Photo/IllutrationThe opening part of the declaration of Korean independence in a copy found in Nagasaki Prefecture. Three characters at right in a larger front mean a written declaration and two Hangul characters meaning Korea in the first column are misplaced. (Yoichi Jomaru)

A rare document calling for Korean independence has turned up in Japan on the centenary of the movement to free the Korean Peninsula from the grip of Japanese colonial rule.

Although thousands of copies were printed at the time, the one found at a private residence in Nagasaki Prefecture is only the ninth known to exist in either South Korea or Japan, according to scholars.

The March 1 Movement that arose on that date in 1919 marked one of the first significant resistance campaigns to Japanese colonial rule that began in 1910 and ended with Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945.

It started when a student read the declaration of independence in front of a large crowd that had assembled in a park in central Seoul.

Demonstrators then marched through city streets, handing out copies of the declaration to Korean citizens.

Written in a mix of kanji and Hangul, it asserted that Korea’s independence was necessary for peace of Asia and the world. It also pledged to the effect that Koreans would fight for independence without resorting to violence.

The statement was signed by 33 leaders of Cheondogyo, a Korean religion with roots in Confucianism, Christianity and Buddhism, as representatives of the Korean people.

An estimated 21,000 copies were printed in Seoul beforehand and distributed across the peninsula for people living in the countryside.

One copy apparently ended up in the hands of Yoshihei Sato, who lived in Pyongyang and dealt in ceramics at the time.

The copy was discovered among Yoshihei’s personal possessions after he died in what is now Kita-Kyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1954, according to his grandson Masao Sato, a former teacher who lives in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Sato, 67, first learned of the existence of the document when he read his father Toshio’s memoir, “Takoku no Furusato” (My hometown in another country), published in 1984.

He located the historical document when he began looking through his grandfather’s mementos.

It is not clear how Yoshihei obtained the document, but Sato recalled being told that the family’s house in Pyongyang was located near a school ground where a rally for independence was held along the route for a march undertaken by demonstrators.

Sato’s copy shows that two characters meaning Korea were misplaced, with the second character coming before the first one. There also was a blank space after March in the part indicating the date.

Yoon So-young, director of the Department of Academic Research at the Independence Hall of Korea’s Institute of Korean Independence Movement Studies in South Korea, said she believes that Sato’s document is authentic.

“The misprint of Korea and the characteristics of the Hangul fonts used are the same as those of the original document preserved at the Independence Hall of Korea,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Sato said his grandfather enjoyed a good relationship with his Korean neighbors.

“I heard that my grandfather spoke and read the Korean language and did not discriminate against Koreans,” he said.

Most copies of the declaration were either confiscated or destroyed as those in possession of them were subject to Japanese military police surveillance.

The eight copies remaining in South Korea are kept by museums and individuals, according to the Independence Hall of Korea.

Under Japanese colonial rule, Koreans were deprived of the right to free speech and assembly.

Japanese colonial authorities responded to the movement with force. By the end of May 1919, 7,500 Koreans had been killed, according to Korean records.