‘Why did I write that book?’

2023. 9. 26. 20:09
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"Isn’t it important to at least convey what happened at the time?"

KIM HYUN-YEThe author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. I was at a coffee shop in Machida, Tokyo Prefecture on September 19. Korean Japanese writer Park Kyung-nam drank a glass of juice and started to talk fast in Japanese. I was meeting her because of the Great Kanto Earthquake that occurred 100 years ago. Her 1992 book “When the Moon Rises” told the story of Tsunekichi Okawa (1877-1940), who saved more than 300 Koreans at the time as the chief of the Tsurumi Police Station. Because of the rumors that Koreans put poison in the wells, more than 6,000 Koreans were brutally killed.

What made Park write about Okawa? “I was born in Tottori Prefecture. When I was in school, my grandfather told me how he was nearly murdered when he visited Tokyo during the earthquake. Fear started to grow in my mind. ‘If a similar disaster happens again, will my friends and neighbors save me?’ I wondered. So I wanted to write about the stories of Zainichi — Korean Japanese living in Japan — and about the Korean Peninsula. I started to write in my 40s, and then I came across the story of Chief Okawa and became hopeful.”

Park managed to meet Okawa’s son, who showed her materials from the past, and the story of the police chief was made into the book. But it was not the end. A university hospital in Korea read her book and wanted to learn more about Okawa. As the son of Okawa was too old to travel, the grandson, Yutaka Okawa, and Park came to Korea in 1995.

Park said, “After the lecture, it was the grandson’s turn to speak. Then he said, ‘I thought about whether what my grandfather did deserve such praise. What my grandfather did was the normal and natural job of saving people’s lives. Why did my grandfather’s actions become a virtue? Japanese people were so cruel to Koreans at the time that even the most natural thing became praiseworthy. This is all I can say as one Japanese person. I am sorry.’ When I heard his words, I thought I could talk about the massacre of Koreans because of people like Okawa.”

It has been a month since the centennial commemoration of the Great Kanto Earthquake was held in Tokyo. As in the past 100 years, have the stories of Koreans who brutally lost their lives been forgotten in just one month? Some say relations between Korea and Japan have improved, but the Japanese government feigns ignorance. And the Korean government remains indifferent. Park said, “Isn’t it important to at least convey what happened at the time?”

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