Queen Moonjeong's stamp was returned to Korea last year, 65 years after being illegally shipped out to the U.S. during the Korean War (1950-53). / Yonhap
By Yun Suh-young
As many as 71,375 Korean cultural assets are retained in Japan as of June, accounting for 43 percent or the total number of Korean cultural assets located overseas, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) said Monday.
Yet the number of returned cultural assets from Japan only amounts to 9 percent, which is 6,550 pieces. Of the returned pieces, 3,300 were donated while the other 3,000 were restituted through governmental negotiations.
The number of identified Korean cultural assets in Japan increased by 3,600 according to the CHA's statistics report as of June 30 but the number of returned items only increased by 76.
This demonstrates the difficulties of restituting national assets. The slow progress lies in poor research records in the past, according to experts. Only 30 percent of the cultural assets discovered in Japan have been studied, according to CHA's 2014 report.
The difficulty of discovering assets comes from the unwillingness of their possessors to reveal them to the public due to fears they will be pressured to return the items to their countries of origin.
An example of this is Joseon Bell which is retained at the Jogu Shrine in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture in Japan. The bell which is known to have been built in 833 A.D. during the Unified Silla Period (668-935) was offered to Toyotomi Hideyoshi who invaded Korea in 1592. The bell has since been designated as Japan's national treasure. Numerous Korean civic groups have requested the bell be restituted to Korea but the shrine had remained silent, storing the bell away from public view.
The more people request its return, the more likely the possessors will be passive in taking action, experts say. "There is no way we can get cultural assets that have been designated as Japanese national treasures through international law, unless the requesting country approaches the country in possession of the objects carefully and convinces them to voluntarily return them," one expert said.