Tokto controversy should be kept off the playing fieldThere are many syndromes. There is the Stockholm syndrome; there is the Hate-to-work-on-Monday syndrome. And then there is the Tokto syndrome.
On Feb. 21, the Korean Olympic team is scheduled to kick off against the Japanese Olympic team in an exhibition soccer game in Japan. Choi Seong-guk ― who celebrated his goal at the Qatar Toyota Championship (how ironic) the previous month by parading around in a T-shirt on which he had written, “Tokto is ours!” ― plans to do the same thing there. Nevertheless, this time, Choi has vowed to have a T-shirt prepared that written in Japanese.
I could say many things about Tokto: how Koreans have lived on that islet since 1953, how the island is so small that if you form a human chain it would only take a split second to get a message from one end to the other. Well, not quite, but you get the idea.
Yet islets of such tiny dimensions have captured so much of our energy and attention for such a long time. I still remember growing up singing the song, “Tokto is ours!,” which was easy to memorize since all the verses rhymed perfectly.
But what I also know is that Korea and Japan are at very important crossroads regarding their relationship.
Why? I had an interesting conversation with one of my Japanese friends, Hidehiko Uno, whom I know from my college days. He told me that he didn’t know about the stunt that Choi performed last month. None of his Japanese friends knew about it either. So maybe the Japanese media didn’t pick up on it or simply didn’t care.
He also told me that since the World Cup he has become more aware of the neighbor across the sea.
How so? Was it because the Korean national team placed fourth? No. He told me that TV dramas and Korean singers such as BoA had grabbed his attention. It’s not that he follows Korean pop culture, but he noticed that other people did.
Think about this for a moment. Nowadays, we have actual Japanese people coming over to see their favorite Korean actors. When was the last time you saw that happening? Can you imagine what would happen when Choi does his planned number in Japan? We could keep selling our Samsung TVs, but the seeds of interests in our culture would just meet another winter.
My whole life I have been told that Tokto belongs to us. I am sure some Japanese will have the same strong feelings about it, but probably not to the same extent.
Let the politicians sort out this matter. Having exercised sovereignty over the area for such a long time, I can hardly see how it would change the physical ownership.
No doubt it is an important matter. But we should realize that we have something really great in our hands that is also very important and constructive for the future of both countries. For the first time, there is genuine interest not only in our products but our culture, and that’s a very big step in our relationship.
On the surface, Choi wandering around in his T-shirt might give us the “in-your-face” satisfaction. Beneath the surface, it’s childish and tasteless.
There are places political statements can be made, but the playing field isn’t one of them. And that counts for everywhere.
When I watch a game I am only interested in one thing: Skills.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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