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Asian Spirit: Another Kim Hye-gyong    By Keiko Iwata
Chapter 2: To Japan
Asian Spirit Archive

About Asian Spirit

A compilation of nonfiction essays, the book comprises the experiences, both good and bad, that author Keiko Iwata shared with South Korean students living and studying in Japan.

About Keiko Iwata

Keiko Iwata is the representative of the NPO Heart Connections, which provides non-Japanese students with consultation services to help them solve problems related to living and studying in Japan. Iwata authored the book "Asian Spirit" (published in February 2004).

About Larry Greenberg

Larry Greenberg is the founder of Urban Connections Co. Ltd., an enterprising group of professionals that strives to provide innovative solutions to the latest challenges.

Only seven months after the girl arrived in Japan, the Prime Minister changed quite unexpectedly. The Foreign Affairs department's primary concern had become the "North Korean abduction cases." An increasing number of these cases were often reported on the news, and many Japanese people empathized with the abducted and their families.

One day, the girl heard a news report of the case of Megumi Yokota.

"The 15-year old daughter of Megumi Yokota is Kim Hye-gyong," the news broadcaster said.

"What!? Kim Hye-gyong?" she exclaimed, unable to suppress her surprise.

"That's my name...," she muttered to herself.

If I were the other Hye-gyong, how would my parents feel...? she thought. She couldn't dismiss this simply as "someone else's problem."

However, no matter how strongly she felt about the abductions, she knew she shouldn't carelessly blurt out her personal opinions. Conflicts between countries are complex and should be handled with the utmost care. Still, she couldn't help but think this was an incident that affected her; it was caused by people with the same origin as her. The girl heavily empathized with the case of Megumi Yokota and prayed the other Hye-gyong was happy.

If only she could see her mother's home country, she thought. This passionate desire welled up in her.

As this news traveled around the world, friends from Korea whom she hadn't heard from in a while sent her letters about the Hye-gyong incident. Even her classmates in Japan would come up to her and say, "She has the same name as you!" An acquaintance from Japan called the girl and "the other Hye-gyong" was the main topic of the conversation.

The girl knew there were probably tens of thousands of people with the same name as hers, but she couldn't simply forget the abduction case and think of it as a mere coincidence. In her heart, she harbored many emotions in connection with the girl named Kim Hye-gyong.

Because of that coincidence, the girl decided she wanted to study abroad in Japan. Little did she know, the time leading up to her decision to study in Japan would be full of surprises and more uncanny coincidences.

It all began with four pen pals.

Following a trend of the time, Hye-gyong specialized in Computer Science in college. Upon graduation, she got involved with system management and software development. But soon after, she began to regret her decision of going into that field; she wasn't as interested in computers as she thought she was. As she reflected on her high school days, she felt a sense of nostalgia when remembered the question she was always posed by her teachers and classmates: What do you want to do in your future?

"I want to be a language arts teacher," she innocently replied. In high school, the girl had a passion for one language in particular: Japanese. When she had to choose between taking French or Japanese, there was barely any competition.

Suddenly, she it dawned on her how much she still enjoyed Japanese. But because it had been so long since she studied, she was intimidated by the idea of starting all over again. Taking her two hours to simply get home from work, she barely had any time to eat and get enough sleep. There was barely any room left to do anything in her busy schedule. However, she persisted in her quest of knowledge.

Finally, she came to the conclusion that she wanted to go to a Japanese language school.

As time passed, her desire to learn Japanese only grew stronger and she decided that the first step would be to tell her family.

Her parents were worried, as she expected, but by the spring, they let her move to Gwangju. She was 25 years old, and on her own.

270 km south of Seoul, only a few countries seemed to realize Gwangju was a site for conducting "grass-roots movements" against the government in the '80s. But now, it is known as a calm city with a rich culture. Many of the old-fashioned buildings that stand today are because of the urban development ban upheld by Korea. In the suburbs of Gwangji, the girl achieved her dream of working in an office, and attending a Japanese language school. After getting off of work, she would rush to her Japanese class. Time always flew by because her classes were so enjoyable.

One day at school, she picked up a magazine called Ching. Ching, meaning "friend" in Korean, provided a wealth of information on Korean-Japan relations. As she was browsing through the magazine, she found an advertisement for pen-pals.

The girl immediately signed up for this.

Only after a short period of time, she had received four letters from Japan.

To her surprise, all four of them were males. The first man was 23 years old and he worked at a gas appliance manufacturing company in Osaka. The next two men were both in their mid-50s; one ran a dry cleaning shop in Tokyo, and the other was a designer of machinery in Hiroshima. The fourth pen-pal was a fairly young businessman in his 30s.

She began to exchange letters and text messages with these four pen-pals, but having a playful mind and being a lot younger than most of them, she felt a little unsuited to the two men who were old enough to be her father. She decided to keep in touch with the businessman whom she felt was the most sincere and could best help her improve her Japanese.

The girl eagerly looked forward to his letters because he would always tell her "how much her Japanese had improved." He became her teacher; every letter that she sent to the young man was photocopied and sent back to her with corrections in red ink. Awkward phrases were underlined with a highlighter.

As they got to know each other through written letters, he soon told her he and his wife would visit Korea so they could meet in person. Filled with excitement and glee, she asked for permission to take a few days off of work. Once her job approved, she anxious awaited their arrival.

Time seemed to slow down as she waited for them to come. Finally, she met the young man and his wife at a hotel in Seoul.

"My brother and sister, welcome to Korea," she greeted them in Japanese. She was surprised by the amount of fondness she felt for a couple she had never met before.

His face from the picture is now directly in front of me! I'm actually listening to the voice I heard on the phone, she thought. She felt as though she was reuniting with an old friend.

What surprised her the most about his visit was that her pen-pal was already very familiar with Korea. Having visited the country a few times before, he seemed to be an expert at sightseeing. In fact, he was so knowledgeable about Korea that the girl was ashamed by the fact that he knew more than she did.

During that trip, the girl's relationship with her pen-pal became much stronger. She no longer saw her pen-pal as the 30-year-old businessman who helped her with Japanese. Rather, she saw him as a brother. Her "brother's" visit to Korea became a big driving force for her to travel to Japan.


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