Julian Ryall, 'Seoul clash over artefacts taken to Japan during colonial period' South China Morning Post, Wednesday, 27 November, 2013
There is growing anger in South Korea over an exhibition of ancient Korean artefacts that are on loan from a museum in Tokyo [...] Under the headline "Stolen national treasures come home for 90 days", The JoongAng Daily on November 21 said visitors to an exhibition of treasures from the Gaya period at the Yangsan Museum, in South Gyeongsang province, were "stunned" that the items were only on loan from the Tokyo National Museum. The exhibition includes earrings, necklaces and a gilt bronze crown excavated from a nearby tomb that were confiscated during Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula [1910–1945 PMB] and transferred to Japan. Under the treaty signed in 1965 by Japan and South Korea to normalise diplomatic relations, Seoul essentially gave the artefacts - and an estimated 66,824 others - to Japan. South Korea requested the return of 4,479 items of particular national importance, of which just 1,432 have been given back.
There is a separate case arousing discussion at the moment. This is the Tathagata Buddha, which was stolen from a shrine in Nagasaki prefecture in 2012 by a South Korean criminal group. The statue is believed to be originally Korean. Defying requests from the Japanese government that the statue be returned, a local court in Seoul has ordered the South Korean government not to hand the artefact over. The case has yet to be resolved.
There is growing interest in South Korea in their cultural property now in foreign countries. In the case of material held in Japan, military dictator, and former collaborator with Japan during the occupation, Park Chung-hee, (father of the current president of South Korea), agreed to let Japan keep all of its loot from the war. Both countries have ratified the conventions that cover these artefacts. But in recent years the South Korean media is becoming more and more emotional about these issues, which is a question of identity.