Japan’s Okura Cultural Foundation has virtually denied a request by a North—South Korean delegation for the return of some pagodas taken from Korea during the colonial era, reports YTN.
Even better, they’ve demanded an apology for the use of the delegation’s use of the term “plunder.”
The delegation was in Tokyo to negotiate the return of several pagodas now on display at the Okura Shukokan, where a lot of Korean cultural properties taken from Korea during the colonial period are on display. When they met with an Okura Foundation official, however, the official became angry, banging documents on his desk and demanding an apology from the Korean side for the use of the term “plunder” to describe how the pagodas left Korea.
Mind you, the head of the Korean delegation is a Buddhist monk.
The Okura Cultural Foundation has made it clear it has no intention of returning the pagodas, as it could have an impact on all the roughly 60,000 Korean cultural properties currently in Japan, reported YTN.
The JoongAng Ilbo ran an informative piece on how Kihachiro Okura, who founded the Okura Group, got his hands on so many Korean cultural properties. In fact, he even had one of the buildings of Gyeongbokgung Palace disassembled and shipped off to his own residence, an act that might have had a bigger impact on world architectural history by exposing Frank Lloyd Wright to the joys of floor heating.
Now, I’m not naive — I know that a lot of the works that were “plundered” were probably sold to the Japanese at a time when there was precious little concern for the nation’s cultural heritage. Historically, the congregation of antique shops in Insa-dong was tied to this sad history. I also understand that a lot of museums in former colonial powers are full of artifacts looted from their colonies, and if the original owners started asking for their stuff back, there would be no end to it.
Still, as the JoongAng Ilbo story makes pretty clear, the colonial Government-General was involved in the removal of Korean cultural properties, including the pagodas in question, so perhaps a bit of self-reflection on the part of Okura Group wouldn’t be too much to ask, regardless of whether they decide to return the pagodas or not.