Another perspective on Take― uh, ToktoThis sure has been a scary week to open the newspaper, with the Tokto thing flaring up. Tuesday’s JoongAng Daily, with the grandma-cuts-finger-off front page, was particularly chilling. Talk about a digital revolution.
The problem I’ve noticed in local coverage of the dispute is that we rarely get the Japanese perspective ―only reports that the ultra-rightists are rising up, and commentary that Japan is incorrigibly fascist. So it seemed important that a brave, unbiased reporter (Hi!) go in search of a different Japan ― a Japan without the rancor, you might say ― to find out what normal Japanese people think.
Local punditry notwithstanding, Japan is not a totalitarian country. So I was sure that if I found a Japanese tourist in Itaewon, he wouldn’t be a de facto government agent, and could speak honestly about the Tokto kerfuffle.
I found one Wednesday night in Frog, the bar across from the Cheil building. A sharp guy in his early 20s, he was sipping Malibu oranges at the bar and enjoying small talk (in English) with the older Korean man beside him.
In due course I joined in, bringing up baseball. I mentioned the Japanese stars Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki, and my favorite, Hideo Nomo. Then I asked him about Tokto.
Explaining that he had arrived in Korea that day for a three-day visit, he said he’d seen cable-TV reports in his hotel room about the conflict. Mentioning the rightists in Japan and the flag burners here, he shook his head: “I don’t agree with that ― that’s not the way.”
Though no fan of his country’s nationalists, he still claims that Tokto/Takeshima is Japan’s. In his opinion, Korean fishermen are to blame for the spat. “They overfish around the islands,” he said. “That upsets our fishermen, and the right-wingers take it from there.”
Asked if most Japanese felt the same, he said yes. “We think Takeshima is ours, but we don’t have as much passion about it as Koreans.” He pointed out that Japan has similar disputes with China, Taiwan and Russia.
Inured to those feuds, he had no ideas for solving this one. Pressed, he shrugged: “I guess our prime minister and Korea’s president should study the history, then talk about it.”
Asked if he felt uneasy being in Korea now (and shown the depinkied-grandma pic), he said no, that Koreans had in fact been quite friendly to him.
By the way, he initially said he didn’t want his name used. I envisioned calling him “Mr. Anonymous,” lame as that sounds. But then I pointed out that a newspaper article with his name in it would make a fine souvenir, and he changed his mind.
So thank you for the interview, Yusuke Haraguchi, 23, from Nagasaki and studying in Fukuoka, majoring in international relations. Enjoy your stay in this great country, and take the news this week with a grain of salt.
by Mike Ferrin