August 15th is Gwangbogjeol (광복절), better known as Korean Independence Day or "Liberation Day." The holiday commemorates the surrender of the Japanese on August 15, 1945 to the Allies, officially ending 35 years of Japanese occupation of Korea. Korea remained under Allied control until 1948, when North and South Korea were officially established. In English, "Gwangbogjeol" has traditionally been referred to as "Korean Independence Day," although the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was not formally established until August 15, 1948, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was not established until September 8, 1948. During the interim period between August 15, 1945 and August 15, 1948, administrative control of Korea gradually shifted from the Japanese to the Allies and then to Koreans. Thus, the liberation of Korea, the implication that Koreans obtained the full right of autonomy, did not occur on August 15, 1945 but rather over a three-year period, culminating in the founding of the two Koreas.
Yesterday’s Gwangbogjeol celebration was an especially memorable one. August 15, 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, when Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s announced that Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, a joint statement made on July 26, 1945 by U.S. President Harry S Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek outlining the terms for Japanese surrender. Yesterday was filled with interesting events, especially in Korea. My family did not brave the crowds in downtown Seoul to commemorate the occasion. We would not have been able to understand enough Korean to enjoy the significance of the holiday and would have been lost in the crowds. However, I saw the remnants of the celebration downtown and read about the day’s events with interest. The Seoul City Hall is still bedecked with 3,600 Korean flags (Taegukgi, or 태극기) commemorating the occasion. It’s quite the sight to see. Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi issued a formal apology for Japan’s involvement in the war. A delegation of about 200 North Koreans, led by Kim Ki Nam, secretary of North Korea’s Korean Worker’s Party and vice chairman of the DPRK Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland, attended the festivities. Several members of the delegation made the first-ever North Korean visit to the National Assembly and National Cemetary of the Republic of Korea. The day also included the first-ever video reunion for families separated by the political division of Korea. The mood of the celebration in Korea this year was decidedly focused on the peaceful reunification of the Korea Peninsula. I had the day off and enjoyed the opportunity to rest and relax before another busy week. For Koreans, this Gwangbogjeol was a special one. You could just feel it.