Stone monument with a poem of Yun Dong-ju in tranquil settings (Yonsei University)
“Someday, we’ve got to visit Korea!”—My friend and I made this promise on entering Chuo University in the spring of 2013.
From out of all the countries in the world, the reason that my friend and I selected Korea was quite simple: We both love Korean food. About three and a half years have passed since we made that promise. We found ourselves having a university life, maintaining an interest in Korea in some way, and in November 2016, we finally got the chance to fulfill our promise.
During the three and a half years since I entered university, my connection with Korea grew even deeper through Japanese language education. In order to get closer to my dream of becoming a Japanese language teacher, I started participating in volunteer activities for Japanese language education. Through these activities, I had the opportunity to interact with Korean people.
At the same time, through the actual experience of teaching the Japanese language, I started to study the theory of teaching methodology. I also learned that Korean people composed an extremely high ratio of Japanese learners, both in Japan and overseas.
Through these experiences, I developed the desire to actually visit a Japanese language school in Korea when visiting the country someday.
While deciding on my trip itinerary, I researched Japanese language schools and sent emails to teachers in Korea in an effort to make contact.
Around the same time, my seminar instructor informed me that the Chuo University Faculty of Letters would be holding a symposium under the theme of Korean art and drama.
“Since I’ve decided to visit Korea, I want to learn as much as possible about the country and put that knowledge into practical use!”—Based on this desire, I decided to hold a seminar at Chuo University prior to the symposium.
I immediately encountered a problem—I had absolutely no knowledge of Korean art. Actually, I had only seen a couple of Korean dramas due to my mother’s influence. My image of Korea consisted only of Korean BBQ, hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), and Korean idols.
Nevertheless, I decided to learn about Korean art from a completely open perspective. During my studies, I came across a Korean poet named Yun Dong-ju. Furthermore, the friend that accompanied me on my visit to Korea was studying poems. Consequently, I decided to visit the Yun Dong-ju Literature House (Jongno District of Seoul) and the Yun Dong-ju Memorial Museum (Yonsei University).
Epic Korean poet
Two Chuo students who visited Korea prior to the symposium. From right, author Yuki Yubara and her friend Momoi Koura.
The Yun Dong-ju Memorial Museum is a tranquil and simple building located at the top of a long hill. The displays feature handwritten scripts by Yun Dong-ju.
Explanations were written completely in Korean, so I couldn’t read anything. Even so, I scrutinized the scripts and found Chinese characters in places, as well as the Roman alphabet printed on the edges of some sheets.
I found the name of a certain famous Japanese university which I know very well. Among pages filled with unintelligible Korean characters, I was overjoyed to find characters which I could read and words that I could understand.
The next instant, I recalled what I had learned regarding the life of the poet and was filled with an indescribable feeling. Yun Dong-ju was an epic Korean poet who had an experience of studying abroad at a Japanese university. However, Yun Dong-ju died an early death—in a Japanese prison.
Living in today’s world, I naturally assume that a foreigner studying in Japan must have friendly relations with Japan. However, Yun Dong-ju’s life taught me that there were times when this was not always true.
While living in Japan, Yun Dong-ju continued to write poems in the Korean language. What were his impressions of Japan and Japanese people?
While visiting Korea, I reconsidered the poems written by Yun Dong-ju. Did he harbor ill feelings against Japan for censoring the Korean culture and language? I wish I could have asked Yun Dong-ju this question while he was still alive.
However, I will be able to exchange thoughts about culture with students and foreign people that I will meet in the future.
My visit to Korea taught me what it is like to be a foreigner in another country. It was very difficult to express my feelings when unable to speak the language.
Meanwhile, when people tried to communicate with me, I always want to try to “listen with 14 hearts” (十四の心で聴く; ju shi no kokoro de kiku). This Japanese expression is based on how 聴, the character for “listen,” is written by combining the characters 耳(ear), 十四(14), and 心(heart). My experience in Korea taught me the profound meaning of this proverb.
When thinking like this, a new question came to mind. It was a question that I wanted to ask Japanese people who lived during the time of Yun Dong-ju: “Were you willing to listen to what Yun Dong-ju had to say?” Although this is a very simple question, it never crossed my mind while leading life as a Japanese person in Japan.
Based on trends at that time, I doubt that Japanese people were much inclined to listen to Yun Dong-ju. Still, as a Japanese person living today, I want to believe that some Japanese people at that time had respect for the poet.
As a Japanese person and as a global citizen
National Museum of Korea
My deep involvement with Korean culture through my visit to Korea and the seminar/symposium at Chuo University taught me that I actually knew very little about Korea, Japan’s neighbor.
I was forced to think about the relationship between Korea and Japan prior to World War Two, something which Japan tends to disregard. Also, my encounters with Korean culture gave me plenty of chances to reflect upon culture in Japan.
I felt that there are so many things which I still don’t know about Korea and even Japan. The road to realizing my dream of becoming a Japanese language teacher seemed longer than ever.
However, when visiting a Japanese language school in Korea, I was deeply touched by the words of one local teacher: “A Japanese language teacher might be the first Japanese person that a student ever meets or speaks with. In this respect, you are responsible for creating an image of Japan. Although this is an extremely heavy responsibility, it is also very fulfilling!”
I was very impressed by how the teacher could smile warmly while making such a bold statement.
“Someday, I too will thrive under such responsibility.”―I felt my determination increase. Sometimes as a Japanese person and sometimes as a global citizen, I will value dialogue with other people and move steadily towards my dream, working to get closer to that “someday.”