Korea celebrates Independence Day on Aug. 15, known as "Gwangbokjeol," which literally translates into "bringing back the light" in Korean. The combination of three letters, "Gwang," "Bok" and "Jeol" means "light," "return" and "festival day," referring to the restoration of national independence that was lost for 36 years under Japanese rule.
With regard to the history of Japanese imperialism, Korea was under Japanese imperial rule from 1910 to 1945. In an effort to make Korea its protectorate, the Japanese forced Korea to sign the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910, triggering Japanese annexation of Korea. This treaty gradually restricted Korea form developing its own political, military and cultural status, making it impossible for Korea to build a national identity. Then within a few days, the term annexation turned into forced colonization.
During Japanese imperial rule, numerous independence movements took place. The March 1st Movement is an example as it was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance. Thirty-three activists convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul and read the Korean Declaration of Independence in spite of Japanese suppression of demonstrations. Moreover, in 1919, Korean activists avoided Japanese surveillance and gathered and established the provisional government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai. Korean patriots strived for liberty for decades.
Behind the scenes of movements and demonstrations by fighters for independence, there were many atrocities committed by the Japanese. The Seodaemun Prison History Hall displays historical records of how Koreans were tortured under the justification that Korea was a colony of Japan. The Japanese regarded every activist as challenging their authority in Korea, and thus locked the activists up in prison and tortured them into submission. One of the most inhumane crimes the Japanese committed involved Korean women who were turned into sex slaves regardless of their age. The Japanese military began to force women from their colonies to become sex slaves in 1932, a practice that continued into World War II.
Meanwhile, it was not until the end of World War II that Korea gained its independence after 36 years of oppression under the Japanese. In the final stage of World War II, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This incident succeeded in getting the Japanese to surrender and sign the Potsdam Declaration. The Potsdam Declaration included provisions of the Cairo Declaration adopted in 1943, guaranteeing the freedom of Korea from colonization. The Korean Peninsula was finally liberated on Aug. 15, 1945. Three years later on the same day, an independent Korean government was established.
While legislating the Act of National Holidays in 1949, Aug. 15 became a national holiday to commemorate Korea's liberation from Japanese colonization. During this particular day, there are numerous commemorative events held across the peninsula. A celebration ceremony takes place at Independence Hall, located in Cheonan, Korea, and is usually attended by the Korean President. Moreover, Korean citizens are strongly encouraged to display the Korean national flag, "Taegeukgi," in front of their house or streets.