[Event of October 2018]
Religious leaders from South Korea joined their Japanese counterpart in
Sapporo in October last year to deepen mutual understandings and to discuss
the means to widen their cooperation in the North East Asia.
RfP Japan organized “Japanese-Korean Religious Leaders’ Exchange Program 2018” in Hokkaido, the northern island in Japan, together with South Korea’s KCRP (Korean Conference of Religions for Peace) for 4days from October 23. Religious leaders from two nations make mutual visits in the exchange program to build confidence and to enhance unity for peace. A group of Japanese religious leaders visited Seoul in 2016 as the first delegation in the program.
A peace symposium was held in Sapporo on October 25 as a part of the program to discuss the ways to deepen the cooperation among the religious leaders of the two nations.
The Most Rev. Makoto Uematsu, the Chair of RfP Japan welcomed the participants. Referring to the historic event of forced labor of Chinese and Korean workers that took place in Hokkaido during the WWII, Rev. Uematsu said “I am grateful that we share a precious opportunity to learn from the history here in Hokkaido. By doing so, we, the Japanese and Korean religious leaders, explore the ways to coordinate our movement toward peace”.
Rev. Kim Tae Sung, Secretary General of KCRP, appreciated the warm reception of the Korean delegation by the RfP Japan. Rev. Kim also appreciated the dedication of Ven. Yoshihiko Tonohira of Jodoshinshu Honganji-ha priest, who has been working hard to return the remains of the victims of the forced labor to their families in Korea. His work is “a reconciliation of the historic issues in the past. It heals the wounds and create a momentum to prepare for a new relationship” between Japan and Korea, Rev. Kim said.
Rev. Kim also said that the religious leaders are part of a family in terms of the spirituality and faith. They have a role to transform the division and frustration into the reconciliation and coexistence, he stressed. He expressed hope that the symposium will become a good opportunity for the participants to recognize the responsibilities of the religious leaders to overcome various obstacles between the two nations and bring about actions.
In the keynote speech, Rev. Tonohira looked back into the forced labor
at construction sites during and prior to the WWII in Hokkaido, explaining
a large number of people were brought in from Korea and many lives were
lost in the hardship. He introduced his initiative to create a workshop
made up of young generation Japanese, Korean and Japanese-Korean members
to find and recover remains of those victims of forced labor and to have
such remains back to the families. “I see true friendship emerges over
the historic division of aggressors and victims by looking at the truth
of history” he said in the speech that was titled “Connecting the future
of Korea and Japan – Returning the Remains of the Forced Labor Victims
and a Wish of a Religious Leader”. He stressed the importance of cooperation
between Japanese and Korean members in such an operation. He also noted
that he had 14 remains of North Korean descent. “I would like to have them
returned to their families in North Korea in an appropriate time,” he said.
In the following panel discussion, Mr. Yang Deog Chang, Executive Committee member of KCRP, proposed to “activate the religious leaders’ exchange between Japan and Korea, and to have those remains back to North Korea” in a coordinated effort among Japanese, Korean and North Korean religious leaders. Japanese panelists welcome the proposal. “I’m pleased to hear that. If we can make it happen by efforts of as many people involved, then we may establish a new peaceful human relationship, guided by those deceased,” Rev. Tonihira said.
The panel discussion was coordinated by Ven. Ryumyo Yamazaki, a RfP Board member. KCRP Executive Committee members Ven. Kim Tae Hyon and Mrs. Jeong Jeong Sook, Rev. Kim Sung Jae and Rev. Munemichi Kurozumi, RfP Board members, and Rev. Munehiro Niwano, President of the Gakurin Seminary of Rissho kosei-kai (Japan) also participated as panelists.
As the closing remark, Ven. Gijyun Sugitani, the Former Chair of RfP stressed the significance of the symposium as “a significant moment” to exchange candid opinions, referring to the sincere commitments of the religious leaders from the two nations toward peace. The relationship between Japan and Korea is often characterized ambivalently as “near but far”, but “they can become close enough as we keep piling up our efforts” he said. “I would like to go on, thinking what we the religious leaders have to tackle with from now,” Rev. Sugitani added.
Prior to Thursday’s symposium, program participants visited several religious institutions in Hokkaido, and learned about the culture of Ainu, an indigenous population in the island in three days. They moved to Otaru city on Friday and the Korea delegation left for home.