2. Historical Context


2-1. Historical Context
     2-1-1. A Colonized Korea, Japanese Imperialism, and Post-War Relations
     2-1-2. Politics of Memory

2-2. Why BTS & Why Now
     2-2-1. Why BTS
     2-2-2. Why Now

2-1. Historical Context

2-1-1. A Colonized Korea, Japanese Imperialism, and Post-War Relations


In order to understand the current events and political climate pertaining to relations between South Korea and Japan, and how this in turn has led to the events involving BTS, it is critical to comprehend the historical context that informs the contemporary attitudes and motivations behind these respective parties. This section will look at Korean history from 1900 to the present in order to explain how Japan’s imperialist ambitions and practices before, during, and after Korean independence have led to the layered relationship the neighboring countries have. Japanese colonial rule in China and Southeast Asia will also be referenced, as the region shares historical experiences as colonies under Imperial Japan.

Before 1910: Pre-Colonization

The Korean peninsula has historically been a region at the center of many territorial disputes, as it is located in a geographically advantageous position for countries like Japan, China, and Russia. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Japan and Russia battled for control over the Korean peninsula. The 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War resulted in Russia’s defeat and consequently led to the signing of the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth. This treaty made Korea a Japanese protectorate, granting Japan explicit governance over Korea in addition to other regions such as Manchuria and Liaotung. The Treaty of Portsmouth marked the end of Korean autonomy and sovereignty and handed over the Korean peninsula to external forces (Treaty of Portsmouth, 1905 [5]).

But it was not until August 22, 1910 that Korea was officially annexed as a colony under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. Thus began a tumultuous 35 years of colonization under Japanese rule.

1910–1919: Military Rule

The first decade of colonization is characterized as a period of military rule due to “the heavy hand of [colonial] control and oppression,” (Hwang, 2017 [7]). During this time, the Japanese aimed to eliminate resistance movements in order to preserve a stronghold over the Korean peninsula (Hwang, 2017 [7]). The basic rights of Koreans – press, education, and assembly – were suppressed as part of this effort. Military rule was enforced through significant Japanese military and civilian police presence, which was met with a rise of resistance forces.

Despite these resistance efforts, Korean independence was elusive because Western powers supported Japan in pursuit of their own geostrategic interests (National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, 2018 [12]). Even during the Paris Peace Conferences, an event that saw Western nations champion self-determination (Manela, 2017 [13]), those nations did not support this cardinal principle for countries outside of Europe. The belief was that self-determination belonged to the “civilized” people of Europe, not to those of Asia and Africa (Manela, 2017 [13]).

1919-1931: The Effects of the March 1 Movement and Cultural Rule

Fig. 1. Thousands of enthusiastic Koreans, including women and girls, shouting “Mansei” with hands in the air outside the palace in Seoul. [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/

On March 1, 1919, thousands of Koreans gathered in Seoul’s Pagoda Park and made a public declaration of independence against the Japanese Imperial government.1 While the exact demographics of what is known as the March 1st Movement are still contested, it is said that of the estimated 500,000–1,000,000 participants, up to 7,000 individuals were killed, 1,400 injured, and over 14,000 arrested  (Baldwin 1969, [3]).

In light of this resistance, the Japanese government relaxed some of its policies in order to assuage the rebellion of Korean civilians. Previously, newspapers were forbidden, but the Japanese government gave Korean newspapers permission to publish under strict oversight from 1920 to 1931, releasing a limited level of political tension. In addition to policy changes, it should also be noted that this period saw significant infrastructural growth marked by material progress with new construction of roads, railroads, schools, and non-agrarian industry.

Overarching reform programs instituted by Saito Makoto, the newly instated Japanese Governor-General at the time, “[combined] a discrete strengthening of bureaucratic and police forces with an outwardly more benign governing approach that allowed Koreans to pursue social, economic, and cultural activities more freely” (Hwang, 2017 [7]). These reforms created division amongst Koreans by co-opting them into the colonial system. Resistance groups that existed from the beginning of Japanese colonization were pitted against their own countrymen, who promoted joining the Japanese empire.

1931–1945: Wartime Mobilization and Cultural Assimilation

Despite the loosening of regulations in response to the March 1st Movement, Japan regressed to an even harsher system during the 1930s as it engaged in more militarized conflict with China and entered WWII. Japan aligned itself with Germany and together they formed the Axis Alliance.

For Koreans, Japan’s wartime activities not only stripped them of their unique ethnic identity, but also exploited and brutalized them (Hwang, 2017 [7]). In an attempt to control Korea and stifle their independence movements, Japan instituted a “cultural genocide” known as 내선일체 (naeseonilchae) (“Korea and Japan are one entity”) (The Cyber University of Korea, 2016 [18]). The Japanese government intended to erase Korean national identity by forcing Koreans to assimilate by taking on Japanese customs such as participating in Shinto ceremonies (Japan’s native religion) and taking Japanese names. The Korean language was banned from secondary schools in 1938 and from primary schools in 1943, and Japanese language instruction was enforced (The Cyber University of Korea, 2016 [18]).

Japan’s manpower shortage resulted in forced labor and the conscription of Koreans, who were brought to Japan beginning in 1938. By the end of the war, 360,000 Korean men had been conscripted into the Japanese army. Roughly half of the conscripted Korean soldiers died, and around a total of 6 million Koreans were mobilized for Japan’s war efforts (The Cyber University of Korea, 2016 [18]). Korean laborers led difficult lives – with little food, no pay, and slim chances of survival (Hwang, 2017 [7]). Due to forced labor, 40,000–50,000 Koreans died in Japan as a result of the atomic bombings (Choe, 2016 [4]).

However it was not just men who faced exploitation – Korean women and girls2 were forced into prostitution, serving as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Many were “lured with promises of economic opportunity, while others were kidnapped or otherwise coerced”; survivors only began to “gradually [come] forward with wrenching accounts of their ordeals” in the 1990s (Hwang, 2017 [7]). An estimated 100,000–200,000 Korean women were victims of rape and abuse at the hands of Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese Empire Outside Korea

Although Korea was the cornerstone of the Japanese empire, it was not alone. Other countries notably occupied by the Japanese include parts of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, among others, all of which were subjected to suffering.

A commonly known example of this is the construction of the Burma-Thai Railway that began in 1942 to link the railway networks of the two countries (Kratoska, 2005 [11]). In this project – the largest construction project during the Japanese empire – more than 180,000 laborers (numbers are disputed depending on source) made up of people from Malaysia, Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam as well as European prisoners of war (POWs) were brought in to work on constructing the railway. A majority of European POWs died in 1942, thus Asian laborers were brought in in mid-1943. Many of these Asian laborers then deserted or died due to a cholera epidemic (Kratoska, 2005 [11]).

Comfort women (a majority of whom were Korean, but who also hailed from Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and from then-Dutch colonies in Asia) were also brought to Southeast Asia (Amnesty Report, 2005 [2]). Often disguised as volunteer workers or nurses, after the end of the war it was unearthed that these “comfort stations” were in fact brothels (Kratoska, 2005 [11]). Even after the end of the war, the stark memories of their reality during wartime continued to haunt them. Lola Piding, a Filipina survivor of sexual slavery, recounts the difficulty she had in trusting her husband years after the war:

My thoughts were very painful, I could not express what happened to me, I’d been a virgin…It took me three years to consent to sleep with my husband, I buried everything and tried to forget. When I saw men in uniform I’d panic and get scared.

(Amnesty Report, 2005 [2])

Fig. 2. Lemon, A. (n.d.). Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as ‘comfort girls’ for the troops [Digital image]. Retrieved from http://media.iwm.org.uk

Liberation and the End of Japanese Colonization

Despite the efforts of independence fighters who worked outside of Korea3 to organize resistance efforts4, Korean nationals were unable to secure independence.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to Japan’s admission of defeat during WWII as Japan could not recuperate after the devastating consequences and casualties of the bombs. This in turn initiated independence for many countries under Japanese colonial rule – including Korea. Celebration of liberation and a return to autonomy serves as the focus of independence days for these countries that experienced long lasting colonization, which were only possible because of Japan’s defeat in the war. On the other hand, August 6 – the day the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – is a day of mourning and commemoration in Japan and is remembered solemnly around the world as a day when many lives were lost.

The sudden power vacuum created by Japanese withdrawal in Korea allowed other powers to intercede in Korean affairs. The 38th parallel was drawn up to divide the North and South at the end of WWII, leaving the North under Soviet Union influence and the South under U.S. influence. Even though the Korean War of 1950–1953 attempted to dissolve the divide, the war ended in a ceasefire and the division between North and South has yet to change.

Fig. 3. Hyun, I. (1945). People Rejoicing the Moment of Liberation [Digital image].

South Korea and Japan’s Post-War Relations

In 1965, South Korea and Japan signed a treaty meant to settle the state of their “basic relations” (Article IV: Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, 1965 [19]). The treaty establishes South Korea’s government as the only lawful government in Korea, and voids any agreements made between Korea and Japan prior to 1910.

Additionally, both countries agreed to start diplomatic relations with each other and establish foreign consulates in each country in order to “[promote] their mutual welfare and common interests” (Article IV: Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, 1965 [19]. A separate agreement was signed with the aim of settling issues of “property of the two countries and their nationals and claims between the two countries and their nationals.” This agreement required Japan to pay Korea $200 million in loans and $300 million in grants in such a way that the money would be “conductive to the economic development of the Republic of Korea” (Article I: Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims, 1966 [21]).

In January 1996, the United Nations released a special report regarding the comfort women of WWII, calling the phenomenon a “clear case of sexual slavery” (United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 1996 [20]).  The report noted that Japan appeared to take moral responsibility for the comfort women, but was careful not to take legal responsibility.

However, with the 1965 treaties in place, Japan’s official stance was that it had made appropriate restitution, all claims were settled, and did not enact any of these recommendations. To this day, Japanese textbooks gloss over comfort women and other related war crimes (Oi, 2013 [15]).

Denial of the realities of the sexual exploitation during Japan’s occupation of Korea continues to this day. A paid advertisement titled “The Facts,” was published in the June 14, 2007 issue of The Washington Post by a group of Japanese conservatives called the ‘Committee for Historical Facts.’ The ad categorically denies that the Japanese government had any involvement in forcing women to perform sexual labor for the Japanese military and argued that any women who did perform such acts did so as voluntary prostitutes (Soh, 2008 [16]).

This advertisement was an attempt to lobby against Japanese progressives who urged that Japan “embrace … the globalizing human rights culture and their active advocacy for the comfort women” and dissuade U.S. House of Representatives from adopting a resolution “calling on Japan to formally apologize and take responsibility unequivocally for its wartime sex slavery (Soh, 2008 [16]).”

A revised version of the advertisement, ‘Yes, We Remember the Facts’, was published in 2012 in The Star Ledger. Shinzo Abe, the current Prime Minister of Japan, was one of the many prominent political leaders who co-signed the advertisement published in 2012, the year he took office.

In 2015, Japan and Korea appeared to have solved the issue of comfort women for good with a new agreement that required Japan to pay roughly $8.3 million USD to support survivors. Korea was to “consider the matter resolved ‘finally and irreversibly’ if Japan fulfills its promises” (BBC News, 2015 [8]).

However, many former comfort women were unsatisfied with this agreement, as it was established without consulting any survivors. Not only that, it failed to provide direct compensation to individuals and did not require Japan to take legal responsibility. Lee Yong-soo, a former comfort woman, stated, “I wonder whether the talks took place with the victims really in mind” (BBC News, 2015 [8]).

Fig. 4. Young-joon, A. (2015). SOUTH KOREA US JAPAN COMFORT WOMEN [Former comfort women who were forced to serve for the Japanese troops as a sexual slave during World War II shout slogans during a rally against a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea]. Retrieved from http://www.apimages.com

Despite the supposed finality of the 2015 pact, disagreements over the comfort women issue continued to pop up. In a speech made on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe avoided using vocabulary that explicitly addressed reparations and averted any direct acknowledgement of comfort women or forced laborers. Although it is apparent that he refers to comfort women when he talks about “women behind the battlefield,” there is no acknowledgement that these women were coerced and forced into their “work” (Abe, 2015 [1]).

This statement was widely criticized by Asian media as being indirect and avoidant. What’s more, Abe’s ill-defined speech was a departure from former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 address on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, in which Murayama explicitly apologized for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression. Japan’s unclear and changing views on whether or not they forcefully coerced comfort women and laborers into their fates is reflective of the variety in Japanese sentiment regarding the degree of responsibility to which they hold in their victims’ suffering (Mizoguchi, 1993 [14]; Joyce, 2007 [9]).

In January 2018, it was reported that Moon Jae-in’s administration decided not to alter the 2015 agreement despite speculations (Tatsumi, 2018 [17]). However, after the recent escalation in tensions due to the Supreme Court ruling on forced labor, the Korean government decided to end the foundation set up by the 2015 agreement. The decision comes partially as a result of public and survivor backlash over the deal, which many felt did not hold Japan fully accountable for its crimes (Kim, 2018 [10]). The fund has not been officially closed, but the Korean government is preparing to take legal action to do so – a move that has angered the Japanese administration (Haas, 2018 [6]).

2-1-2. Politics of Memory

History itself is not a reified object of study. While absolute objectivity is idealized in history, historical narratives by definition are constructions inevitably couched in differing interpretations and selections of facts. ‘Politics of memory’ highlights the fact that different people bring in their own positionalities to how they interpret history, as we have seen in the case of conflicting Japanese and Korean historical narratives. These contentions in historical interpretation continue to plague many contemporary geopolitical conflicts we observe in the region today. Gi-wook Shin, professor of sociology and director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, succinctly summarizes this ongoing tension fraught by politics of memory in East Asia:

Divided memories of war and colonialism create serious perception gaps and misgivings, hindering historical reconciliation. Consequently, an important first step toward reconciliation is to identify and understand the key factors that influence the formation of historical memory in each nation and to recognize the different weight of these factors. Koreans and Chinese, for example, need to know how and why the victim identity of conservative Japanese elites (unlike their German counterparts) came about and how it has posed a chief obstacle to Japan’s reconciliation with its Asian neighbors. Likewise, Japan must become cognizant of just how central the historical legacy of its aggression has been in shaping the collective identities of Chinese and Koreans 

(Shin, 2015 [6]).

The first step in moving towards regional reconciliation, Shin articulates, is to boldly confront and recognize the current gaps in each nation’s historical memory and to understand the key dynamics and political motivations that shape this dissonance in memory. This section, albeit preliminary, identifies some of the different reasons and forces that underlie the ongoing political conflicts of memory in the region. We sincerely hope that it can contribute to the achievement of a common understanding and movement towards reconciliation.

Historians often distinguish between the imperial styles of the British and French. The British took the route of minimal interference, and “encourage[d] local self-government through indigenous political institutions” while the French stressed total cultural assimilation by imposing a new language, social and cultural practices, and infiltrating and transforming local life in ways far more entrenching (Crowder, 1964 [1]). Japan’s colonial policies are also classified as assimilationist, aligning closest with those of the French, and thus left an indelible imprint on the annexed Korea with policies that actively uprooted many cultural and social traditions.

In the eyes of the Korean people, Japan has yet to offer a satisfactory apology – one which keeps actions consistent with verbal proposals. Japan continues to insist that the 1965 treaty, which normalized diplomatic relations between the two nations, absolves it or its private companies from any further responsibility towards individual victims of its past violence.

Both Germany and Japan utilized forced labor for private corporations, Japan’s use of foreign slave labor exceeding that of Nazi Germany by far, but there is a huge discrepancy between their respective efforts to take accountability and work towards reconciliation.5 Germany has made wartime records public and its government and private firms – including Siemens, Krupp, and Daimler-Benz – have long paid individual survivors and organizations that aided them. However, to this day both the Japanese government and its private corporations refuse to make direct payments to forced labor victims, despite the moral and legal pressure they face internationally6 (Haberstroh, 2003 [4]).

Mitsubishi, for instance, exploited not only thousands of Korean slave laborers, but also hundreds of British, Dutch, Australian, and American prisoners of war at shipyards, coal mines, and many factories in Nagasaki. While the corporation has publicly apologized for its use of POW labor at many sites, it has yet to apologize to those POWs at countless other sites (including the Nagasaki shipbuilding complex), let alone acknowledge Korean victims of forced labor. (Palmer, 2015 [5]).

Meanwhile, many Western nations – and the U.S. in particular – played a pivotal role in bringing about these very fraught conflicts in memory as well as obstacles in regional reconciliation during its military occupation of Japan and South Korea that started at the end of WWII.

The Allied occupation of Japan actively worked to protect the Japanese Imperial family from facing war crime responsibilities at the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal under U.S. American General Douglas MacArthur’s leadership.7 MacArthur’s subordinates went to extraordinary lengths “to attribute ultimate responsibility for Pearl Harbor to Hideki Tojo,” the Prime Minister of Japan for the duration of the war, by orchestrating each criminal’s testimonies months before the Tokyo Tribunal commenced on grounds that total exoneration of the imperial family was necessary to maintain political stability and historical continuity in Japan. As a result, Japanese Emperor Hirohito was “turned into an almost saintly figure who did not…bear moral responsibility for the war” (Dower, 2016 [2]).

Fig. 5. View of the Tribunal in session: The bench of judges is on the right, the defendants on the left, and the prosecutors in the back [Digital image]. (1945). Retrieved from http://www.tante2.com/

Needless to say, such U.S. policies had an indisputable impact on how Japanese people themselves would come to understand their past as well as the present: if the commander in chief of Japan’s imperial forces himself was not guilty, how could ordinary Japanese people wrap their heads around their share of collective and individual guilt and responsibility? As Dower put it, “Emperor Hirohito became postwar Japan’s preeminent symbol, and facilitator, of non-responsibility and non-accountability” (Dower, 1999 [2]).  U.S. military occupation’s role in enabling Japan’s historical revisionism simply cannot be denied, as the choices made by the US essentially laid the foundations of post-war Japanese identity (Gady, 2015 [3]).

The historical revisionism spearheaded by the United States paved the way for Japan to continue denying the impact of its imperialist past on the rest of Asia. This selective memorialization continues to haunt political relations between Japan and its neighbors, as the country continues to show resistance towards addressing its past war crimes, complicating issues of sex slavery, forced labor, reconciliation, and compensation.

Many other nations with histories of colonial activity have made substantial efforts to right historical wrongs and educate their citizens on past transgressions. For example, Germany has erected memorials decrying the Nazi regime, and the ramifications of the Dutch colonial rule of Indonesia is included in school curriculums in the Netherlands. Japan, however, has taken no such actions to show its regret for its violence towards South Korea and other Asian countries.

2-2. Why BTS & Why Now

2-2-1. Why BTS

While an argument can be made for the presence of Japanese Koreaphiles since the colonial rule of Korea, contemporary interest in Korean cultural imports can largely be traced back to the box office success of Kang Je-kyu’s 1999 film Shiri, paired with the subsequent popularity of NHK-aired Korean drama Winter Sonata (Atkins, 2010 [1]). With Shiri seen by 1.2 million Japanese theatergoers and Winter Sonata finding strong public support, particularly from older Japanese women (Shim, 2008 [7]; Michel, 2011 [4]), Hallyu (a neologism meaning “Korean wave,” which refers to the spread of Korean entertainment throughout the world) in Japan was born.

Increasing popularity of Korean cultural imports in Japan was the impetus for a 2011 demonstration, during which more than 2,000 people gathered in Tokyo’s Fuji TV headquarters to protest the network’s airing of Korean dramas. Espousing “anti-Hallyu sentiment” spurred by what Yoon called “a sense of crisis among certain Japanese entertainers who have been losing ground, coupled with interest from Japan’s ultra-nationalists who criticize Korea” (Yoon, 2011 [9]). This demonstration and others of its kind did impede Hallyu in Japan until the overwhelming popularity of third-generation idols, including BTS and girl group TWICE, reignited Hallyu interest. However, anti-Korean sentiments in Japan again flared over the Korean Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding compensation for forced labor victims of wartime Imperial Japan. (Min, 2018 [5]). With rising tension, the backlash came against the only Korean musicians to sell more than 500,000 albums in Japan the previous year: BTS.

Fig. 6. [Taken on Aug. 22, 2011, the top photo shows right-wing activists staging a rally to denounce Japan’s Fuji TV for airing Korean entertainment shows and dramas.]. (2011). Retrieved from http://koreatimes.co.kr

BTS is not the first group to become ensnared in scandals in Japan when diplomatic tensions are high, though most other notable scandals have involved entertainers who verbally expressed support for Korea’s territorial claims to the Liancourt Rocks.8 Korean actor Bae Yong-joon drew the ire of Japanese media outlets, who demanded the actor be banned from any money-making activities in Japan after declaring the disputed islets Korean territory in 2005 (Park, 2013 [6]). Actress Kim Tae-hee voiced support for Korea on this issue in 2012, then suffered the loss of a commercial appearance for a Japanese cosmetics company (Lee, 2012 [3]). Similarly, a 2012 Independence Day swim from mainland Korea to the Liancourt Rocks by singer Kim Jang-hoon and actor Song Il-gook to show support for Korea’s territorial claims spurred Japanese broadcasters to put off airing dramas in which Song played a leading role. Choi Si-won of Korean idol group Super Junior encountered controversy after being accused of retweeting a message from Korea’s presidential office that read, “Dokdo is our true territory and it is a place of value that must be protected with our lives. Let’s protect it with pride – at Dokdo” (Kim, 2012 [2]). In each of these cases, controversies could be directly attributed to a public assertion of support for Korea’s claim, either verbally or via social media.

2-2-2. Why Now

To many fans, the backlash about Jimin and his wearing of the shirt in question (and the subsequent resurfacing of other various issues) appeared at first to have come out of nowhere. However, the timing of this issue and its spread across various media outlets in Japan, Korea, and the world, was not a coincidence.

Prior to the first international news stories about BTS and the shirt, the Korean Supreme Court passed an important ruling on October 30 that set in motion a domino effect. The court ruled that Japanese company Nippon Steel and Sumimoto Metal Corp must pay 100 million won9 to each of the four South Korean men who were forced laborers during WWII. However, due to the Japanese government’s penchant for censoring its imperial history, the response from Japanese officials was indignant.

Fig. 7. Young-joon, A. (2018). [People forced to work on behalf of Japan’s World War II efforts rallied outside the Supreme Court in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday.]. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com

Japan previously paid a settlement in 1965 of $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans to repair South Korea’s economy, absolving them of any further restitution for damage done during colonial rule (United Nations Treaty Collection, 1966 [8]). However, up until 1991 when Kim Hak-soon (a former comfort woman) demanded restitution for her suffering, even Japan’s government had acknowledged that the settlement did not prevent any individual citizens from making settlement claims (Lee and Lee, 2016 [5]). When Kim came forward with her story, Japan refused to compensate her, citing the 1965 agreement (Memory Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific [6]). With Korea’s most recent Supreme Court decision, the ruling was upheld that the 1965 agreement did not absolve Japan of any illicit activities, and individuals can still make claims. Since the courts ruled in favor of the Korean forced labor victims, the door is wide open for similar cases to be made against the Japanese government (Kim, 2018 [3]).

But what does this have to do with BTS? As it happens, Jimin wore the shirt in the YouTube Premium series Burn the Stage, which ran from March 28, 2018 to May 9, 2018. The footage was shot as BTS embarked on their “2017 BTS Live Trilogy Episode III: The Wings Tour,” which took place in cities across the globe from February to December 2017. Despite the episode in which Jimin wears the shirt airing in early 2018, the media did not pick up the issue until October 2018 – six months after the episode aired and approximately a year and a half after Jimin wore the shirt. This large gap between the actual incident and the media coverage is suspect given that the scale the story reached caused some to dig up past points of contention to exacerbate the situation even further.

On the day of the Supreme Court ruling in South Korea, a Japanese newspaper published a piece titled “A spark from the forced labor problem! From NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen to Hallyu expulsion… TWICE and BTS are out?,” feeding in to far-right wing anxiety over Korean cultural influences in Japan (Tokyo Sports, 2018 [7]). The import of Korean culture into Japan has been a point of contention for years (Gibson, 2018 [2]), and the photos of Jimin wearing the shirt made their way across forums in Japan, causing outrage and action. Japanese right-wing threats, protests, and pressure on the media coupled with the government’s desire to erase imperial history and war crimes contributed to the cancellation of BTS’ performance during this turbulent time.

Following Korea’s Supreme Court ruling, on October 31, a district of Daegu that was set to create sister city ties with the Gifu prefecture in Japan was notified that the plan had been canceled due to the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling. The Suseong-gu office in Daegu noted that the “decision is of both the local and central government” of Japan. Additionally, Japanese Prime Minister Abe did not send a congratulatory message to the Shitennoji-Wasso Festival, an annual cultural event that celebrates the close ties of Osaka and Korea since the sixth century and highlights how Korean culture was brought to Japan. This festival had received congratulatory messages from Japan’s Prime Minister and Korea’s President each year since 2004, but this year, only South Korean President Moon sent a message (Cho, 2018 [1]; Lee, 2018 [4]).

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  1. Hyun, Soon. “Declaration of Independence: English Translation ” Texts. East Asian Library, University of Southern California, March 1, 1919. Korean American Digital Archive.http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll126/id/14680. This is a an original copy of the English translation of the Declaration of Independence that was read in Pagoda Park in 1919.
  2. Ranging in age from 12 to 40.
  3. Korean Economic Society. Correspondence. “고려경제사 – Koryo Kyongjesa. 1944-1945.” Correspondence, December 1944. Korean American Digital Archive. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll126/id/3675. “Necessary that the Korean people show — through practical demonstration and future planning — their capacity to administer freedom and independence,”
  4. “Gov’t Designates 669 Korean Independence Movement Sites Overseas.” YON – Yonhap News Agency of Korea, May 10, 2005. General OneFile (accessed November 29, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.neu.edu/apps/doc/A132280483/ITOF?u=mlin_b_northest&sid=ITOF&xid=322c2126. “South Korea has designated a total of 669 places overseas as historical sites linked to the movement for Korea’s independence from Japan’s colonial rule in the early part of the last century… Monuments and memorials have been set up in many of the sites, mostly in China, Russia and the United States… The government will establish a committee aimed at protecting the historical sites”
  5. Haberstroh, John. (2003). In re: World War II Era Japanese Forced Labor Litigation and Obstacles to International Human Rights Claim in U.S. Courts. Asian Law Journal. Vol. 10. No. 253. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org pp. 254 Quoting Haberstroh: “Chinese scholars estimate that Japan made use of fifteen million forced labors in occupied China during the war, nine million in Manchuria alone. By and large, Japan’s large corporations were fully aware of and actively encouraged the Japanese army as it seized workers for Japanese mines and factories in Manchuria.”
  6. Ibid. 254-257. A committee in the International Labor Organization investigated WWII-era forced labor in Japan. It found that 17.5 percent of the 39,935 Chinese taken to work in Japan had died by war’s end; he adds that no reliable death figure exists for the Korean labors; For Japan’s refusal to release documents about its forced labor and its systematic destruction of WWII documents, See Gregory Clark. (2000, February 7). The Nanjing Number Game. Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.com (“The only reason we now know in detail about the Chinese forced laborers is because the only one of the many meticulous wartime reports on the subject not to suffer destruction at war’s end accidentally fell into the hands of the Taiwan authorities and could not be denied.”) The Japanese government insists that its records estimate only 110,000 Korean forced laborers. However, research suggests a staggering estimate of between four and six million Koreans slave laborers used by Japan, with 725,000 Koreans worked in mines and construction sites in Japan. For estimates on Japanese forced labor, see Macintyre, Donald. (1996, November 15). WWII: Imperial Japan on Trial. Asiaweek; Leicester, John. (2000, August 24). Chinese Forced Laborers Are Suing Japanese Firms for Compensation. Seattle Times.
  7. Dower, J. W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. W.W. Norton & CoPrint. Dower emphasizes the unparalleled level of total power that MacArthur wielded during the so-called Allied occupation. While technically, allied nations were to have a considerable level of consultative status in Japanese occupation, in reality the occupation operated in strict hierarchical structures that placed almost total decision making power on MacArthur. As a result, historians analyze that U.S. occupation laid the foundations for post-war Japan.
  8. The Liancourt Rocks are a group of small islands in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and are in dispute between South Korea – with North Korea also claiming the islands – and Japan. These islands are referred as “Dokdo” in Korean and “Takeshima” in Japanese. Whilst referred as a “colonial name” used “by various Western explorers and colonial writers”, “Liancourt Rocks” is still the most neutral term used in the issue and the one chosen for this paper’s purpose (Van Dyke, 2007 [8])
  9. The equivalent of US$87,680