Updated July. 30, 2014 07:32
On May 27, 1966, Korea`s 1431 cultural assets taken by Japan were returned to Korea through Kimpo Airport. Japan returned the artifacts under a 1965 treaty between Japan and Korea. Included were gold earrings excavated from the ancient Shilla dynasty tombs and Goryeo ceramics that Hirobumi Ito, the first Resident General of Joseon dynasty, presented to Emperor Meiji. The two nations summits agreed to return 1,205 books held by the Japanese Imperial Household Agency in August 2010, which marked 100 years since Japanese annexation of Korea. These books were returned home next May. However, suspicions are growing that the Japanese government intentionally reduced the scale of Korean cultural artifacts to be returned and hid a list of the Korean cultural assets taken.
A Japanese civic group raised a lawsuit against the Imperial Household Agency in Japan and Tokyo National Museum to make public the list of Korean artifacts in possession. Japanese government demanded for confidentiality arguing The list includes artifacts that Japan did not return to Korea, and Japanese court accepted. The statement of the Japanese government strongly implies that Japan did not return some of the Korean cultural assets that it was supposed to. UNESCO convention provides that cultural assets illegally acquired shall be returned to the original owner. This list also describes how the Imperial Household Agency obtained Korean artifacts. Japan seems to be concerned that demand for returning or criticism would arise when its illegal acts of taking Korean cultural assets including looting is made public by disclosure of the list.
Korean cultural assets held by the Imperial Household Agency may hold high cultural value since Ito Hirobumi and the second Resident General Sone Araske took them during their incumbency. The statement the government submitted to the court contains descriptions, which can be interpreted that Japan returned artifacts of little cultural value to Korea. It has to be questioned how sincere the Japanese government was about returning Korean artifacts.
Japanese government said disclosure of the list might harm the trust between the two nations. Rather, Japan should make public the list of artifacts taken from Korea to nip the bud of new conflicts. Recently, Japans Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conveyed a message to President Park Geun-hye that Japan will make efforts to improve the strained bilateral relations. If he is seriously willing to, Japanese government should open the list to the public and return illegally taken cultural assets to Korea in accordance to international practices. Koreans are watching closely actions of Japan.