Japanese Colonialism in Korea


North and South Korea are nations that while filled with 
contempt for Japan have used the foundations that Japan laid during 
the colonial period to further industrialization. Japan's colonization 
of Korea is critical in understanding what enabled Korea to 
industrialize in the period since 1961. 
 Japan's program of colonial industrialization is unique in 
the world. Japan was the only colonizer to locate various heavy
industry is in its colonies. By 1945 the industrial plants in Korea 
accounted for about a quarter of Japan's industrial base. Japan's 
colonization of Korea was therefore much more comparable to the 
relationship between England and Ireland then that of European 
colonization of Asia or Africa. Japan's push to create colonial 
industry lead Japan to build a vast network of railroads, ports, and a 
system of hydro-electric dams and heavy industrial plants around the 
Yalu River in what is now North Korea. The Japanese to facilitate and 
manage the industrialization of a colony also put in place a strong 
central government. 
 Although Japan's colonial industrialism in Korea was aimed at 
advancing Japanese policies and goals and not those of the Korean 
populace; colonization left Korea with distinct advantages over other 
developing countries at the end of World War Two. Korea was left with 
a base for industrializing, a high level of literacy, experience with 
modern commerce, and close ties to Japan. Japan's colonial heavy 
industrial plants were located primarily around the Yalu River in 
North Korea. Because of this the North had an edge in 
industrialization. For many years the North had the fastest growth 
rates of the communist countries, and its cities were on par with 
those of Eastern Europe. It was not until the early 1970's that the 
South surpassed the North in levels of industrialization. Because most 
of the heavy industrial plants were either located in North Korea or 
destroyed by the Korean War the groundwork for industrialization that 
South Korea received from Japanese colonialism consisted mostly of 
social changes. During colonialism Korea's populace in increasing 
numbers moved to cities and became urbanized these new urbanites 
worked in factories and were used to the organization of modern 
commerce. The Japanese also let a small number of Koreans develop into 
a semi-elite. Although this group never held powerful positions many 
of them were educated in Japanese schools, and became either involved 
in the military or worked as businessmen, bureaucrats, lawyers, and 
doctors. This elite provided much of the leadership and framework for 
post World War Two Korean Government in Korea. They had an intimate 
knowledge of Japanese companies, language, organizational structure, 
and government. 
 The Korean elites that emerged after the liberation of 1945 
and helped steer Korea's economic policies under Park Chung Hee had an 
intimate knowledge of Japan. Some of them like Park had been educated 
in Japanese schools, some had worked for the Japanese, and nearly all 
of them spoke fluent Japanese. It was this closeness to Japan both 
geographically and culturally that made it natural for the Koreans to 
use the Japanese model of industrialization when Japan's economy 
boomed in the 1960's and 1970's. The leaders of Korea were ambivalent 
about relying on Japan, on one hand they felt a profound respect for 
Japan and its successes and on the other a deep hatred for what Japan 
had done to Korea in the past. But Japan still served as a model for 
Park Chung Hee who normalized relations with Japan in 1965 and turned 
to Japan for technology, equipment, and a model for development. 
 Some nationalistic Korean scholars say that Japan's 
colonialism slowed Korea's growth by exploiting Korea and disturbing 
its economy. But these views of Korea ignore the fundamental role that 
Japan's policies of industrial colonialism played in allowing Korea to 
Industrialize during the 1960's. Japan's colonialism improved 
infrastructure, urbanized the nation, educated much of the populace, 
gave the pubic experience with modern commerce, and indoctrinated 
Korean elites in the Japanese language and culture. It was Korean 
elites history and close ties with Japan that made them turn naturally 
to Japan to provide a development model. Japan's legacy of colonialism 
in Korea is felt not only in the many graves and monuments that
attest to Japanese brutality but also in the modern cities of South 
Korea and the heavy industries along the Yalu River in the North.


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