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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Peace in North East Asia That We Create Together by Kim Yeonghwan

The BAYT event - a talk by a Korean peace activist Kim Yeonghwan at UBC Asian Centre on Wednesday April 4th was a fabulous success, with a turnout of 25 participants from UBC and the community who truly reflected Vancouver's diversity - students from Korea, Japan, China, Canada, Singapore and others.

Kim started the event asking the participants how they saw themselves in relation to the WWII. It was probably a big question to many, but after a few moments of thought, one responded by saying how she felt caught between Singapore and Japan, both of which were home to her. Another student from Korea mentioned the relationship between the North/South division of Korea after the war and the compulsory military service for Korean men which he had done.

Kim helped us see the relationship between the past and the future - how the past war could be still alive in our present life. War is not over in hearts of many people, and many lands. Kim went on to show us photographs from "East Asia Collaborative Workshop," a 10-year old project in which people from Japan and Korea worked together to excavate the bones of the victims of forced labour during the war time, many of which are still buried in the remote soil of Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan.

Kim talked about 204 workers who died at one of the construction sites between 1938 and 1943, of which 36 were Koreans and 168 were Japanese. Some died from accidents at the dam construction site, and others from violence and malnutrition. Kim said the causes of the deaths reported by the authorities were not always reliable, as sometimes when a worker died from assault, it was reported that he died from malnutrition.

What was amazing to me is the fact that 200 young people of Korea and Japan chose to come all the way to Hokkaido at their own expense to do the hard work of digging bones. How do you motivate so many young people to do this when they can be partying elsewhere? I asked him. His answer was that meaningfulness of the work and the camaraderie that developed among the participants through this work were communicated by word of mouth and that way more and more young people were drawn to this project.

Kim cautioned against the over-simplified dichotomy of nation states being called "Assailants" and "Victims" For example, there were many Japanese, as described above, among the forced labour victims, and there were many Japanese dissents during the war who were sent to prison. Kim stresses that by getting to know each other and working together, we can overcome nationalism and prejudice. 'Does one still deny the comfort women after s/he meets a victim and hears her testimony? No, because through real human interaction, you know that you can trust her.'

Kim showed us a picture of a train station, Dorasan. It is a station at the north end of the South side of Korea of the railway built between Seoul and Pyongyang. The station was called "Not the last station from the South, but the first station to the North." The station was a symbol of hope for Korea's reunification. Once the railway is in operation, one can travel from South Korea all the way to Paris and London, Kim said. Wouldn't this be wonderful? On Monday at Nikkei Centre, he also mentioned that Hakata and Pusan are so close that a tunnel like Seikan tunnel would be possible - then Japan would not be an island state any more. I found the idea fascinating. Then one can travel by train from Japan all the way to London!

Then what can we each do to make a bright future like this possible?

Kim said,

The first step: Knowing

The second step: Saying/Talking

The third step: Acting

He shared a great phrase in Japanese:

わかる & かわる 
meaning 'Know and Change- knowing something means changing yourself.' In Japanese, if you switch the first two letters of the word Wakaru, or to know, it becomes another word Kawaru, or to change.

I remember the moment of this kind of knowing when I was in high school. I read a book that described the Unit 731 - the notorious military unit of Japan that conducted inhuman chemical biological experiments on POWs in China. I, an ordinary high school student who had associated war with Hiroshima and Nagasaki up to then, was absolutely shocked. I did not even know what to think for a few days. When I finally talked to my friends about it, they didn't know what I was talking about and they didn't want to hear it. I guess it took me many years to move forward from the second step to the third step. Here I am, 20+ years later, finally acting.

Many thanks to Kim Yeonghwan for your informative and inspiring talk, and to Lim Sunsook for your assistance with the handout.

As usual, a big applause to the great teamwork of BAYT members!

Kim will be in Vancouver until April 26th. If you would like to arrange his talk for your community, please contact Peace Philosophy Centre or BAYT

Thanks for all who participated! You will make a difference in this world.

With special thanks to Winnie Cheung who kindly provided the venue

With love and determination for peace
A lecture on the Japanese Constitution by a UBC law professor Shigenori Matsui will be held in Japanese at Nikkei Centre on April 12 (Thu) 7-9 PM. See here for details.


  1. Anonymous10:32 pm

    BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / No hard evidence of coercion in recruitment of comfort women

    BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / Comfort station originated in govt-regulated 'civilian prostitution'

    BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / Kono's statement on 'comfort women' created misunderstanding

    Sex-Slaves Mystery

  2. To the person who just posted a comment.

    Please identify yourself, thank you.