[VIEWPOINT]A wandering cultural figure

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[VIEWPOINT]A wandering cultural figure

There is an organization under the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the Japan Foundation. I’d heard about this organization a long time ago, but never paid much attention to it, thinking people like me wouldn’t ever have anything to do with it. Well, an invitation came from the Japan Foundation a few days ago. All I could get from the people around me was that it was an independent administrative organ belonging to the Japanese government and that it had loads of money.
The invitation came from both the headquarters in Japan and the Seoul branch office. The invitation from Japan included several documents. People like me are intimidated by thick packets of documents, especially when the documents are in English. Nevertheless, reading through the papers, I understood that I was invited to stay anywhere in Japan up to 15 days any time within this year. I would be taken anywhere I wanted to go and meet whomever I wanted to meet.
The foundation would also provide a round-trip flight and accommodation fees. In other words, I was getting state guest treatment.
I was very grateful and accepted the invitation. First, I met with the people from the foundation. I told them that I was thankful that they invited me but that I was financially able to pay my own visit to Japan. Wouldn’t they rather offer the opportunity to someone who is not well-off enough to afford a trip to Japan on their own? I must say I thought my idea was rather a good one, but I was flat-out refused.
The foundation, as the invitation explained, invited “first-class cultural figures of the world” every year to visit Japan. Hah! I was chosen as one of the first-class cultural figures of the world! This was a first for me in my 30 years as a singer. I’d heard about how the Korean actor Bae Yong-joon has risen to stardom in Japan. Maybe I was going to be the second Bae Yong-joon. As the foundation was kind enough to offer to take me anywhere I’d like to go in Japan and meet whomever I wanted, I asked them a special favor. “I’ve been a widower for 10 years now. Could you introduce me to an attractive Japanese woman?” Humor is always a bridge to connect different cultures.
So, why was I invited so unexpectedly to Japan? It’s simple. Although I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting, I was chosen for a column that I wrote for the JoongAng Ilbo.
I was staying in Tokyo at the time of the World Cup finals in 2002. And I witnessed a sight on television that astonished me. At the time, Japan had already been eliminated from the games but surprisingly, Japanese youths were still avidly following the games, rooting for Korea.
I wondered whether the opposite could have been true. Had Korea been eliminated and had Japan advanced onto the semi-final round, would I have rooted for Japan so enthusiastically? Would I have clapped and chanted “Japan! Japan!”? I had thought it quite unlikely at the time. I’d thought I would have been disgruntled and overtaken with the characteristic envy and ill humor Koreans feel towards the Japanese. That is why as soon as I returned to Seoul, I wrote a column in the JoongAng Ilbo about the impression I got in Tokyo. Speaking plainly, my column was in praise of Japan. We are still very careful and unwilling to give our hearts to the Japanese. I knew that at the time, but I wrote that I was willing to be a pro-Japanese Korean. It takes all kinds to make the world go round so I hoped my “eccentricity” would be forgiven.
I had no idea that my column had been read in Japan but now I know that a few paragraphs of good writing can literally get you places. I have accepted the Japan Foundation’s invitation with relish and I am off to Japan in September.

* The writer is a popular singer. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jo Young-nam
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