ANSAN, South Korea--The son of a colonial-era Japanese teacher who taught at a boarding school in Korea has dedicated a monument to those forced to undergo “Japanization” at his father’s old school.
Hiromitsu Ihara, now 78, has spent the past decade working to build the monument to honor the memory of the students at the school on Seongam island, including some who died attempting to escape.
During the May 29 ceremony to unveil the stone monument at the site of the former school, the resident of Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, offered a prayer and said he hopes it marks the beginning of building a true and lasting friendship between the Japanese and Korean peoples.
“A new chapter of history can be opened only by learning the truth of the past,” Ihara said.
When he was an elementary student in the second grade, Ihara moved to Ansan with his family after his father found a teaching post at the Seongam Gakuen school on the island. The school was operated by the office of the governor-general of Korea and designed to impose Japanese education, language and culture on Korean students.
With Japan’s defeat in World War II, Ihara and his family returned to Japan in 1945. Whenever he was bullied by schoolmates as a returnee from the Korean Peninsula, he would remember the Korean students whom he met at Seongam Gakuen. He remembered they looked between the ages of 8 and 18 and were always holding back their hunger.
Ihara once saw a child brutally beaten for attempting to flee. Another student drowned while trying to escape the island.
Ihara first returned to Seongam island in May 1980 and has since made frequent visits. He held a memorial ceremony dedicated to the students in 1996 and even authored a novel about the school.
With the passing years, Ihara, as the only remaining Japanese person who remembers the school, felt a sense of responsibility and urgency about building the memorial. He decided the memorial was needed to keep the memory of the school and the students who suffered there alive and not lost to history.
Local residents in Ansan, including historians and sculptors, offered Ihara help in erecting the monument. It is designed to represent a kite whereby the souls of students fly away and are finally liberated.
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