Museum Security Network

Japan/Korea: Artifact transfer may cause friction

Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

Artifact transfer may cause friction

Ownership question could keep in Japan some Korean items seized during colonial rule

Kyodo News
Despite Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s promise last week to give back artifacts to South Korea taken from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule, major differences on the matter between the two countries could lead to a new diplomatic flash point, experts say.

In Kan’s statement Aug. 10 apologizing for Japan’s 1910 annexation of Korea, he promised to “transfer” archives “that were brought to Japan during the period of Japan’s rule through the Japanese colonial government of Korea” and are still in the hands of the government.

Based on the statement, released ahead of the Aug. 29 centennial of the start of Japan’s colonial rule, the central government has begun arrangements for such a transfer, including identifying relevant artifacts and drafting a treaty governing the matter, sources said.

The archives to be handed over will include the Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, but they are likely to be a “small portion” of the vast artifacts kept in Japan, one source said.

That is because Tokyo takes the position that Seoul’s right to claim them disappeared with the conclusion of an agreement in 1965 along with that of the Treaty on Basic Relations that normalized relations between the two countries.

In South Korea, people generally view such artifacts as having been stolen by Japan and calls are mounting for most items to be returned, the experts said.

There is a gap in perception between Seoul and Tokyo, which views the proposed handover as a “goodwill” gesture, according to the sources.

Tokyo plans to look into archives at the Imperial Household Agency and other facilities, including the Tokyo National Museum, according to other sources.

In his statement, Kan attached the additional condition that the archives to be handed over must be in possession of the Japanese government. This was because “privately held cultural artifacts, which amount to an enormous number, would otherwise be subject to the handover,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, or the Joseon Wangsil Uigwe, are stored at the Imperial Household Agency and consist of 167 volumes. Of those, 163 were moved from the colonial government to the agency’s forerunner during the Taisho Era (1912-1926), and the remaining four volumes were purchased from the private sector.

South Korea’s National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage says at least 61,000 cultural items were moved to Japan after the 1910 annexation.

If mishandled, the matter could set off criticism from South Korea that Japan is not being sincerely remorseful despite Kan’s expression of “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” in the statement, observers say.

On the other hand, voices could arise within Japan that the government is conceding too much if Japan decides to hand over more artifacts to South Korea than people here consider appropriate, they say.

Japan and South Korea confirmed in the mid-1960s that in exchange for Tokyo’s provision to Seoul of $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans, problems concerning property, rights, interests and claims between the two countries were settled “completely and finally.”

Praise from S. Korea
SEOUL (Kyodo) South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan wrote in an opinion piece published Monday in the Korea Herald that Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s apology last week for Japan’s annexation of Korea was “timely and appropriate.”

Yu said Kan’s statement marking the annexation’s 100th anniversary is “highly meaningful as the first ever Japanese prime minister’s statement specifically addressed only to (South) Korea.”

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