Lost Names

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There is no doubt that Japanese colonialism directly affected the lives of the Koreans who had to live under their rule. Illustrated by Lost Nameswere the actions taken by the Japanese as well as the Korean response to this colonialism. From this book, one can see that the Koreans responded not necessarily in simple, violent, disorganized fashions, but were more collective and organized in their subversion of Japanese rule. The Koreans fought back against the Japanese by maintaining some sort of normalcy throughout their lives, incorporating wherever they could the traditions of their culture. The Korean response to Japanese colonialism is effective inasmuch as they are able to incorporate their traditions and heritage into their lives, which, combined with some direct action against the Japanese, is effective in keeping the Japanese from assimilating the Koreans.

Koreans faced many problems throughout the book. One such example was on the narrator’s first day of school. He is asked by his teach to perform a song of his choosing to the class, as some sort of new student ritual. The narrator decides on “Oh Danny Boy,” and English song (37). Unbeknownst to him, speaking a language other than Japanese is outlawed by the school. The school then takes action. Two of the narrator’s classmates turn him in to a higher school official, who then physically assaults him. The narrator’s response to this is physical; “With that, I spring to my feet and leap at the boy. I am fast. My face lowered, my head smashes into his face, and I punch him in the stomach – the best way to fight…” (42). The boy’s teacher, who is a Korean himself, then fights with the Japanese school official. This example is one of many microcosms paralleling Japanese colonialism with Korean lifestyle. What is most interesting about this example is in the way that the narrator and his teacher respond. They do so with violence. This is one of very few examples in the text of a violent response to the Japanese. The main character is indignant, as it was his first day at school and he did not speak Japanese well at all, nor did he know the rules governing the use of a language other than Japanese. He is upset, which is to be expected, but what is even more moving, is the teacher’s response to the situation. This was a Korean man fighting a Japanese man. The teacher, being aware of the rules of the colonial occupation, cannot claim the same indignation as the narrator, which means that his actions of literally fighting with the Japanese were weighed against the known consequences. Whether he fought because it was the narrator who was involved (based on his families very respected and prestigious reputation) or because he was indignant on the child’s behalf, the consequences for him were great. Shortly thereafter, the boy’s “…Uncle helps him to cross the Manchurian-Mongolian border. He makes his way inside Mongolia. He is captured by the Soviet troops. The Russians kill him” (57).

Probably the biggest infringement of Korean culture, and greatest example of the true feelings of the Koreans, comes when the Japanese make the Koreans take new names. The narrator is not allowed to continue on at his school until his family registers a new, Japanese name. This is a particularly painful thing for the narrator’s father to do, given his prominence in Korean society. Moreover, it could detract from and undermine his position with his people. But this is the law, and even the narrator’s father is not above it. His response is to pick a name that has significant meaning. He chooses Iwamoto, which means Foundation of Rock, which, the boys father explains, is a reference to the bible (107). There are myriad references throughout the bible about oppressed people being led out of their oppression and into a better life. The consequences of this name change for the father are great. He and his friends wear black arm bands. After he gets back from the police station he speaks with his son, begging him and his generation for forgiveness. He says that he and his generation have not done enough to preserve a good world for the next generation, as is obvious by the colonialism. He tells his son that “‘It is a time of mourning’” (110). Only then does the boy understand the black arm bands and their significance. This example shows Korean compliance with Japanese colonialism, but only insofar as going through the motions. What it does is provide the opportunity for the Koreans to draw closer to each other, as well as their past. In an attempt to assimilate the Koreans the Japanese take only their names, but succeed in giving the Koreans the motivation to hold fast to their past. It does not matter to them what their name is, for they know their past and they know each other. This is best illustrated by the old Korean man in the police department. He could care less about what his “new” name is, for “No one’s going to call me by that name anyway – or by any other name” (104).

The response to the Japanese is obviously negative. Koreans are forced to live by different rules governing speech, thought, religion, and whatever else the Japanese feel like regulating. For the narrator, he is often confused by what is going on. He knows he should be outraged, but waits for his father’s cues before he is. When he is described as being emotional, almost always it is tied into some other person of power and influence also being emotional. It is not until the end of the war where the boy is able to think for himself. At this point in his story, he has developed into his own person, and without his father there to give him cues, he is able to act on his own. Throughout the story the Koreans are faced with adversity after adversity. Yet they constantly respond. Sometimes it is violent, like in the case of the Japanese school teacher. In other cases it is simply wearing an arm band and teaching about the traditions of Korea before the Japanese came. The narrator throughout struggles to reconcile what is happening to him and his family, and in the end, is able to lead the (nonviolent) charge against the Japanese controlled police station, working side by side with his father.


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