High Schoolers Translate Book On Massacre Of Koreans After Great Kanto Earthquake


High schoolers translate book on massacre of Koreans after Great Kanto EarthquakeA Korean high school student was so moved by a book written by a Japanese author on the massacre of ethnic Koreans after the Great Kanto Earthquake that she enlisted classmates and translated it.
Ok Jae-won, 17, and a handful of her friends at Tokyo Korean School said they wanted to study history and also try to improve relations between South Korea and Japan.

“Kugatsu: Tokyo no Rojo de” (September: On the road in Tokyo) was authored by freelance writer Naoki Kato and published by the Korocolor publishing house in 2014.

Kato, 48, was brought up in the Shin-Okubo district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, a neighborhood where many Koreans reside. It is also the site of occasional hate demonstrations directed against Koreans.

This situation troubled Kato, and he was reminded of the slaughter of thousands of Koreans in the aftermath of the magnitude-7.9 earthquake that struck the Tokyo area on Sept. 1, 1923.

Vigilante groups consisting of residents, the military and police took action amid groundless rumors such as Koreans poisoning wells or threatening to attack.

Kato started researching the massacres and started posting about it on his blog on Sept. 1, 2013, the 90th anniversary of the earthquake. The book is based on the blog.

Ok’s father, who runs a tourism agency, recommended that she read Kato’s book, saying, “A Japanese writes objectively about a terrible crime that the Japanese committed.”

Ok, who like Kato was raised in Shin-Okubo, felt that the social relationship between Japan and South Korea was wavering and was not consistently close. It warmed during the “Hanryu” (boom of South Korean pop culture) years and during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. But the friendship has soured recently, in no small part due to hate demonstrations on the streets of Shin-Okubo.

Ok said she was hurt when a Japanese protester once yelled at her, “Go home.”

She repeatedly asked her parents why such things occurred.

Her father suggested that she should translate Kato’s book with her friends into Korean. She jumped on the idea, thinking that if the book was translated, students at her school, including those who temporarily reside in Japan because of their parents' job, would be interested in reading it.

One of the translators, Choi Hee-seoung, 16, said she was shocked when she read the book as she did not know about the killings.

“I wanted many other people to learn about the incident,” she said.

Another translator Choi Jin-ho, 17, said, “I thought it was us, Koreans living in Japan, who should translate the book in a neutral stance.”

The students met Kato many times, and once he took them to a massacre site at the Arakawa river in east Tokyo.

They offered prayers at a monument to commemorate the Korean victims and listened to talks by local study group members regarding the massacre.

“I came to believe it is important to learn of such a history of both countries and not to repeat it,” Ok said.

The students have published 50 copies and donated 10 of them to the school.

Schoolmaster Kim Deuk-young was grateful.

“History provides dialogue between the past and present,” Kim said to the students. “Let us seek ways for the two countries to live closely together.”

Kato noted in his preface in the Korean edition, “I cannot forget the students’ eyes when we visited a massacre site. As I told of the tragic incident, they looked at me with sad and surprised eyes.

“I am curious how students at the high school 10 years from now will feel after reading this book. Will they read it sadly thinking Japan has not changed in 100 years? Or will they read it as a prehistory of the new age as members of a fresh generation based on human friendship."

The Great Kanto Earthquake resulted in the deaths of an estimated 105,000 people. Many died in firestorms that burned through open areas in which people had gathered for safety.