우물 안 개구리


Done in by a Tangerine

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:40 pm Print

In the memoirs of Tsuboi, Sachio, an official in the Japanese colonial police, the author goes into some detail about Korean-Russians who infiltrated Korea to work as spies based on what he learned from suspected spies that had been arrested and interrogated.

He recounts the thorough training that the spies had to undergo before being dispatched to Korea. The majority were university students and usually entered Korea from the Soviet Union by an ocean route, landing on the beaches of Kangwon-do where police surveillance was thought to be relatively weak. They all went through a rigorous training regime on the outskirts of Moscow, under both Russian and Korean instructors which consisted of learning encryption techniques, operation of wireless radio sets, as well as learning the “Korean customs and common knowledge” of the day. This included making all of the spies memorize the oath known as the 皇国臣民の誓詞, recited at public events in colonial Korea, and the practice of showing a minute of silence for spirits of dead soldiers (英霊). When the spies entered Korea they carried nothing but Korean and Japanese made objects, usually used materials, and made to look as inconspicuous as possible.

However, Tsuboi claims, sometimes it was the little things that gave away the spies when they arrived in Korea:


Traps can be found in unusual places. In Korea relatively cheap imported tangerines from the Japanese mainland were sold, among other places, in the markets of the countryside and it was not unusual for the common people to eat them as an everyday food. However, in the Soviet Union at that time, apparently the average person had never seen a Wenzhou tangerine1 (温州ミカン) before. There was a case of a Soviet spy who had just entered Korea that, when being questioned, was offered a tangerine. The suspect bit into the fruit with its peel intact, as if one was eating an apple. 2

While this story could well be apocryphal, perhaps passed around the office with a laugh in the way we circulate such stories by email today (but under far less sinister circumstances), it is an example of how incredibly challenging it can be prepare a spy for all eventualities. I have heard similar stories of Russian and North Korean spies being exposed for equally unexpected reasons despite having been given an incredible amount of training.

Tsuboi is understandably completely silent on issues of interrogation techniques and what sentences were given to convicted spies when their cases went to court but devotes a whole chapter to describing and justifying the widely used “illegal” technique of turning (逆用する)spies and using them to undercover a whole intelligence network.

  1. Another word for tangerine in Japan. Read more here. []
  2. in 坪井幸生『ある朝鮮総督府警察官僚の回想』草思社, 2004. p114 []

Korean history talks: January-February 08

Filed under: — Owen @ 11:30 am Print

Some very interesting Korean history talks coming up in the next few months. Obviously to attend them all one would need the sort of jetsetting lifestyle that is beyond most of us, or possibly even a time machine. But hopefully there will be something good near to you. Please feel free to make corrections or suggestions for additions to this list in the comments section.

January 18, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Staffan Rosen, Stockholm University
“Merit and Reward – The Imperial Korean System of Decorations 1900-1910 in an International Perspective”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm
More info

January 25, Fulbright Forum, KAEC Building, Seoul
Richard D. McBride, II
“When did the rulers of Silla Korea become kings?”
6th floor conference room, 7pm (R.S.V.P. by Monday, January 21st)
More info

January 28, UCLA Asia Institute, Los Angeles
Keun-Sik Jung, Seoul National University
“Colonial Censorship and Japanese Publication Police System”
10383 Bunche Hall, 3pm
More info

February 6, UCLA Asia Institute, Los Angeles
Dr. Yongwook Yoo
“Palaeolithic Settlement of the Korean Peninsula: A Research Before the History of Korean People”
11377 Bunche Hall, 12pm (talk in Korean)
More info

February 8, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Gina Barnes, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS
“Cross-straits relations between Korea and Japan in the mid-4th to 5th centuries”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm

February 21, Comparative Histories of Asia Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), University of Oslo
“Sin Ch’aeho’s (1880-1936) Metamorphoses: Confucian Scholar, Social-Darwinist Nationalist and Anarchist”
Room NG15, Senate House Building, 5pm
More info

February 21, Harvard Korea Colloquium, Cambridge Mass.
Rachel Chung, Columbia University
“Sông Hyôn’s Model for Study of Music: Neo-Confucian Philosophy of Music in 15th Century Chosôn Korea”
Room S250, CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge St., 4pm
More info

February 22, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, London
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), Institute of East European and Oriental Studies, Oslo University
“To beat or not to beat: discussions on pedagogical ideals, corporal punishment and military training in colonial Korea”
Room G52, SOAS main building, 5pm

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