KOREAN HISTORY: Korean Independence Day (aka, Korean Liberation Day)

광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)

Google KOREA logo image posted on August 15, 2012
to celebrate 
 Korean Liberation Day

Korean Independence (Liberation) Day, commonly known as Gwangbokjeol1 (광복절(光復節)) or Pariro2 or Pal-Il-O (팔일오, “The Fifteenth of August”), commemorates the liberation of Korea from Japan, following the Japanese surrender to the United States and its Allies in World War II on August 15, 1945.  On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and took Manchuria and Korea on the same day.  To top it off, the United States deployed two nuclear weapons and had the first one, Little Boy, on the city of Hiroshima on August 6 and the second one, Fat Man, over Nagasaki on August 9. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally.  But in a tragic and ironic turn of fate, the Japanese surrender and the Soviet landing on the Korean Peninsula eventually led Korea to the seemingly permanent division which was initially meant to be temporary.  In fact, it was inevitable considering the fact the liberation of Korea was subject to the defeat of Japan and competition between major powers, i.e., the United States and the Soviet Union.  Korean Liberation Day also celebrates the establishment of the Republic of Korea, i.e., South Korea, in 1948 and is the national holiday of South Korea.

1. Gwangbokjeol literally translates to “’Restoration of the Light’ Day,” in which gwang (()) means “light,” bok (()) means “restore,” and jeol (()) means “national holiday.”

2.  Some of the Korean national holidays or historic events/days are customarily named in reference to the dates of their occurrence as seen below:

Yugio (yug=6 thus June; io=25)

Sailgu (sa=4 thus April;

Oilyuk (o=5 thus May); ilyuk=26)

Sibiryuk (sib=10 thus October; iryuk=26)

Sibisibi (sibi=12 thus December; sibi=12)

Oilpal (o=5 thus May; ilpal=18)

Some might think Korea’s independence was given, not earned, but during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), thousands of Koreans died or were killed fighting against Japanese colonial rule: There were such resistance movements as the Independence Movement, aka, March First Movement, Donghak Movement, Righteous Army, Korean Liberation Army, and the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, and so on and so forth; and there were so many resistance leaders and patriotic assassins such as Kim Gu, Jo Mansik, Ahn Changho, An Jung-geun, Lee Bongchang, Yoon Bong-gil, and Yu Gwansun, to name a few.  As follows is the Korean flag used by Korean Liberation Army in 1910 on which the soldiers scribbled down their names and words to express their determined will to fight against Japan.  The phrases and sentences are written either in Korean or in Chinese, some of which read:  "Independence and Autonomy," "Freedom," "We'll fight. We'll be strong," and "Pro Patria."

Under Japanese rule, especially during World War II, hundreds of thousands were trapped in forced labor in Japanese industries or as the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, in sex slavery, into which they were coerced, deceived, or forced and which they could never leave.  The Japanese colonial state was a highly atrocious regime.  This link will lead you to some pictures of Korean sex slaves but beware most of you will find them extremely disturbing.

BTW, during the 2012 London Olympics, Japanese designer Hiroko Koshino's uniforms for the Japanese gymnastics teams made me feel very disturbed:

(From left) Kazuhito Tanaka, Kohei Uchimura, Designer Hiroko Koshino,
Rie Tanaka and Yu Minobe. (Photo by Toshiyuki Hayashi)

When I first saw Rie Tanaka compete in that uniform, I went, “What?”  I just couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing.  And when I found out it was picked as one of the best Olympic uniforms by Entertainment Weekly (EW), I went “What the.” Bronwyn Barnes, a senior editor at EW, said they picked those Japanese uniforms ‘cause they “feature a stylized version of the nation's rising sun flag, combined with a zebra stripe motif and, naturally, crystals. Sometimes more is more.” (Link)  But Ms. Barnes, please do some reading before you write.  It’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag.  It’s no ordinary national flag; it's their military flag, called Kyokujitsu-ki. It’s considered very offensive in China, Korea, and other East Asian countries, the victims of Japanese war crimes.  Well, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself!  This link will lead you to the pictures of  the victims of Japanese war crimes but beware most of you will find them millions times more disturbing than the previous ones.

The Axis: Japan allied itself with Nazi Germany in World War II, along with Italy.
This photo shows the Japanese "Kyokujitsu" flag and the Nazi's "swastika" flag.

In short, it’s not a stylized version of Japan's national flag, but a Japanese version of the Nazi flag.  In case you still don’t understand, I’ll put it this way: Just imagine how the Nazi victims and their family members would feel if they saw the German athletes compete in the uniforms using the Nazi's swastika symbol.

Today (8/15/2012), Kim Janghun or Kim Janghoon (김장훈), a Korean singer, philanthropist, and Dokdo islets advocate, swam from the eastern port of Uljin to Dokdo as part of a relay team to proclaim Korea's inalienable sovereignty of the islets.  According to the Yonhap news agency, before jumping into the water, he said, "I will never make such a comment as 'Dokdo is our territory' when I arrive there. It's meaningless to do so because they are undeniably our territory." (CNN Report: South Korean singer swims into island dispute with Japan)  And they safely entered Dokdo, after a 49-hour-long swimming relay through the storm and 13-foot-high waves.

It’s quite interesting and of course very annoying and disturbing that Japan’s annexation of Dokdo in 1906 was its first step toward invading and dominating Korea. (Clickfor more information.) Accordingly, it is really meaningful and noteworthy that Kim and others swam across the East Sea to enter Dokdo on Gwangbokjeol, Korean Independence Day, when Japan is still trying to encroach into the islets.

BTW, Korean people jokingly say, “We don’t need a passport to get into Dokdo, but you do; we don’t need international roaming in Dokdo, but you do.”  And here, “you” refers to You-Know-Who.

Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team in the waters off the Dokdo islets
Kim Janghoon's relay swimming team and other tourists
in the Dokdo islets