The drill of possible missile attack by North Korea at Akita prefecture, North of Japan
Just recently the Emperor and Empress visited Koma Shrine in Hidaka City, Saitama Prefecture. This was given major play in Korean mass media, complete with photographs. This shrine is dedicated to ancient era migrants to Japan from the Kokuri (Goguryeo) Kingdom (37 BCE to 668 CE) on the Korean Peninsula.
This visit by their Majesties was welcomed and celebrated as evidence of their strong interest in the influence of the Korean Peninsula on Japan in ancient times.
This visit often comes up as a subject when one is having dinner with Koreans. In 2001, the Empress held a press conference on her birthday, before the Soccer World Cup that was to be jointly hosted by Japan and Korea. She said that it was recorded in the Shoku Nihongi (completed in 797) that “[In the Nara Period] the mother of the Emperor Kanmu was a descendant of the royal line of the Kudara (Baekje) Kingdom (18 BCE to 660 CE).” In citing that, she indicated the close connections between Japan and Korea. As a consequence, the Emperor and Empress came to be thought of as “friends of Korea.”
When Koreans speak of the Korean Peninsula in ancient times, they see it in terms of a one-way flow of benefits to Japan, something of a mentor-junior relationship. It is still very much that way now. Thus, the Korean interpretation of the “Battle of Hakusonko (Baekgang)” is a case of Japanese forces attempting to aid in the restoration of the Kudara (Baekje) Kingdom.
The Kudara (Baekje) and Japanese forces fought against those of the Korean Kingdom of Shinra (Silla) that were supported by the Chinese Tang dynasty. The Japanese forces were destroyed on both the land and the sea. According to Shuzo Nakamura in the 2015 book Tenji-cho to Higashi-Ajia (The Court of Emperor Tenji and East Asia), “the forces sent from Japan numbered at least 37 thousand.” Considering the period, that was an astonishing number.
This shows just how great the sense of “obligation” to Kudara (Baekje) was, but this is not taught in Korea at all. Recently a Japanese friend who had visited ancient Kudara (Baekje) Kingdom sites as a tourist expressed anger that “no matter where you go there is no commemoration [of the aid from Japan].”
In addition to the Koma Shrine, there is a Kudara Shrine, a Shinra Shrine, and others that have existed from ancient times. In Saga Prefecture that is known for Arita-yaki pottery, there is a monument put up a century ago commemorating the Korean craftsmen as the “founding deities” of Arita-yaki pottery.
In terms of warfare involving the Korean Peninsula, after the “Battle of Hakusonko (Baekgang)” there were the Mongol invasions of Japan in the 13th century (1274, 1281) using forces of the Chinese Yuan Dynasty and the Korai (Goryeo) Kingdom. In the 16th century there were the Bunroku (1592-1593) and Keicho (1597) invasions under Hideyoshi Toyotomi. This was a struggle between Ming Dynasty forces aiding the Korean side and the Japanese forces of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. It was the last invasion of the Korean Peninsula.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Korean Peninsula was the stage for fighting between Japan and the Ching (Qing) Dynasty and Russia in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), respectively. In the 1950s Japan provided rear area support for the United States and United Nations forces fighting the Chinese-North Korean invasion of South Korea during the Korean War.
Thanks to the rear area support, US and South Korean forces managed to push back the communist invasion from the north and save South Korea. Yet, in South Korea this is only taught as “Japan profited from the special procurement boom brought about by the war and this allowed the reconstruction of the economy.” The impact of Japanese support is totally ignored.
The recent ballistic missile tests and nuclear weapons development by North Korea represent a military threat to Japan. It is not only natural, but a necessity, to respond to this threat. But, fundamentally an “emergency on the Korean Peninsula” will be a confrontation between North and South Korea. If this comes, Japan will have to respond, but in historical terms what pattern will that response take?
Given that the Koreans have not expressed any appreciation for either the direct support at the “Battle of Hakusonko” (Battle of Baekgang) nor for rear area support during the Korean war, when there is “an emergency of the Korean Peninsula,” giving aid now requires serious thought. The past pattern of “getting deeply involved” in a way that leaves problems for posterity is not at all good.
Katsuhiro Kuroda is a Guest Editorial Writer, Seoul, South Korea.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)