Japanese Colonial Rule


1910 – 1945

Japanese colonial rule began in Korea in 1910 and lasted until the end of World War II in 1945. In the 19th century Japan had many encounters of Western governments whom were competing in worldwide imperialistic pursuits. Inspired by the Western world, the newly reformed Japanese Meiji government sought to further its sphere of influence in Eastern Asia as well. The Western powers had found the colonization approach to be most effective because it reduced direct military contact with other countries. Supporters for colonization in Japan argued that taking Korea will provide a foothold for accessing resources on mainland Asia as well as providing work for the thousands of unemployed samurais who were victims of the Meiji restoration.

At the same time, corruption was rampant in the Korean government leading to widespread discontent in the populous. Popular opinion amongst the Korean people looked down upon Christianity and other Western influences. In 1876, Japan and Korea signed the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876 which granted Japan substantial leverage within the economic and social circles of Korea. Some within Korea became discontent with Japan’s growing influence, eventually sparking violence that claimed the lives of several Japanese in the Imo Incident. Over the next few decades Japan’s military presence grew, leading to the first sign of Japanese war. Japan defeated China and declared that Korea will no longer be a tributary to China; while at the same time increasing its influence within Korea.

On October 8, 1895 Queen Min of Korea was assassinated by Japanese agents and Korea under King Gojong proceded to declare the founding of the Korean empire in retaliation for Japan’s growing influence in Korean affairs. Japan still possessed military and economic dominance in Korea, forcing the Korean army to reduce its size to a single garrison. On account, King Gojong was forced to step down. However, this was just the beginning of Korea’s suffering under Japanese rule.

In 1910, Korea officially became a protectorate of Japan. Japan brought modernization into Korea. Many railroads, schools, telegraph lines, and modern streets were built during this era. However, Japanese settlers moving to Korea began to acquire all the agricultural land in the area. Within a few decades most landowners were Japanese. On the other hand, most Koreans became tenant farmers, and often had to pay the landowners with the majority of their crops. Many were forced to send their wives and daughters to factories or into prostitution to pay the taxes. By 1935 ethnic Koreans were forced to give up their Korean names in exchange for Japanese ones and convert to Shintoism.

During World War II there was a mass deportation of Koreans for forced labor. The labor shortages in Japan were due to Japanese males for construction of the army. Millions of Koreans were forced into labor where hundreds of thousands died due to overwork, insufficient food, and poor medical care. Many Korean males had already been serving in the army, yet as the war progressed, many were forced to fight. Korean women were forced into sexual slavery, numbering into the hundreds of thousands. Tens of thousands more Koreans died as a result of atomic bombings.

Anti-Japanese movements were widespread and the Japanese government retaliated to these protests with violence. The Battle of Qingshanli was fought for six days on Chinese soil. Though considered a great victory in the eyes of Koreans, it did not free them from Japanese rule. Of the independent activists, Lee Bong-chang and Yun Bong Gil were two of the most notable. One had attempted to assassinate the Japanese Emperor, while the other bombed a Japanese army celebration. The end of Japanese rule in Korea was marked the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II.