Today South Koreans mark the centennial of a protest movement against the occupying forces. The massacre in Jeam-ri was one episode in Japan’s months-long harsh crackdown. “We'll keep apologising until you say 'Now that's enough’,” pilgrims say.
Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A group of 17 Japanese Christians on Wednesday visited the historic site of a 1919 church massacre by Japanese police force and army troops.
The pilgrims came to apologise on behalf of their country over the killing of 20 people on 15 April 1919 at the Jeam-ri Protestant Church in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.
The incident was part of the harsh crackdown by Japanese authorities following the start of the March 1 Movement (Samil undong), a series of protests against the occupying forces, whose centennial South Korea marks today.
Rev Reiji Oyama led the Japanese group in a prayer at the memorial built on the site. "Lord, this church is where the worst case was committed by Japanese officials during the colonial period," the clergyman said.
"Japan at that time tortured and killed the villagers and set the church on fire just because they took part in the March 1 independence movement."
After the prayer, the Japanese watched a video of the Jeam-ri massacre and listened to the testimony of a senior Korean pastor. Visitors bowed down to the chapel floor (pictured).
Some held a Korean-language banner reading "We deeply apologise for Japan's colonisation of Korea. We'll keep apologising until you say 'Now that's enough’."
Oyama, 93, slammed Japanese politicians for refusing to express regret for the past. "Japanese politicians [. . .] have never apologised for this. It's natural to apologise if you do something wrong. Lord, please forgive us, Japanese people," the pastor said.
The visitors returned home after holding another prayer meeting for the massacre victims at a Protestant church in Yongin, just south of Seoul,
Japan occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. In 1919, following the death of Emperor Gojong of Korea, Korean political exiles and local underground groups drafted a unilateral declaration of independence, which they planned to read on 1st March.
The 33 activists who signed the statement met that morning at Seoul’s Tapgol (Pagoda) Park, attracting a large crowd. A series of protests followed, sweeping across the capital and the country over the next three months.
Japanese colonial authorities responded swiftly with harsh repressive measure. In total some 7,000 people were killed, more than 10,000 wounded and an unknown number (perhaps 50,000) jailed.