The archive, called "Uigwe" in Korean, is from the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1910) and is now preserved at Japan's Imperial House in Tokyo. The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO is reviewing Uigwe and may register it as a World Heritage artifact. Copies of the originals are held in a Seoul library.
Uigwe contains records and pictures of marriages, funerals and other rituals and administrative records of the royal court of the Joseon Dynasty. There is no known archive similar to this elsewhere in the world, historians say.
The South Korean government alone cannot ask for the repatriation of historic artifacts from Japan, according to a 1965 treaty with Japan, said Rev. Hyemun, who led the inter-Korean meeting.
"Because North Korea hasn't yet signed a treaty with Japan in that matter, if North and South join hands we could possibly find an effective way to resolve it," he said.
North Korea also has historic artifacts that it wants to claim from Japan, including a rare Buddhist scripture from the Hwajang Temple in Kaesong, North Korea, that is now preserved in the Tokyo National Museum.
The monks on the South Korean side were from temples nationwide that have been commissioned to preserve the artifacts of the Joseon Dynasty. Their campaign led to the return of a UNESCO World Heritage item, Sillok (truthful records), from the University of Tokyo last year.
Rep. Kim Wong-woong, who leads a parliamentary committee on the repatriation of artifacts, said the two Koreas will deliver a letter to the Japanese court in the near future to resolve the dispute.