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JapanFocus
Scenes of Korea's Suffering Under Japan
54 graphic photographs from the 1910-1945 occupation are on show in Woninjae station until April 16
Christopher Carpenter (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2005-04-03 13:57 (KST)   
Three photos show the capture and death of independence leader Yoon Bong Gil. Yoon is led away by Japanese soldiers and then put to death by a firing squad. This exhibit is at Woninjae subway station, Incheon, until April 16.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
At first glance, there is nothing special about Woninjae station, nearly at the end of Incheon's subway line. My wife gets off there six days a week to go to work, and I go once or twice a week if I visit her during the day. A park across the street offers a little relief for the occupants of a complex of high-rise apartments next to the station, and three blocks away there is a good restaurant district, but otherwise you would not know Woninjae from any other station in the city.

That is why I was surprised when a visit there last week did more to inform me about the Korean uproar over Japanese history textbooks than anything I have seen, read or heard to date.

A Korean voluntary fighter stands bound at the hands of a Japanese soldier in one of the photos in the display. This photo and 53 others will be on display at Woninjae station until April 16.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
Japan and Korea have recently been exchanging diplomatic and political blows over accounts of the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. In textbooks to be approved in Japan this year, Japanese officials want to highlight development of Korean infrastructure during Japanese rule, but Koreans see the focus as whitewashing what was, at times, a time of brutal oppression.

While Japan may have helped Korean infrastructure, 54 black and white photographs placed in Woninjae station's west end brought home the reason so many Koreans are upset. The pictures will be on display until April 16.

The photos begin easily enough, showing Koreans who fought in regional voluntary armies against foreign oppression. A fighting man stands bound with chains on his wrists while a Japanese guard stands by in the first picture.

Hong Gi Hoo, president of the Incheon Chapter of the Korea Independence Fighters Association, the group that owns the pictures, said regional volunteers fought with whatever weapons they had available. If they did not have guns, they fought using scissors or farming tools.

A Korean marathoner shown in the display was forced to run under the Japanese flag during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
"Korea was attacked by foreigners so many times," Hong said.

The second grouping of pictures describes the dissolution of the Korean army under Japanese rule and the organization of Korean resistance fighters. Full portraits of Korea's most noted fighters celebrate the Korean spirit and offset the graphic photos of the fates they often met. Throughout the display, Koreans who maintained their identity under Japanese rule or who made their nation proud, such as the Korean marathoner in the 1936 Olympics, are celebrated.

Three photos in particular depict the story of Yoon Bong Gil(*), a prominent independence movement leader. In the first photo Yoon is shown posing for a portrait in a suit and tie. In the second, he is being led away by Japanese soldiers on his way to face a firing squad. Even in the face of imminent death, Yoon's face reflects his fighting spirit. In the third picture, he is shown tied to a post, kneeling, with arms outstretched. A single dot shows the place a bullet hit Yoon's blindfolded forehead as he died.

Koreans who resisted Japanese colonization are shown hanging in one of the photos in the display.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
Hong said that photo was very hard to come by because it was kept as a record by the Japanese government. As time passed, however, the records became more accessible.

"As time passed by the Japanese government disregarded old records, and Korean historians found them," Hong said.

While Yun's death-photo might be graphic, it is not the most graphic of the group. The series of eight photos depicting the Independence Movement Day on March 1, 1919 are the most graphic of all.

The photos begin showing a sketch of 29 of the 33 most important independence movement leaders seated around a table making their plans.

The next two show large groups of Korean citizens on the Independence Movement Day. Their faces reflect the anguish of living under Japanese rule and the desperation they feel for independence.

Lim Byong Ho, left, and Hong Gi Hoo, stand before the historical photos at Woninjae station. They are members of the Incheon Chapter of the Korea Independence Fighters' Association and worked with the station manager to organize the display.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
Following these pictures several show the examples Japanese leaders made of people they identified as being involved in the movement.

A Korean is beheaded by a Japanese soldier.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
A Korean man(**) lies on the ground with his hands tied behind his back and his upper body propped against a piece of lumber while a Japanese soldier uses a chopping device on his neck. The grisly result is evident in the next photo where rows of Korean heads lined up front of a headless body stare into the sky with eyes that look like they are still alive. The body's hand touches its neck where its head used to be. A single finger points to its stump as if to say, "this is what happened to me."

The heads of Koreans suspected of being involved in the March 1, 1919 independence movement day sit lined up in front of a body from which the head has been removed.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
Pyon Hee Young, 73, met a friend to look at the pictures Friday afternoon. Pyon said he was 12 when Japan gave Korea back to Koreans in 1945. He had a Japanese name at that time, in keeping with Japanese policy, but he took a Korean name after independence. Pyon said he did not learn any Korean history until after 1945. He has seen other photo exhibits like this one, he said, but this exhibit had some photos he had never seen before.

A group of school children visited the station Thursday afternoon, making a noisy entrance. They played in the turnstiles and ran from their adult leader until they got to the photos. As the images unfolded before them they got quiet and absorbed the story told by the pictures.

As the afternoon wore on and train after train pulled into Woninjae station, wave after wave of people came up the steps next to the exhibit. With each passing wave, one or two pairs of eyes were caught by the photos and drawn into looking at all 54. With each passing wave, one or two pairs of eyes were drawn into the history that helped make Koreans who they are today.

A group of school children visits the display at Woninjae station, last Thursday.
©2005 Chris Carpenter
(*) This article mistakenly identified the independence fighter Yoon Bong Gil as Yuk Bong Gil. The editors apologize for the error.

(**) An OhmyNews reader has alerted the editors that the following two photos of Korean decapitations are possibly from the Nanjing massacre. After an exhaustive Web search, OhmyNews has been unable to confirm or deny this suggestion and so we have opted to leave the photos and the related text intact.

Christopher Carpenter is a freelance writer living in Incheon, Korea. His wife, Kim Eun Jung, helped with interviews and translations for this story.
©2005 OhmyNews

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