The Japanese government has kept hidden a list of treasures stolen from Korea during the occupation from 1910 to 1945, it has emerged. Tokyo also excluded certain Korean treasures from a list of items to be returned during negotiations in 1965 to normalize diplomatic ties.
The latest revelation comes on the back of already strained ties between the two neighbors over the Japanese government's lurch to the far right.
Keiichi Ono, the director of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Northeast Asia Division, recently submitted a deposition to the Tokyo High Court on behalf of the Japanese government which reveals that official documents civic groups are demanding access to "include a list of national treasures that have not been presented to the Korean government until now."
It warned that Seoul may seek the return of the treasures if the documents are made public.
A Japanese civic group filed for public access to official documents involving 1965 talks that normalized diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, seeking to view lists of Korean treasures held by the Japanese royal household, National Museum and other archives.
But the Tokyo High Court on July 25 overturned a lower court order to disclose the documents on appeal from the Japanese government. The High Court said in its ruling, "If the documents are released, there is the danger that Japan could be placed at a disadvantage in future negotiations with North Korea as well as in future ties with South Korea."
According to Ono's deposition, the Japanese government conducted a comprehensive survey ahead of the 1965 normalization treaty on how key Korean national treasures were smuggled out of Korea and how much they cost. Following the signing of the treaty, Tokyo returned 1,431 treasures to Korea.
But the deposition reveals that Japan sifted through the list of looted treasures and returned only the less valuable ones relatively. The deposition also notes that the records contain information on how the treasures were stolen from Korea, which Seoul would find "difficult to understand."
The Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation estimates around 66,824 Korean national treasures were taken to Japan, but the existence of the secret list suggests there are more.
Ono in his deposition warned Pyongyang could demand the return of national treasures if it seeks to normalize relations with Tokyo in ongoing negotiations.