Nicholas Kristoff reports from Kyoto, for The New York Times, read in The Sydney Morning Herald, sometime in 1998, during southern hemisphere spring/Japan autumn. [...cuts from the machine]
WHEN they invaded Korea 400 years ago, Japanese samurai warriors bought back priceless porcelain, ingenious metal type for printing - and noses and ears hacked off the corpses of tens of thousands of Koreans.
In one of the world's more macabre war memorials, a nine metre hillock here in the ancient Japanese capital marks where the noses and ears were buried. The 400th anniversary of the Mimizuka, or Ear Mound , will be commemorated this month, underscoring the tensions and hostilities that still set the countries of East Asia against each other.
Few Japanese outside of Kyoto know of the Ear Mound , but almost all Koreans do. In Japan, even among those who have heard of it, the Ear Mound is largely seen as a bizarre relic of little relevance today. To many Koreans, it is a symbol of Japanese brutishness that still lurks beneath the surface waiting to explode.
"Frankly speaking, I think there is a risk" of Japan someday again attacking its neighbours, said Mr Ryu Gu Che, an ethnic Korean in Kyoto. He suggested that the best way of reducing the risk would be for Japan to acknowledge and repent the savagery symbolized by the Ear Mound .
"So, although 400 years have passed, I think both peoples should study this episode and learn some lessons."
Mr Ryu, who is organising the anniversary ceremony, said the lesson for Japan was to show greater remorse. The lesson for Korea was to avoid corruption and weakness that could tempt foreign invaders.
Although the major countries of East Asia, ranging from Vietnam, through China to Korea and Japan, share a common cultural heritage to a considerable extent, deep antagonisms linger.
In Asia, history hangs over the present and constantly threatens to destabilise the future. The most sensitive memories are of World War II, but the Ear Mound underscores how some incidents continue to fester long after the people who were tortured or killed have turned to dust.
Other nations also mutilated corpses, of course, such as the European settlers who scalped Indians and visa versa, but these atrocities do not have the same political or social resonance today that such episodes do in East Asia. [???]
The Ear Mound dates from Japan's [What is this 'Japan', did the feudal daiyamo's consider themselves a united as a single Nation?] plans to conquer China and divide it among Japanese lords. Korea was in the way, so Japan assembled some 200,000 troops in 1592 and launched an invasion, setting off a war that lasted six years and by some accounts killed more than 1 million Koreans - close to one-third of the country's population.
The samurai in those days often cut off the heads of people they killed as proof that their deeds matched their stories, but it was impossible to bring back so many heads to Japan. So the samurai preserved
the noses and sometimes the ears of those they killed, soldiers and civilians alike.
Most of the noses where cut off corpses, but some Koreans reportedly where not killed and survived many years without noses or ears.
The Japanese troops [samurai] bought back barrels that may have contained the noses or ears of 100,000 Koreans, scholars say, but these numbers are unreliable. Korean estimates are sometimes tainted by the partiality of researchers, and the subject has not attracted extensive Japanese scholarship, partial or impartial.
JAPAN'S rulers displayed the noses and ears to Japanese subjects, apparently as a warning not to challenge the authorities, and then buried them and dedicated the Ear Mound on September 28, 1597. Organisers of the ceremony on the 400th anniversary say it will include Japanese and Koreans alike - Buddhist priests as well as Christian pastors - and will aim to appease the spirits of those who where killed and mutilated.
About 700,000 Koreans live in Japan, mostly descendants of forced labourers brought here early this century, and it often galls them that Japan does not show more remorse for the occupation of Korea from 1905 to 1945, or for the use of Korean girls as sex slaves during the war.
In Korea, anger at Japan still rumbles beneath the surface and a visit to a historic site is usually accompanied by a guide's angry comments about looting that occurred as far back as the 16th century.
On the other hand, some Japanese argue that Korean's and Chinese have vastly exaggerated the scale of the suffering, and that in any case atrocities are simply an unfortunate part of any war.
"One cannot say that cutting off ears and noses was so atrocious by the standard of the time," read a plaque that stood in front of the Ear Mound in the 1960s. That was taken down, but it still angers Koreans that the Japanese leader who organised the invasion, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is treated in Japan as a national hero.
Over the past decade Japanese school textbooks have made enormous strides in recounting the brutality of the period honestly. Fifteen years ago, not a single textbook referred to the Ear Mound , but it is common in this years textbooks.
"Now about half of all high school history textbooks mention the Ear Mound ," said an official of Jikkyo, a publishing company that in the mid 1980s became the first in Japan to include a reference to the mound.
At that time the Education Ministry objected to the reference as "too vivid" and forced the publisher to tone it down and also give Hideyoshi credit for piously dedicating the Ear Mound to enshrine the spirits of the dead.
"That is such a uniquely deceptive Japanese logic to say 'we enshrined the spirits after killing these people'," fumed Kum Byong Dong, a lecturer at a North Korea-affiliated university in Japan, and the author of a book on the Ear Mound . "The officials at the Education Ministry think the same way as Hideyoshi's people did 400 years ago."