|Two children walk on an unpaved road between thatch-roofed houses in Gangchon, Gangwon Province, near Bukhan River, in this 1968 photo taken by Japanese pastor Nomura Motoyuki. / Photo from Noonbit Publishing|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Japanese pastor Nomura Motoyuki, 89, is a self-appointed civic ambassador having dedicated his entire life to helping Koreans and Japanese reconcile with each other to move forward from their tragic past.
Rev. Nomura, also a photographer and author of three photobooks, has been campaigning for Korea, claiming that Japan owes a sincere apology to its neighbor.
"As a national of the country that occupied Korea, I think Japan needs to offer a heart-felt apology to Koreans," he said in the foreword of his latest photobook titled "Gangchon in Korea" published by Noonbit Publishing, Wednesday.
He reiterated his decades-old demand that Japan take measures to mend ties with Korea.
Nomura visited Seoul's urban poor in the 1970s to feed the poorest of the poor as his government turned a deaf ear to his repeated calls.
The Japanese pastor raised money to help them live better lives. He sold his assets and used the money to save a financially strapped small church near Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul. He arranged for U.S. charity groups to help Korea with relief goods and services in the 1960s and 1970s.
Since his first visit to Korea in 1968, he has traveled back and forth between Korea and Japan dozens of times to fulfill his commitment to help the two neighbors end their historical animosity and move on.
His new book "Gangchon in Korea" is another gesture to deliver his message of thanks to the Koreans for their warmth. It presents 136 black-and-white photos featuring Koreans living in the namesake rural town near the Bukhan River in the nation's eastern province of Gangwon. The pictures were taken in 1968 during his first visit to Korea.
In the foreword, he said he had mixed feelings when the airplane landed at Gimpo International Airport. "I had longed to visit Korea since the 1950s, and finally I stepped into its territory in summer 1968," he said. "I couldn't forget the nervous excitement that I had when my airplane arrived in the Gimpo airport which used to be an airfield for the Japanese air force during the colonial period."
Back then, the Japanese pastor recalled people of the two countries had a deep distrust of each other. Koreans were suspicious about his motives, whereas Japanese were sarcastic about his goodwill-based mission in Korea, he said.
"Japanese who were aware of my Korea trip would blatantly ask me why I wanted to go there. When I said I would like to play a role in building peace between the two countries, most of them were skeptical," he said. "(In the 1960s) the Japanese economy was not good. I remember the situation in South Korea was even worse because the country was struggling with economic difficulty as well as political instability."
|Two boys on a bicycle look back as Rev. Nomura (not seen in this photo) takes a photo. / Photo from Noonbit Publishing|
His Korea mission was full of obstacles, and he faced criticism on both fronts. He endured derision from fellow Japanese. Koreans, meanwhile, were still reeling from the Korean War that broke out five years after the country was liberated from Japan, and were suspicious about his motives and revealed their deep-seated distrust toward Japanese people like him.
But he found a glimpse of hope amid frustration. Koreans he met in Gangchon were warm and naive and they tried to help him out.
Rev. Nomura mentioned a Korean headmaster of a middle school in Gangchon who was willing to provide a place for him to stay and helped him feel at home during his visit.
"Gangchon in Korea" presents Koreans' warmth and hospitality toward the rare Japanese visitor. Korea's peaceful rural scenery, farmers in white clothes and the iconic black rubber shoes and children with happy smiles were captured by the Japanese pastor.
Living in Kobuchizawa, Yamanachi Prefecture, nestled high in the mountains, Nomura is said to have lamented about worsening Korea-Japan relations in recent years.
"He himself liked to be called halaboji (grandfather) or halbae (granddaddy) in Korean, rather than Reverend or Pastor Nomura because he take such titles as a symbol of authoritarianism," said Lee Kyu-sang, the founder and publisher of Noonbit Publishing.
"He is worried about Korea-Japan ties as they have been going from bad to worse and the coronavirus pandemic has made things even more worse as it cut flights between them."
"Gangchon in Korea" was released Wednesday, months after Nomura's second photobook "Memories of Yushin" was published by Noonbit Publishing.
His first photobook "Nomura Report" (2013) captured Korea's urban poor in the Cheonggye neighborhood in central Seoul in the 1960s and '70s.
|Rev. Nomura, third from left. From left are Ahn Mi-sook, chief editor of Noonbit Publishing; Nomura's wife Yoriko; Rev. Nomura; and Noonbit Publishing President Lee Kyu-sang. / Courtesy of Noonbit Publishing|