SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
Min Dongyup An encounter with “Historical Thought”
Ten years have already passed since I came to Japan to study abroad, and I am now studying history at graduate school. I could not have imagined such a life ten years ago.
However, when I think back on these ten years, I realize that my past experiences have motivated my research. Why am I here? My studying abroad started from some occurrences which cannot be captured by the term “studying abroad”.
When I entered university in Korea and majored in economics, I was an ordinary university student who had no overseas experience or connections. When I took a leave of absence from school for my military service and wanted to return to school, I was following the path which Korean society had laid out, trying to tread an ordinary road. When I graduated from university, I would start working at a stable company, get married and make a happy home. I could not afford to imagine any other way of life. However, I did have a hazy sense of unease. Am I OK like this? What do I want to do? I decided to travel on a whim to find the answer for myself. If I travelled, I could try to find myself overseas. Since I had been interested in J-pop and Japanese anime and manga since my junior high school days, it was quite natural to decide to go to Japan for my first overseas visit.
My ten days backpacking journey in Japan started and I traveled in the Kansai and Kanto regions by overnight bus. My first visit overseas brought me fresh and endless surprises. What I felt during this trip cannot be explained by the simple term “culture-shock”. Everything that I experienced in Japan became the starting point of what we experience when we become conscious of “the other” which is different from “ourselves” as Korean. It was also the starting point of my reflection on the concept of “ourselves” and the first time that I became aware of the meaning of a “nation”. After returning to Korea, I immediately began to prepare for my second trip to Japan as I could not forget my first experience. Three months later, I found myself at the west exit of Shinjuku Station along with my big suitcase.
I started my student life in Japan studying Japanese language at a Japanese language school. Studying Japanese was not my only purpose. I was struggling to assimilate the shock which I had experienced on my first visit to Japan and Japan itself in my own way. I thought I could relativize “Korea” when distanced from “Korea” which made up “myself”. I could also honestly consider what a “country” is from studying “Japan”. I realized that what I thought to be self-evident was not really self-evident. When people doubt their common sense and contemplate why it became common sense in the first place, it naturally leads to historical consideration.
There exists a gap in historical recognition between Korea and Japan, and this has become a knotty problem. Since I could now relativize the concept of “nation,” a question formed about what would be necessary to solve such knotty problems. I had to change my university major as I began to think that I would like to study more professionally at university. So, I took another entrance examination to change university and be able to undertake various learnings at another university where liberal arts were considered to be important.
I could approach various historical issues between Korea and Japan from a multitude of angles within specific disciplines (areas of specialization). But, I was not sated and decided to go to graduate school. I desired to create a new perspective to solve the issues regarding the present historical recognition between Korea and Japan. I am currently advancing my research on the Korean history of the modern and present period and the relations between Korea and Japan, focusing especially on their thoughts and cultures.
Problems of historical recognition can be found anywhere and exist as a universal problem. Given this, through such concrete fields as the modern and present histories of Korea and Japan, my task is to study the structure of such thought and how we can overcome such problems. What I have learned through my university student life in Japan is to reconsider the premise of our thoughts and to search for a new structure of historical ability to think which exists behind our “common sense” and which can relativize truism.
Min Dongyup / 2018 Raccoon, Research Scholar of Graduate School of Arts and Science, The University of Tokyo
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sonja Dale