To What Extent Did The Japanese Change Korean Culture During The Imperial Period

Identification and Evaluation of Sources

The imperial period covers the years of 1910-1945. The colonial period that also includes the Korean War of 1950-1953 and the present time is one of the most controversial and problematic issues of Korean history. The development of Korea under Japanese protectorate (1905-1910) and later as part of the Empire of Japan (1910-1945) left a big mark not only in the memory of Koreans but also greatly influenced its history. After the liberation from the Japanese rule in 1945, the country was divided into North and South Korea. This separation happened because of both external impact of other countries and internal contradictions of the nation. 

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The sources that have been chosen for the investigation state that the Japanese impact on the Korean culture and history was extremely significant. For instance, Lori Watt in his book, When Empire Comes Home, notes that the context of 1910-1945 was not only the “Japanese occupation years,” but also a source of formation of national ideas and national myths. Colonial period, as Watt believes, was referred as “the Korean people's suffering” in the history of Korea for a long time. For ideological and political reasons, North Korea considers this to be true. In South, from the end of the 1980s, people start thinking that the colonial period was not the “dark ages” of the history of Korea. The authors’ attempts to identify both negative and positive aspects of the colonial period were made in the past, but only with the beginning of the democratization in the South, it became easier to create conditions for a balanced study of the colonial period and its heritage.

In terms of the social impact of Japan, the Koreans were granted a number of civil liberties, but their situation still remained worse and poorer as living in Korea meant to face various problems. It might seem that the political control weakened, but it only became less noticeable. The Koreans themselves called the new policy as “velvet cat's paw in politics.” The relevance of the source is proved by the fact that the author provides a concise analysis of the events and evaluates critically the cultural impacts of Japan on Korea. Unfortunately, the study could not be full as many documents were lost or destroyed. This is a reason, which could limit the investigation.

Other important works were made by Michael Weiner and David Chapman. One of them is Zainichi Koreans In History And Memory that has been released in London by Routledge. The book explores the Japanese assimilation policy in colonial Korea. The authors study the integration of the Korean culture into the culture of the imperial Japan, which occurred at the same time as the Japanization of Korea. As a part of the assimilation process, it was decided to create the recruiting base for the army of the Japanese Empire in 1930-1940s. The authors believe that the Japanese impact on Korea is better seen in the period from 1930 till 1940. This is one of the differences of this research from the other sources represented in this paper. The book proposes that during the process of Japanese invasion into Korea, the gradual subordination of the interests of Korea had been created by the Japanese colonization. 

In this book, one of the authors' objectives is to study the society of Koreans and Japanese as a medium between the Japanese authorities and the Korean bourgeoisie. However, Uchida believes that the Japanese settlers did not perform this function, they should be regarded as an independent group, whose interests often conflicted with the interests of the Japanese authorities and coincided with the interests of the Koreans.

Colonial modernization of Korea was not solely the result of the “civilizing” and modernization of Japan. The book offers a new vision of the processes that happened in the past.  In this case, the study can hinder by the lack of access to the contemporary situation in North and South Korea and personal attitude of the authors towards the history of this territory.


In addition to industrialization and agricultural development, the colonial power influenced the fields of education and health. Indeed, the achievements in education show that 40% of school-age Koreans were enrolled in primary education during the period. It happened because the first Keijō Imperial University (Seoul) was opened. Besides, the number of vocational and evening schools increased. The Governor-general changes the Korean script. On October 29, 1933, it was approved the use the standardized printing Korean alphabet Hangul. However, the training plans in schools continued to reflect the goals of the colonial authorities. It was vital to create a well-developed life for Koreans, but it should have been done in the Japanese perspective.

Another Japanese impact on the culture of Koreans was connected with the cities that were changed notable in the 1920-1930s. Society started to use telegraph and telephone lines, but it remained expensive for the majority. The radio had an important role in the propaganda and the electrification Korea. During that period, the first department stores were opened. The most famous was a subsidiary of the Japanese network “Mitsukoshi” in Seoul. In Korea, many buildings constructed in colonial years remained. However, the famous residence of the Governor-general of Korea was demolished in 1996. 

The colonial period cannot be defined as years of economic decline of Korea. Shim believes that colonial and integration policy of Japan in Korea was formed by taking into account the colonial practices conducted in the colonial policies in Taiwan. The author mentions that the integrating elements were not always the result of a deliberate assimilation policy. This is explained by the fact that majority of the aspects of modernization and Japanization in Korea often occurred without direct participation of the colonial authorities.

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Levine and Marriott are convinced that the history of the formation and the present situation of the Korean diaspora in Japan not only serves as a good example of the integration problems in Japanese society but also helps to understand the cause of the failure of integration policies of the Empire of Japan. The Korean diaspora presupposes that before the colonization, a part of Korean population had moved to Japan.

Oppositely to Levine and Mariotte, Watt has a conviction that Watt states that by the end of the 1930s, Japanese still retained the leading position in the economic and political spheres of life in Korea. The Japanization had not led to a real improvement of the situation in the country. In addition, the Koreans remained contemptuous attitude towards the Japanese influence, the colonial authorities and the police that consisted of both Japanese and Koreans. There is plenty of evidence of bad treatment of Koreans who rejected the Japanization policy. However, the author also shows that there is evidence that not all Koreans opposed the Japanization. Thus, the interpersonal relations in the colonial Korea caused two extremes.

The Watt's idea is supported by Michael Weiner and David Chapman who think that although the Koreans received the right to form associations and companies, in a case of suspicion of trustworthiness, the governor took measures immediately. The same practice was seen in the censorship of the press. However, not only did Japanese influence the Korea, but Koreans also stimulated some of the ‘transformation’ in Japan.

In fact, Japanese formed a small but very influential group politically, economically and culturally. However, the strength of this group was largely determined by its interaction with the Koreans. As a result, for the colonial authorities, it was very important to receive loyalty from the indigenous population. Formation of loyal Japanese Korean population was one of the main objectives of the Governor-general. 

After 1910, the Japanese started to own about a half of the total vehicle management in Korea. Japanese businessmen and companies benefited a lot. Moreover, in daily life, the Japanese could find a job easier than the Koreans. They could become doctors or teachers. However, that open repression of Koreans and significant decline of economic and social life nurtured resentment and led to an uprising in 1919.

Additionally, in Korea, Christian and Buddhist priests supported the rights of Koreans, even though the majority were Japanese. They did not like the confidence of Japan. However, under the colonial regime, priests should be careful with their words.

Another aspect which constituted the culture of Korea and Japanese impact on it is the opium. The evidence that Japan had greatly influenced Korea is the fact that during 1910-1930s, Koreans actively cultivated opium poppy making the country one of the world's largest opium supplier. Poppy cultivation and opium production were under control of the Japanese monopolies. At the same the opium use was fought thoroughly by the authorities. It is not a surprise because Japan regarded Koreans as an important labor source that should be addicted to drugs.

Having analyzed the key directions of the Japanese colonization of Korea, it is possible to note that despite the ambiguous historical circumstances, colonial modernization of Korea is an indisputable fact, since all four areas – economic, political, social and cultural – had undergone a transition from traditional to modern society. The fact that the colonial modernization of Korea was held under the auspices of Japan highlights that many elements have been borrowed from the Japanese models. 

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With the militarization and the cultural management, the reforms in the education system were delayed. Many private and evening schools started to close. A similar situation was in the health sector: with the rapid increase in the number of public hospitals, people did not receive a decent health care. These facts reflect the general situation of the Japanese impact on the Korea. 

When concerning the history time period, the historians analyze the facts critically. The information they found is the result of a profound research of the history. The fact that the data in the scholar articles and books makes it clear that all their assumptions were based on the evidence. The challenges the authors faces consisted of the information and the historic documents that could not be found. In any case, the investigation shows the connection between the events and the impacts Japan produced on the Korean life. The analyzed authors tend to be free of biases when gathering the historic data. This is determined by the strict approach to form the exact dates and events in the chronological order. This allows to follow the timeline of the historic narration and create own understanding of the critical analysis the authors provided.

In both books, the role of the author – as well as the author's role of a historian – is of a great importance. The figure of the historian as a narrator of the investigation makes a reader feel more comfortable and pay attention to the transformation of North and South Korea. In addition to this, the historian is the evidence and proof for the credibility of the facts that have been mentioned in the investigation. Furthermore, the historic approach to the essence of the country's impact helps distinguish between facts and fiction creates an opportunity to compare the Korean-Japanese experience since the colonial systems always exist in the world, but they are different in the policies implementation. As a consequence, this approach permits to conduct a profound investigation which is expected to make a contribution to the history. Finally, history is a science which applies the interdisciplinary approach to the subject, thus, the figure of a historian is extremely important for making a book of an accurate scientific research which reveals all the impacts and changes in the particular society.

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