Happy Korean Liberation Day! (also my birthday)
Korean Liberation Day on August 15th marks the anniversary of South Korea’s independence from Japanese rule on August 15, 1945, just 78 years ago as of 2023. This is also a key date because it’s one of the few holidays that both the North and South share in common.
Now this day is tied to WW2 and very heavy so I will get into the history a bit but not fully in-depth, for more please research yourself. But I want to touch on this day, especially since this is still recent history and there are Koreans who experienced Japanese rule or lived with the direct after effects that are still alive today.
Korean Liberation Day & Victory Over Japan Day
This date and corresponding events are celebrated by many countries as Victory Over Japan Day. It is seen as key in the end of WW2 when Imperial Japan announced their surrender along with 1945 September 2nd when the surrender document was signed, officially ending World War II. Also ending Japanese occupation in various other countries; such as Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and more. So celebrations can be on/around August or September depending on the country.
August 15 is also when both North and South Korean governments were created just three years later, in 1948. Now Koreans specifically call it Korean Liberation day as opposed to an independence day because independence has a connotation that Korea was always under Japanese rule which isn’t true and would be seen to downplay Koreas long history before Japan.
Japanese Rule of Korea
Korea was colonized from 1910 to 1945 by the Japanese. The history leading up to Japanese rule is long and complex so I’d encourage you to research more if you’re interested. I’m going to just touch on when Japan ruled over them here.
While under Japanese rule Koreans had the deal with the forced erasure of their language and culture, physical abuse, unlawful punishment, “comfort women”, and much more.
The Japanese government forced schools to forbid students from speaking Korean and focused on developing Koreans into laborers. They burned and destroyed countless historical documents trying to wipe out Korean culture and history all together.
As WWII started Japanese solders forced women, typically underage and around 12–17 years old, to become “comfort women” and be sexual slaves to the Japanese solders. This happened across Asia and in other countries occupied by Japanese solders such as Philippines, Vietnam, and China.
Ever since January 1992 every Wednesday many living comfort women, women’s organizations, and more gather to protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul sponsored by “The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWDMSS)”. Despite their years of protesting the Japanese government still refuses to acknowledge them, nor provide any reparations, or punishment for the ones responsible.
It has only been 70+ years since liberation was achieved and so South Korea and Japan still have a very tense relationship. Especially regarding the crimes the Japanese government refuses to acknowledge or apologize for. While it has improved in recent years, many think there is still a long way to go regarding Japanese acknowledgment of the history and tragedies that occurred…
Korean Liberation Day Celebrations
In North Korea
It is typically a day people schedule weddings and is celebrated with a military parade on jubilee years (eg; 20th, 30th, 40th anniversaries).
In South Korea
There is an official ceremony attended by the Korean President either at Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan or at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. People and businesses are encouraged to fly the South Korean national flag on buildings and homes.
August 15 also offers descendants of the original independence activists free admission to many museums, and free transit.