Posted : 2012-09-03 17:29
Updated :  

A letter to my old friends in Japan

By Nam Sang-so

Dear old friends, the satellite NHK still broadcasts severe late summer heat in Japan. I wish you well.

We’ve had a very hot summer this year, too. The headline news on TV is all about Korean president’s landing on Dokdo islets, your Takeshima, and his demand for an apology from the Japanese king, your emperor for the “Maiden delivery quota” later known as the sex slave issue, which you call it Teishintai (Women’s Devotion Regiment) problem. The media didn’t report on this but I heard the president also said, or mumbled, that he thought Japan isn’t a super power anymore.

I’m sure you are confused to see the Chinese people land or invade Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyu Islands in Chinese and Diaoyutai Islands in Taiwanese. The Chinese, including Taiwanese, claim these islands are theirs while Japan strongly insists the unmanned islands are Japan’s. Your Tokyo mayor once declared something like “fight to death” to keep the Senkaku Islands. That’s the exact words we all had chorused at every opportunity for the banzai of the emperor during the war, hadn’t we?

There is the Kuril Islands dispute, or you call it the Northern Territories dispute, with Russia on the sovereignty over the South Kuril Islands. North Korea might join the diplomatic war against Japan soon.

What a mess. If I were the prime minister of Japan I’d surrender all those islets to the neighboring nations in exchange for erasing the past bloody histories written by Imperial Japan. That should be the easiest way out of the second worst national crisis in Japan’s history after the pre-World War II period.

I still vividly remember some of your faces who bullied me in our childhood years because my father was Korean. I bit my tongue about that at our alumni meeting last month and you all pretended as if such a thing had never happened.

President Lee Myung-bak said in his congratulatory address on our Independence Day, or Day of Ending War in your words though it’s actually the Day of Japan’s Defeat, that “we forgive but we shall not forget.” I cannot forget how you had wounded my young heart some 70 years ago. I didn’t do anything wrong but I was a good-natured Japanese boy.

Japanese people will never forgive or forget about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings but forget the Pearl Harbor attack. It’s vice versa for the American people. Russians keep remembering the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and the disgraceful Battle of Tsushima. Chinese aren’t particularly implacable people but they will never erase the record of Japan’s invasion on their mainland and the Nanking Massacre of 1937 from their history. Imperial Japan in the past hundred years planted the seeds stained with blood for the current mess beleaguered by hostile neighbors on all sides.

Dear friends, I gave you uncharacteristically bitter words today but actually I wanted to tell you good news. The “antique floor desk” you, Mr. Matsumoto, had shipped July 1st has arrived at my New Jersey home on August 20th. It crossed the Pacific, went through the Panama Canal and reached Elizabeth Port on the opposite side of the New York harbor.

My daughter and grandsons were surprised to see my Japanese brush painting on the bottom panel of the drawer that read “To Matsumoto, with my fond memories, sayonara, Minami, March 28, Showa 21 (1946).” The United States customs officer thought it was an antique tea table, my daughter told me. She still thinks her father is culturally Japanese who pronounces ``President Yi Men-baku” just like you do.

Thank you, Mr. Matsumoto, it’s very kind of you to release my and your old desk to my daughter and grandchildren. I hope that my and your grandchildren would be able to forgive, and forget, the silly relationships their great- and grandfathers created.


Minami (Nam), Seoul

The writer is a retired architect-specifications writer, who shuttles back and forth between Seoul and New Jersey. Email him at
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