(This is a very rough, more fleshed-out English translation of this post.)
I was born in America, but my parents and grandparents were born in Seoul. I’ve heard stories from my grandparents about their memories of living poorly during the wartime, which was made worse by the strict Japanese government [under occupation]. Even now, when I talk with my uncle, I get a sense that some of those wartime feelings continue to this day. Last year, after summer vacation, I had this kind of conversation with my uncle:
“Joonho, how was summer vacation?”
“It was fun, I did research at MIT and traveled to Japan.”
“That’s good! But… why did you go to Japan of all places? Wouldn’t other countries be more fun to visit?”
Like my uncle, I’m proud to be a Korean. But I’ve never really held any negative opinions about Japan. “In the international age that is the present, why are my relatives misunderstanding Japan?” I wondered. [This train of thought] led me to study Japanese, in order to learn about its history and culture.
My parents also experienced the postwar period after Japanese occupation, so they originally had the same opinions as my uncle. But one day, my parents were planning on going to a wedding in Korea and decided to visit Japan on a whim, partially due to my beginning studying Japanese. After their trip, I could immediately sense that their minds had changed. “Joonho, Japan is so beautiful! What’s more, the people there are so courteous and polite. They’re kinder than Koreans.” (!!!) My parents continued to praise Japan in this way. My decision to study Japanese caused my parents to start to become interested in Japan, and as a result their hearts had changed [regarding Japan].
Last summer, I traveled to Japan with my parents. Even now, My mind is filled with the memories of that trip. The Japanese stranger that helped us without hesitation when we had lost our way at the train station. The university student majoring in Korean that was working part-time at the ryokan we stayed in. The old lady at the ryokan that worked with utmost effort to make the traditional Japanese breakfast. The emotion that I felt looking at the scenery and landscape from the Shinkansen.
Through that trip, I learned that Japanese people have a mutual desire to help each other, and they consider that to be very important. I confirmed my belief that the world we live in now is different from the world of those times of war. Japan isn’t a perfect country. But when I look at my parents, I believe that Koreans in general can realize the truth of Japan that I came to learn. Maybe, given enough time, my uncle’s mind, too, will change.
(Written for the Japanese speech contest hosted by the Japanese consulate of Boston. Maekawa-sensei, thank you for correcting and mentoring over my grammar mistakes and the structure of the text.)