Tag Archives: japan

only abstract apologies allowed

posted by jroselkim

Apologies for wrongdoings of inconceivable scale in the past strikes me as a bit of a funny concept. But I do recognize the symbolic value of one government apologizing to another for colonialism. And it happened recently – the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued an official, government-approved apology to the Korean government on the 100th anniversary of Japanese colonial rule in Korea, and promised he would also return many historical artifacts taken during colonial times to Korea “soon.”

Japanese colonialism is characterized as one of the most efficient colonial rule, as the government was one of the most recent colonizers who got to study other forms of colonialism and analyze what worked best and what didn’t.

I recall my grandfather, who was only a child during colonial rule, telling me one of the most chilling cultural colonial techniques to which he was subjected. Not only was he forbidden from speaking Korean (or reading it) at school, there was also an ingenious monitoring system to enforce the rule. The child who spoke Korean would be given a card that condemned them to cleaning the washrooms daily – until he (apparently this punishment only applied to boys) spotted another kid speaking Korean. Then bam! He could hand over his awful washroom-cleaning punishment onto the next kid. Such measures eliminated any kind of solidarity between the kids to speak Korean collective, but also turned them into docile, disciplined bodies efficiently monitoring and enforcing state rules. Foucault would be so proud.

(Side note: my grandfather and grandmother speak Japanese fluently, but they refused to speak it after the colonial rule was over until recently, when they visited Canada for the first time and struck up a conversation with a Japanese woman at a pool.)

The colonial rule not only forcefully made disciplined bodies out of children, but of women as well. The word “comfort women” is slowly becoming familiarized in Western media (Vagina Monologues now has a monologue on the issue), women kidnapped and held hostage to “comfort” – i.e. commit sexual acts against their will -the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese government still has issued neither an official apology nor compensation, despite the ongoing protest of the remaining alive comfort women. January 2010 marked the 900th week of protest against the Japanese government in Seoul.

The overly generalized nature of the “apology” that refuses to address the specific victims of colonial rule – particularly, to those who were denigrated to being the “lowest factions” of society by stripping their rights and freedoms to act as sex objects – is telling. It is telling of the inadequacy of such an apology, as well as the continued oppression of women who are excluded from “official” discussion of culture and nations.

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