[TODAY]Realistic Expectations On Textbooks

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[TODAY]Realistic Expectations On Textbooks

In Korea's eyes, Japan has two contradictory faces. Last week, Newsweek Korea published a cover story on a Korea envy syndrome spreading in Japanese society. Let's look at excerpts from its April 11 issue.

"Nothing in Suguru Okuhara's life prepared him to like Korea. His grandfather called Koreans racist names and sang song with lyrics like 'Koreans sound like pigs.' After a family holiday to Korea, however, Okuhara designed a Web site dedicated to what he called 'Korea envy syndrome.' The site posts essays and travelogues that celebrate Korea's attributes, while poking fun at Japanese stereotypes of the country. It also offers Korean perspectives on Japan's brutal colonization. He occasionally reviews Korean music and movies and says he wants to "Koreanize" Japan.

"Korean pop music has caught on with Japanese audiences looking for fresh faces and a more dynamic sound. Shegetomo Yamamoto, a 30-year-old graphic designer, travels to Korea once a month to load up on new CDs, which he plays while moonlighting as a DJ at an Osaka club. Korean pop concerts in Japan now draw thousands of young office ladies and students."

According to Newsweek, the hottest topic by far is how to cultivate "perfect" Korean skin. But the fascination with all things Korean runs more than skin deep. Japan's newest idol is a Korean student named Lee Su-hyon, who was killed by an incoming commuter train in Tokyo when he attempted to save a drunken man who had fallen onto the track. The country's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, thanked Lee for "showing us that people can be noble."

But countering such a rediscovery of Korea is Japan's other face, the ultra-rightists.

One afternoon at the end of February when drizzle was falling, I made my first visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo honoring Japanese war dead. I wanted to see the spiritual home of Japanese ultra-rightists who refuse to repent for their past. When I reached the stairs in front of the shrine, a middle-aged Japanese man in boots and a windbreaker walked towards me. He was watching me, probably having perceived from my appearance that I was a Korean. While he was not particularly intimidating, he wanted to make sure that I paid my respects to the dead Japanese soldiers.

Such Japanese are not employees of the Yasukuni Shrine, but monitor visitors to subtly pressure them into showing respect for Japanese war dead. When these people gather together, the result is a nationalistic group like the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which wrote a history textbook glorifying Japan's past. Such people idolize Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and other politicians who constantly speak out of turn of the nation's past.

Korea is in a dilemma over its relations with Japan, which have deteriorated to the point that it recalled its top envoy in Tokyo. But it is evident that the Japanese government is powerless to make any further revisions to the approved history textbooks. Recalling our ambassador in Tokyo and sending a protest delegation will have no practical effect due to the circumstances in Japan. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is about to step down, and the Foreign Ministry is embroiled in an embezzlement scandal; it is not in a position to give any input to the Ministry of Education.

It is true that we have to avert a crisis in bilateral relations. But there are no clear answers to the question, "How?" Cooperating with China on joint actions, suspending the introduction of Japanese popular culture into Korea, opposing Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and using a different name for the Japanese emperor ?none will produce the desired effect.

If we focus on clashing with conservative Japanese like the man I saw at the Yasukuni Shrine, we take the risk of alienating pro-Korean Japanese. We also risk losing the $7 billion of private investments President Kim Dae-jung secured from Japan last year.

Any response we take has to start out from the clear perception of reality that additional revisions to the approved history textbooks are impossible even if we succeed in making the Japanese government see the light.

From now on, the publishers of the eight newly approved history textbooks will compete fiercely to have their textbooks adopted for use at schools. We have to concentrate on preventing the textbook published by Fusosha, which contains particularly poisonous descriptions of Korea, from getting into the hands of Japanese middle school students.

If we persist in emotional responses, they may backfire and help the Fusosha publishing firm instead, by fueling nationalistic sentiments in Japan. The Korean government has to explain the reality to our people and encourage them to restrain their emotions. The Japanese government also has to wield as much influence as possible in the process of adopting the history textbooks so that it can repay the debt it owes to Korea for approving the textbooks with distorted descriptions of history.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-hie

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