Sun Myung Moon, The Early Years, 1920-53
By Michael Breen
The Journey from Seoul to Pusan took seven hours. 1 The afternoon train clattered through the fields and around the mountains of the southern provinces, passing the huddled villages where peasants cheerlessly observed its passing. The fields reeked of human feces, spread to fertilize the crops.
Sun-myung Moon had graduated from middle school in Seoul and. having obtained police permission to study overseas, was on his way to Tokyo to enroll in the technical high school affiliated with Waseda University. 2 It was March 31, 1941, and Sun-myung was leaving Korea for the first time, for the land of the oppressor.
As Japan geared up for war against the West, Koreans were being conscripted into the military, and drafted to work in Japan and in its colonies. 3 Thousands of teenage girls were rounded up and shipped off to front-line brothels. Christians were being imprisoned by the hundreds for refusing to worship at Shinto shrines. According to Shinto myth, the Japanese people, especially the emperors, are descended from the sun-goddess Amaterasu and thereby divine. The militarists had revived the old religion in the 1930s to justify their imperialist goals. Colonial subjects in Korea and China were being forced to participate in ceremonies at the shrines which had been built in occupied cities and towns. By 1941, war preparations were mounting, and missionaries were forced to leave Korea. In 1942, denominations were banned and the Protestant churches forced to unite under the name of the Chosen (Korean) Division of the Japanese Christian Church. Ministers who objected to this and to the forced worship at Shinto shrines were imprisoned, removed from their jobs, put under house arrest or driven underground. 4 Korea was being suffocated, its culture and even its language smothered. By 1944, native Koreans were being arrested in their own country for speaking Korean, instead of Japanese In their final effort to stomp on the identity of their unhappy subjects, Japanese authorities forced Koreans to take new, Japanese names.
Sun-myung was travelling under his new name, Emoto Ryumei. 5 Passengers alighted at each stop, a sense of oppression dulling their motion. Some Japanese business men and officials and their families were traveling on the train Their manners contained an assumption of superiority which some Koreans aspired to, But which most loathed. His nationalism notwithstanding, Moon did not hate the Japanese. In this respect he was quite different from most, except for the collaborators or the other-worldly. 6 His struggle, as he saw it, was with evil, and evil was more subtle than to associate itself with nationality. During the journey, a sense of his own mission and Korea's future overwhelmed him. He prayed for God to protect Korea. He pulled his jacket over his face so the other passengers could not see that he was crying. It was dark when he arrived in Pusan. The next day he left Pusan on a Japanese ship, the Shokei Maru
In Tokyo, he enrolled in the electrical engineering department of the technical high school. He found lodgings with the family of an official of the city government, Mitsuhashi Kozo. 7 Two other Korean students lodged with the Mitsuhashis, and each had separate rooms on the second floor. Koreans were accustomed to being treated as second class citizens. But the Mitsuhashis, who had five children, were very kind to their lodgers. His landlord did calligraphy as a hobby, an interest he could share with Sun-myung. He was very kind, "like a Korean," one of Sun-myung's fellow students recalled.
Among the hundreds of Koreans studying at universities and technical colleges in Tokyo, some sought to pass themselves off as Japanese, the natural path of upward mobility. But most, conscious of their role as students, which since the 1919 independence outbreak had cast them in the forefront of resistance, longed for their country's independence. Twice a year they organized a meeting, named the Yupchon Meeting (after the Korean square brass coin with a hole in the middle), when about fifty students would meet to eat, talk, sing and get to know one another. A Japanese plain clothes policeman who understood some Korean used to attend the meetings, which prevented the students from discussing the subject which most concerned them - independence.
At his first meeting, Sum-myung stood up, introduced himself and began to sing in Korean pansori style. He sang in a high voice half singing and half-shouting in such a way that the policeman could not follow the meaning. "The Korean people have a big mission. Let's help our country and become the hard-working leaders of our people" he sang. The patriotic sentiment and the risk taken to express it electrified the audience. 8
Sun-myung Moon became a leader among Christian students in Tokyo and favored the government in exile in Shanghai led by Kim Ku. 9 His two closest friends however were Communists. Kim Chang-soon who was in the same lodging and Chang Bong-hee who lodged nearby, both studied economics at Waseda University. Kim was the leader of Korean underground activities in Japan. Chang later had to go into hiding to escape the police. He disguised himself as a beggar and let himself become infested with lice to make the disguise convincing. The three were as close as brothers. They would argue at length and end up embracing one another. In just a few years the ideological differences they represented would cleave their country, but for now Japan was the common enemy.
Although his friends' atheism pained him, Sun-myung saw how Marxism gave them a utopian goal, a purpose a historical role to play, a framework to explain everything and a consequent fervor to improve the world that the Christians seemed to lack. Aum Duk-moon, an architecture student at the Waseda technical, school recalled that Sun-myung stood up for his communist friends "He told me they were good people He did not try to persuade me against Communism and for Christianity. He explained that Koreans should be united and work together." 10
At this point in his life while Sun-myung was still formulating his theology he did not discuss his deepest convictions about life and God with his friends. His unexplained behavior made them wary of him. Sometimes in class he would continue asking questions until the teacher ran out of answers. The teacher's discomfort embarrassed the other students. On one occasion his friends saw him making a speech in the street to passers-by criticizing the times and urging young people to take responsibility. 11
In his room he kept three Bibles one in Korean, one in Japanese and one in English. He studied them continually. On Sundays he went to church. He began to study his own capabilities and train himself to think that he could do anything. Sometimes he would eat one mouthful of his meal and throw the rest away telling himself he had to forget his hunger and love God more than food. 12
One day he called his friends together and announced that he was going to see how many bowls of rice he could eat.
"I reckon you could eat ten bowls " one said.
"O.K., as it's your birthday you eat what you want and I'll pay." joked another. They went to Takadanobaba street where there was a row of restaurants. He managed to eat seven bowls of chicken-and-egg rice. He was so stuffed he could hardly move. Being stuffed with food, he found was more painful than being hungry. 13
He also disciplined himself to avoid sexual temptation. In particular he resisted the submissive allure of Japanese women, who. Korean men say make the best wives in the world. Sometimes he would walk down the street with his eyes down to avoid looking at women. In another conscious effort to fight temptation he made himself unattractive. He wore cheap second-hand clothes and didn't oil his hair as his friends did. 14
This didn't work for one of his landlord's daughters who was infatuated with him. He pretended not to be aware of her feelings, and ignored her as much as he could. On night one of Sun-myung's friends was waiting in his room for him at 2:00 a.m., Sun-myung had still not returned and the friend decided to leave. As he came downstairs, he noticed the girl in a downstairs room. He went into the room and shut the door, and in the pitch dark began touching her under the bed clothes. Thinking it was Sun-myung she didn't resist. The next day she went upstairs to his room to continue what she thought had been the start of their new relationship. When he rejected her she was devastated. In 1945 two years later he returned to Korea, she contracted an illness and died at the age of nineteen. 15
The young Moon didn't fool around or socialize much with other students and he didn't frequent the student coffee-shops or go hiking on weekends with other students. Classes at the technical high school were in the evenings between 6:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. which left him free during the daytime. 16 He was very strict with his time and did only what he felt God wanted him to do. Often he went to the nearby industrial city of Kawasaki to do laboring jobs. His motive was not for the money, which he frequently gave to his friends but to make a conscious effort to love Japan. 17 The work also gave him much broader experience than student life.
"When it snowed or there was a typhoon, I didn't go to classes. I went to a laborers' canteen to work. I felt great at those times. It would howl and blow and my hands would get black with dirt and I held them out in the rain and washed the filth run off them. I worked sweating in such places. Once on the Kawasaki-Yokohama ferry there was a real bad guy. He used to cream a percentage off the workers' wages, but I refused to give him mine. He surrendered when I hit him." 18
He sometimes took jobs such as delivering coal. His style would be to ask the regular workers how long the job would take and then try to do it in three quarters or half the time. He pushed himself in this way to dominate his environment and situation as a laborer rather than be dominated by it. On one occasion, after lugging a trailer of coal to a house the housewife gave him a tip. The simple gesture moved him to tears.
On another occasion, he saved up his money and stayed in the Imperial, one of the plushest hotels in Tokyo at the time. He once visited a prostitute in the Shin ju-ku area of the city and asked her to tell him her life story. 19 He wanted to see how the rich and the poor lived, what made them happy and what made them sin. 20 He chose to remain hungry. "It wasn't because I didn't have any rice," he said. lid "If you are always full you lose that connection to God and the situation of the people."21
By this time Japan was now at war against the United States a the democratic allies Korean students in Japan were planning to protest the forced conscription of' Koreans into the Japanese army. In a effort to provoke an uprising at home. But the police managed to squash the protests in the planing stage and no major demonstrations occurred. Sun-myung was under surveillance by the Japanese police and was called in once a month to report at the police station in Takadanobaba Street. Later, when he planned to return to Korea the police cabled the authorities in Korea to tell them he was coming.
By 1943, students were being drafted for the war effort. His course was shortened by six months and he graduated on September 18, 1943. His friend Aum Duk-moon, who graduated at the same time, stayed in his room on their last night in Japan
"I guess I will have to get married when I get home, but I am a bit worried who my parents will match me with," Aum said. "Can you suggest someone?" As the Christian student leader, Sun-myung had photos of many Korean Christian friends.
"What about her?" he said, holding out a photograph. Aum put the photograph in his pocket. The next day they left for home. 22