In the midst of Japanese imperialist forces that are, together with the US, encroaching on global economy and culture, the following incident makes Korean feminists think again about what we are demanding of the Japanese government.
It was during my second year as a novice of Maryknoll Convent. (The Maryknoll Convent is part of the American Catholic Maryknoll Missioners, which has its headquarters in New York. All novices go through their training in the novice-training center.) A visiting Japanese nun in her sixties asked to have lunch with me. Bewildered, I agreed to have lunch with sister Nakashima (pseudonym). We chose a table by the window and filled our dishes with buffet food and sat down to eat.
As soon as I sat down, I felt something surging up from my heart. I don't remember which came first - sister Nakashima taking hold of my hand or my eyes turning red and overflowing with tears. But even before either of us said anything, there I was crying, with her holding my hand. Then she started speaking. "I want to apologize, as a Japanese to a Korean woman."
It was the first time that I was moved to tears in such a short time. A huge sadness that had been lying deep within me suddenly surged up to burst like a volcano. I crumbled in the face of her sincere, honest and courageous stance, and without having the chance to express my long-accumulated anger at Japan, I began to pour out my anger, emotions, love and words all at once.
I have no recollection of how the meal went and what other things we talked about. Sister Nakashima probably talked about how she got to learn about the suffering of the Korean people. I think she said that her mother, an elementary school teacher, had taught her about the atrocities of Japanese colonialists and told her to be nice to all the Koreans she met.
Why did I shed so many tears? Why did I begin the conversation with tears even before she started saying anything? I can feel my eyes turning hot and moist with tears even as I write this.
It was through my encounter with sister Nakashima that I realized that I had been harboring anger and ill feelings against Japan, even as a generation that did not directly suffer under Japanese colonial rule. It is not because I am particularly patriotic; I believe all Koreans, whether consciously or unconsciously, live with this kind of anger, grief and hatred in their hearts.
To me, sister Nakashima was the person who melted my hatred of the Japanese. This was truly a miraculous event, which enabled me to become close to the other Japanese sisters at Maryknoll.
Through my encounter with sister Nakashima, I learnt that there is a great healing power in honestly asking for forgiveness. The reconciliation between the sister and me helped us overcome all barriers to accept each other as women. Can the women of Korea and Japan really hold each other's hands? And how?