The House of Councilors ratified a treaty Friday to transfer to South Korea historical archives brought to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, paving the way for the documents to be handed over this autumn.
But as visits by some South Korean lawmakers to disputed territories have caused bilateral jitters, it remains possible the hand-over of the 1,205 volumes of Korean documents, including royal records of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), could be delayed.
The transfer of the artifacts, likely to take place when South Korean President Lee Myung Bak visits Japan this fall, is based on a bilateral accord signed in November. Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to hand over the documents last August upon the centenary of Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan will keep digital copies of the artifacts returned.
South Korean lawmakers and citizens’ groups have repeatedly demanded the transfer of the archives, as the royal protocols known as the Joseon Wangsil Uigwe, a meticulous record of royal ceremonies and rituals, are deemed to have high cultural value.
Tokyo is adhering to its stance that Seoul lost the right to claim them when the two countries normalized relations in 1965, and considers the “transfer” as an exceptional gesture of good will. Japan deliberately avoided using the word “return” in the bilateral accord signed last year over the documents.
Some members of the Liberal Democratic Party have criticized the agreement as being one-sided and urged the government to demand that Seoul reciprocate by transferring historical Japanese documents now held by South Korea.
Bilateral relations hit another obstacle recently when a South Korean minister traveled to disputed islets controlled by Seoul in the Sea of Japan, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea. This came on the heels of a trip by some South Korean opposition lawmakers to one of four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan off Hokkaido.