment, made at the Yalta Conference, to start war in the Far East 90 days after the end of the war in Europe and to attack Japan and its allies. The Red Army occupied Manchuria (resp. the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo) as part of Operation August Storm, but then came to a halt before reaching the Korean Peninsula because its fuel was insufficient. The Korean Liberation Army also failed to reach the peninsula from China when Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the official surrender of Japan (radio address by the Tennō, Emperor of Japan), but before the signing of the surrender document on September 2, 1945, on the battleship Missouri, the Red Army occupied the northern part of Chōsen Province and established a Soviet civil administration there as late as August 1945. The U.S., on the other hand, under General John R. Hodge, did not land at Jinsen until September 8 to occupy the southern part. Following a proposal by Dean Rusk, all Japanese military personnel still remaining in the colony had to surrender to the Red Army north of the 38th parallel, and to the U.S. Army south of the same. Both occupying powers initially rejected Korean self-government.

While occupied Japan and northern Chōsens were placed under civilian administrations, the U.S. established a military government in its southern occupation zone. Abe, who had attempted to take his own life on September 9 but then surrendered to the U.S., was not dismissed from his post as governor general until September 12, 1945. From the surrender until that time, the KVR had taken over the administration of the province under Japanese supervision. Even after that, Japanese colonial officials were kept in their posts for years, since they knew their way around their colony very well.

Today, both North and South Korea regard August 15, 1945, as Independence Day, although Japan had de facto territorial sovereignty over all of Korea, at least in the South, until September 12, 1945, and de jure until the founding of South Korea on August 15, 1948. However, the validity of the annexation treaty and thus the validity of Korea's incorporation into Japanese territory is currently in dispute by North and South Korea. Japan finally renounced territorial sovereignty over Korea in the San Francisco Peace Treaty on September 8, 1951.

Korean self-government versus UN mandate

There was unanimity among the victorious powers in rejecting an independent Korea: the conference of foreign ministers held in Moscow from December 14 to 23, 1945, decided on a four- to five-year trusteeship and a provisional government under U.S. supervision.

The U.S. government wanted to keep KVR members suspected of communist infiltration, as well as nationalist circles, away from any power. Therefore, after the administrative takeover by US-Americans, the US government banned the KVR and its structures. On the other hand, it did not recognize the CPR (Daehan Min-guk Imsi Jeongbu) returning from exile with its president Kim Gu as a Korean representative, and its delegation was rejected by the U.S. commander-in-chief Hodge after his arrival.

Nevertheless, the CPR, which continued to exist until the founding of the two Koreas, and Kim Gu played a considerable role; Hodge played him and Rhee Syng-man, who had returned from U.S. exile, off against each other. Accordingly, the February 14, 1945, merger of Rhee and Kim was intended to keep the "communists" around Yeo Un-Hyeon from forming a comprehensive national alliance, but it failed: the unity of the non-partisan CPR broke down, and its left wing joined the new Left Alliance. Moreover, Kim was not available for office in a non-independent or divided Korea.

The background was a dramatic change in the world situation. The meager successes of the Moscow Conference, the disputes over Persian Azerbaijan, the disputes over China and Korea prompted U.S. President Harry Truman to write his famous note, which ended with the sentence: "I'm tired of babying the Soviets." This attitude represents the beginning of the containment policy and the "Cold War."

Korean disputes

Therefore, the influence of the Korean adversaries on the future fate of Korea is limited, although the murder and assassination of (a total of) four party leaders within four years that accompanied the disputes does not demonstrate stability and cross-party orientation in politics. However, this discord must also be attributed in part to the policies of the U.S. government, which favored Rhee, who was easier to control, and wanted the establishment of two states, at least one of which would be under U.S. influence. Parallels to the following development in Germany are abundantly clear.

The alliance between Rhee and Kim broke down over the issue of trusteeship and the U.S. government's establishment of a South Korean constituent state. Kim Gu's attempt to halt developments toward the division of Korea through inter-Korean conferences on February 25, 1947, and April 20, 1948, with groups from the North under Kim Il-sung ended inconclusively. After elections on May 10, 1948, under UN supervision in the U.S.-occupied zone, in which leftist groups did not participate, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was established, succeeding the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (CPR). The CPR (North Korea) emerged from structures of the Korean People's Government (KVR), which had influenced and directed the Soviet administration in its part of Korea rather than banning it.

Even before the elections in South Korea, genocide-like massacres of alleged supporters of leftist groups were carried out under the eyes of the U.S. military government (USAMGIK) due to the prevailing anti-communist hysteria, such as after the Jeju Uprising of peasants and fishermen on Jeju-do. Massacres continued in South Korea even after the South Korean government was constituted in the early 1950s.

Various Japanese politicians and Tennōs have apologized for their country's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula. The first Japanese politician to do so was then-Foreign Minister Shiina Etsusaburō in 1965 during the process of signing the Basic Treaty between Japan and the Republic of Korea: "In the long history of our two nations, there have been unfortunate times , it is truly regrettable and we deeply regret them."

The first prime minister to apologize was Suzuki Zenkō. He let it be known in 1982 through his Chief Cabinet Secretary Miyazawa Kiichi during the first international textbook controversy over Japanese textbooks: "Japan and the people of Japan are deeply aware of the fact after which actions in the past caused a great amount of suffering and loss to Asian countries, including South Korea and China, and we are building the foundations of our future as a peaceful nation considering this fact and our determination to never let it happen again."

In 1984, Tennō Hirohito apologized during a state visit to South Korea. Hirohito had been the head of state of the Japanese Empire during the colonial period, and some consider him to be the most culpable person for that time. During the state visit, he said, "There was a short period in this century, an unhappy past between our two countries. This is truly regrettable and it will not happen again."

Since the 1960s, Japanese politicians have repeatedly apologized, most recently Prime Minister Naoto Kan did so in a public statement on August 10, 2010.

The majority of the Japanese population is open to reconciliation, including the admission of injustice for which compensation should be paid. Lump-sum collective compensation, which was previously demanded by North and South Korea, is rejected by the Japanese population. It favors reparation specifically for affected individuals. It is their opinion that this should not be settled by political means but by civil means; this is also in line with the opinion of the Japanese government. The population considers further apologies unnecessary and unjustified in view of the aggressive pressure coming from South Korea.

Japanese neoconservatives and nationalists, on the other hand, insist - also in the textbook dispute - on a revisionist account: they point one-sidedly to advantages of Japanese rule for Korea and deny crimes of which the empire is accused, such as the recruitment of forced laborers and "comfort women" or the attempt to erase Korean identity as such.


  1. Korea under Japanese rule
  2. Korea unter japanischer Herrschaft
  3. ^ "Chōsen" was recognized as Korea's name internationally until the end of colonial period.[6][7][8][9]
  4. Hannes Gamillscheg: Schweden. „Moralische Supermacht“ kehrt zurück. In: Die Presse vom 28. April 2006.
  5. POPULATION STATISTICS (Memento vom 17. September 2018 im Internet Archive): historical demographical data of the administrative division before 1950, abgerufen am 8. Oktober 2010.
  6. Marc Verfürth: Japanischer Militarismus. In: Japan Link. Archiviert vom Original am 17. Januar 2012; abgerufen am 8. März 2017.
  7. ^ (DE) Der Brockhaus in Text und Bild 2003 [SW], elektronische Ausgabe für Office-Bibliothek, Bibliographisches Institut & F. A. Brockhaus, 2003; Artikel: "Korea"
  8. a b c d e f g h i Marius B. Jansen (April 1989). The Cambridge History of Japan Volume 5 The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-22356-3.
  9. «国立公文書館 アジア歴史資料センター». Archivado desde el original el 16 de enero de 2015. Consultado el 5 de enero de 2015.
  10. Ver el relato de testigos oculares rusos de las circunstancias circundantes en «Archived copy». Archivado desde el original el 1 de febrero de 2016. Consultado el 3 de agosto de 2014.  por Gari Ledyard, profesor Sejong emérito de historia coreana en la Universidad de Columbia
  11. Anglo-Japanese Gazette; London October 1904
  12. Correspondencia del Departamento de Estado #856 fechada el 6 de enero de 1905.

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