Haha and Yoo Jae Suk Make Touching Visit to Village of Displaced Korean Nationals in Japan
September 5’s episode of “Infinity Challenge” is a continuation of the show’s delivery special, in which the members travel all over the world to bring delicious Korean meals to Koreans who are living abroad.
Haha is given the task of visiting Utoro in Japan, a village near Kyoto where approximately 1,300 Koreans were forcibly taken to work as laborers for Japan’s military during World War Two. This was part of a much larger project of the Japanese mobilization of Korean colonial citizens during the war, when millions of Koreans were used as laborers to fuel Japan’s war effort throughout Asia.
Many of the Korean laborers and their descendants remained in this village after the war, as most could not afford to return to Korea. There are currently about 150 Koreans living in Utoro, but only one is part of the first generation of Koreans brought over during the war. She is 91 years old, and her name is Kang Kyung Nam. She arrived in Utoro with her mother when she was eight to find her father and older brother, who had been conscripted there as laborers.
Before Haha heads out to bring food from Korea to Utoro, he calls up Yoo Jae Suk to get him to come along with him on the trip. Yoo Jae Suk has to agree, because Haha previously won the option to bring another member along with him on his mission!
When Haha meets Kang Kyung Nam for the first time in Utoro, he bows to her and politely introduces himself. “I don’t know what he’s saying, he’s ‘Haha’?” asks Kang Kyung Nam. She’s confused because “haha” means “mother” in Japanese.
Haha makes her laugh by showing off how his glasses have no lenses, which seems to break the ice, allowing the two to get more comfortable with each other. Kang Kyung Nam only understands Korean spoken in the dialect of her hometown, and so throughout his trip Haha kindly does his best to use the dialect when he speaks to her.
They talk about her hometown in Korea, and Haha asks her, “After liberation, why didn’t you go back?” She replies, “There would have been no one there I knew.” She also sings a song for Haha from her hometown.
Later on, Haha prepares the food that he’s brought for everyone, and they all eat together at the village’s community center. Yoo Jae Suk arrives after dinner and joins the party, as well as gets the first taste of some rice wine that they’re going to serve.
The next day, Haha and Yoo Jae Suk give Kang Kyung Nam some new clothes from Korea as a gift. She loves them and puts them on right away, and the three dance and sing “Arirang” together.
They then show her a video that Haha made of her hometown, Yonghyunmyun. Haha had filmed all around town for her, including the local school. In the video, he bends down to feel the sand in their playground, saying that she must have played with this sand when she was young. They also show her a photo album full of pictures of Younghyunmyun. “It’s changed,” she comments. “It’s completely different.”
At the end of the photo album, they’ve included a flower that Haha picked in her hometown, and she’s so grateful for all that they’ve shown her that she begins to cry. Haha says, “Since we brought this from your hometown, when you think about your home you should look at this flower.”
The group heads over to Kang Kyung Nam’s house, with her singing as they go, and they take some photos with her and her family and friends from the village.
Later on, they present her with one of the group photos. “It came out well!” she says in delight. They then give her a beautiful framed photo of her hometown, and she thanks them again. She says to them, “I might die today or tomorrow. But now that I’ve seen this, I think I can go happily.”
Haha and Yoo Jae Suk are clearly holding back tears as they prepare to say goodbye to Kang Kyung Nam. “As you live in this world, you should not do anything bad,” she says to them. Haha and Yoo Jae Suk then stand in front of her to say their farewells with a proper bow, and Yoo Jae Suk says to her, “As you said, we will not do anything bad, and we will work hard for our entire lives to make people laugh.”
After they bow to her, Haha goes to her side and takes her hand. “You’re like my grandson,” she says, and he bows his head, crying. She sings to him to comfort him while wiping her own tears. “Lift your head!” she says, and then rests her forehead against him, encouraging him to look up.
Yoo Jae Suk cracks some jokes to cheer Haha up, but it’s not long before he’s crying again. Yoo Jae Suk starts crying too, and says to Kang Kyung Nam, “We came too late. I’m so sorry.”
It’s clear as Yoo Jae Suk and Haha say goodbye to Kang Kyung Nam outside her home that they will never forget their visit to Utoro.
To see all of this heart-breaking and touching story, check out September 5’s episode of “Infinity Challenge.”