Tokyo Exhibition of Korean Artifacts Raises Hackles

The Tokyo National Museum on Tuesday unveiled an armor and helmet presumed to have been worn by a king of the Chosun Dynasty.

Twenty relics including King Gojong's official uniform and a hat or ikseongwan are on display for the special exhibition. Some of the items on display are believed to have been looted or stolen during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and Korean civic groups are calling for their return.

They are in nearly perfect condition. Around half are donations from the Okura Collection and have not been opened to the public before.

Businessman Takenosuke Okura (1870-1964) collected a huge amount of Korean artifacts during the colonial period. After his death in 1982, his son donated 1,040 items of the collection to the Tokyo National Museum.

The museum for some reason decided not to mention that the exhibition contains royal artifacts. The Ven. Hyemun, who campaigns for the return of stolen Korean cultural assets, said, "During the Japanese colonial period, the items used at the royal court were managed by Japan's Imperial Household Agency, so it was impossible for them to circulate in public. It is almost certain that Okura got them through illegal channels."

Hyemun added that if the Tokyo National Museum received the donations knowing that they were stolen, it should return them to Korea.

The regulations of the International Council of Museums stipulate that museums should not receive or buy stolen goods.

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 02, 2013 12:20 KST