[OUTLOOK]Torn Between Japan and National Pride

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[OUTLOOK]Torn Between Japan and National Pride

The Jews, as a conspicuously music-loving people, have produced world-famous performing musicians and conductors for the past century. Among them there are Anton Grigorievich Rubin-stein, Isaac Stern, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim who conducted dramatically "The Ring of the Nibelungen" by Wilhelm Richard Wagner at an annual Israeli festival on July 7.

Mr. Barenboim had struggled to put Wagner's works in the formal festival programs. In the end, he was compelled to give in to the strong opposition. But the moment the official programs were over, he tried a dramatic reversal, asking the audience to allow him to conduct Wagner. He believed in the people's passion and pure love for music itself. Most of the audience responded to his request with a storm of applause. Objections and catcalling were buried beneath the clapping of hands.

Mr. Barenboim, a Jew, might experience an internal feud because while there are many Jews who are anti-Germany and condemn Wagner, who is charged with being an anti-Semite, he as a musician recognizes the beauty of Wagner's music.

It also hints that he believed it was time for the Jews to enjoy genuinely Wagner's music without antagonistic feeling, along with his belief that the great art should not be ignored owing to prejudice and other reasons not related to art.

This event made a meaningful ripple in my mind because I saw it was linked to the internal conflict I had held over Japan and Japanese fine arts.

I admit the beauty and originality of Japanese fine arts both in ancient times and in modern times. I have enjoyed films of great Japanese movie directors and I have liked works of Japan's modern architects.

In particular, I think it is undesirable from an educational point of view to teach my students about Oriental art history without Japanese art history. So I have taught my students to study Japan with a more objective viewpoint.

Nevertheless, the higher in status Japanese culture rises on the global scene, the greater the number of Japanese restaurants in New York City and the heavier the recognition placed on Japanese exhibitions in world-class museums, the more bitter I am.

Looking at artifacts taken from Korea and now housed at the Hideyoshi Toyotomi's Osaka Castle and Himeji Castle and other places around Japan, I found myself feeling heartbroken as I pondered Korea's national humiliation and the exploitation endured during Japan's invasion during the Choson dynasty and the colonial period. I am torn between recognition on Japan's artistic worth and our national pride.

Germany has made many efforts to break off spiritual relations with the Hitler era and to punish war criminals. Over the past 50 years, they also have repeatedly made official apologies over their ancestors' war crimes. As a result, Israel can forgive and accept even Wagner. It's enviable and even respectable. Why has not Japan made such endeavors like Germany? The United States and General Douglas MacArthur forgave Japan's Emperor Hirohito and war criminals right after the end of World War II.

Meanwhile, when Korea concluded a treaty of friendship with Japan in 1965, Korea granted a kind of pardon to Japan at a giveaway price and apparently gave up its position to demand more from Tokyo. These two facts, I think, formed pretexts for Japan to show immoral audacity.

As I contemplate Japan's sovereignty claim over Tok-to islets, their systemic distortion of the history of Korea-Japan relations, Japan's refusal to compensate for the Korean "comfort women," the Korean men forcibly drafted into the Japanese army during the war and Premier Junichiro Koizumi's determination to make a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine, where A-class war criminals are enshrined, the mental conflict over Japanese art intensifies.

Fifty six years have past since Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. The screams of injustice from the spirits of the victims are fading. The generation that lived under Japan's colonial rule is dying away. There are various things that make me feel poles apart from that generation. But concerns and objections sprang to mind when the Kim Dae-jung administration officially declared last year the opening of the Korean market to Japanese pop culture, such as music, cinema, cartoons, animations and video games.

Under a new premier, Japan is rushing in an ultra-conservative direction. The right-wing is embellishing accounts of the wars Japan provoked and looking down on the current Korean government.

Concerning Japan, the Korean government has made the decision to throw "Complete Opening, Complete Forgiveness" away for the time being due to the dragged out battle with Japan over the history textbooks.

I heaved a sigh of relief with mixed feelings when I heard the report without knowing why. I am lost again in the conflicts between my personal recognition of Japanese culture and art and the national emotion of Japan. The conflict, I guess, will remain forever.


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The writer is a professor of art history at Ewha Womans University.

by Kim Hong-nam

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