US envoy to Korea shaves off mustache after debate over facial hair

US ambassador to South Korea bows to pressure and shaves his mustache after anti-American locals criticized him for his ‘colonial’ facial hair

  • Harry Harris, 63, is America’s top diplomat in the South Korean capital of Seoul 
  • Harris, whose mother was Japanese, has faced criticism because of a mustache 
  • Koreans say a mustache is a symbol of Japan’s past colonial rule over peninsula 
  • Harris, a former admiral, has long resisted pressure to shave off his facial hair
  • During 40-year rule over Korea, Japanese governor-generals wore mustaches
  • On Friday, Harris posted clip showing him getting mustache shaved off in Seoul
  • Harris said he did it to keep ‘cool’ during the hot summer while wearing a mask 

The US ambassador to South Korea has shaved off his mustache to stay ‘cool’ during the hot summer, months after his facial hair drew unusual criticism from anti-American activists who likened it to those of former Japanese colonial leaders.

The US embassy on Saturday posted a video on Twitter of Harry Harris visiting a classic local barbershop in Seoul to remove his mustache, which he said together with a face mask makes him feel too hot and uncomfortable.

‘I haven’t seen this face in years,’ Harris told the barber after the shave. ‘I feel so much cooler now.’

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Harris (pictured on the left on Monday and on the right in January) was born to a Japanese mother and an American father. He long resisted shaving his mustache, saying he was being criticized for his Japanese heritage

In the video, Harris is seen going to a barber shop in Seoul to have his mustache shaved off

‘Glad I did this. For me it was either keep the ‘stache or lose the mask. Summer in Seoul is way too hot & humid for both. #COVID guidelines matter & I’m a masked man!’ he said in a separate tweet.

Early this year, his mustache became a source of criticism from some politicians and anti-US activists who compared it with those of Japanese officials during their 1910-45 colonial rule. 

Some even linked it to his Japanese-American heritage, as Harris was born to a Japanese mother and an American father.

Last year, Harris, 63, said that he has been criticized due to his ethnic background.

According to the Guardian, he said: ‘My mustache, for some reason, has become a point of some fascination here.

‘I have been criticized in the media here, especially in social media, because of my ethnic background, because I am a Japanese-American.’

Harry Harris, the American ambassador to South Korea, posted a video to the official Twitter account of the embassy in Seoul 

The American ambassador removed the facial hair, which was a sensitive issue for anti-American Koreans who said it reminded them of Japan’s occupation of the peninsula between 1910 and 1945

During his 40-year military career Harris was clean-shaven. His facial hair and Japanese heritage angered some South Koreans after he assumed his role as ambassador in 2018

During the nearly 40 years Korea was ruled by Japan, all eight Japanese governor-generals wore mustaches.

Harris has faced more intense criticism over the issue due to his American-Japanese heritage, leading to accusations he favors Japan over Korea.

Because of this historical facial hair link, Harris has often has been ridiculed for not being an ambassador but a governor general, according to local media.

Harris was born in Yokosuka, south-west of Tokyo, to a US Navy officer and a Japanese mother.

The Korean peninsula became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and part of the Japanese empire from 1910 until the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Before becoming ambassador, Harris was clean-shaven when he served as an admiral in the US Navy, but decided to grow a mustache to mark his career change after 40 years of military service.

Harris told Korea Times: ‘I wanted to make a break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat.

‘I tried to get taller but I couldn’t grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a mustache so I did that.’

He went on to point out that many Korean independence leaders also had mustaches.

‘There are many Korean independence leaders that have mustaches, but no-one seems to focus on that,’ Harris said.

‘All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I’m the American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea.’

In December activists joined a performance ridiculing Harris’s mustache in central Seoul by vandalizing a portrait of the ambassador.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, all of the governors-general wore mustaches. Yoshimichi Hasegawa was a field marshal in the Imperial Japanese Army and Japanese Governor-General of Korea from 1916 to 1919 

Protesters angry over American demands South Korea pay more for defense destroyed portraits of him stuck on blocks of tofu outside the US embassy.

The groups had planned to behead an effigy of Harris but instead smashed up the blocks of traditional Korean food after a police warning.

The controversy came as the allies have been at odds over a raft of issues in recent years, including South Korea’s desire to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Relations between North and South Korea have been dogged by stalled nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as by international sanctions imposed over the North’s weapons programs.

Harris, who took office in July 2018, has been accused of having a ‘disrespectful and even coercive’ approach to the country by anti-American protesters. 

Harris has urged Seoul to seek US consultations before pursuing any initiatives with the North to avoid any ‘misunderstandings’ that could trigger sanctions.

The envoy has said privately he does not plan to stay on beyond the November US presidential election, regardless of whether President Donald Trump wins another term.

Despite being US allies, Koreans remain bitter over Japan’s brutal colonial rule over peninsula and its enslavement of ‘comfort women’

Japanese military officers are seen in Korea in this undated file photo. Japan ruled over the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945

Japan, which colonized the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, has left a deep legacy of mistrust and ill-feeling in both South and North Korea.

Korea under Japanese rule began with the end of the short-lived Korean Empire in 1910 and ended at the conclusion of World War II in 1945.

At that time Japan’s armies occupied a vast swathe of territory from Korea to New Guinea, and the troops needed company on garrison duty. 

Koreans were dragooned for forced labor and to be cannon fodder in Hirohito’s armies, while Korean women were turned into sex slaves. 

Most historians agree that as many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during WWII.

The plight of the women is a hugely emotional issue which continues to strain relations between South Korea and Japan today.

For many South Koreans, the issue symbolizes the abuses of Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

Korean women were forced by the Japanese to pack up and become sex slaves

The term ‘comfort woman’ comes from the Japanese euphemism ‘jugun ianfu’ which refers to women, of various ethnic and social circumstances, who became sex slaves for the Japanese troops before and during WWII.

Military brothels existed across the Asia Pacific region in areas occupied by the Japanese forces, including China, the Korean Peninsula and a large part of South-east Asia.

The women were forced to have sex with up to 50 Japanese soldiers a day as they were raped and sexually assaulted.

Though around 80 per cent were Korean, women from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma and the Pacific islands were also used as comfort women, according to a San Francisco State University report.

The authorities believed the comfort system would enhance the morale of the military and help prevent soldiers from committing sexual violence toward women of occupied territories, which became a real concern after the infamous Nanjing Massacre in China in 1937.

They were also concerned with the health of the troops, which prompted close supervision of the hygienic conditions in the comfort stations to help keep STDs under control.

Meanwhile many of the women who worked in ‘comfort stations’ during WWII were given repeated injections of the syphilis treatment compound 606, which left many of them unable to have children.

Up to 200,000 women were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during WWII

After the war, many of the women were brutally slaughtered and their story was untold until 1991.

The only military tribunal concerning the sexual abuse of comfort women took place in Batavia – now Indonesian capital Jakarta – in 1948.

Several Japanese military officers were convicted for having forced 35 Dutch women involved in the case into comfort stations.

The issue only began to emerge in Korea only in the late 1980s.

The Japanese government admitted deception, coercion and official involvement in the recruitment of comfort women in August 1993, but critics said they needed to go much further. 

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