Exhibit tackles thorny Japanese textbook issue

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Exhibit tackles thorny Japanese textbook issue

Koreans have no problem with Lexus, Playstations or anime, all Japanese products. In fact, Korea imports more from Japan ― $46 billion last year ― than from any other trading partner. Some 43 percent of visitors to Korea are Japanese, while 19 percent of Koreans traveling abroad head to Japan, second only to China. The success of the Korean hit drama “Winter Sonata” seems to have brought the two nations closer; yet losing a soccer game to Japan is totally unacceptable.
Nearly 60 years have elapsed since the end of the Japanese occupation, but tensions are rising this year over alleged distortions in Japanese history textbooks, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead, including war criminals, and the Dokdo islets, called Takeshima by the Japanese.
Has everyone forgotten that 2005 is the Korea-Japan Friendship Year? Even President Roh Moo-hyun told visiting Japanese politicians in May, “If Japan does not watch herself, I can only tell the Korean people to watch her.”
In light of this, the “Lies and Distortion” exhibition at Seoul’s Museum of History, organized by the Independence Hall of Korea, a corporation under the supervision of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, is a good opportunity to witness the heart of the Japanese textbook issue in Korea. It offers a chronological display of reputed historical inaccuracies in over 100 Japanese textbooks dating from the country’s first modern history textbook in 1870.
The display layouts comprise the original Japanese textbook, a translated version and documents for counter arguments. “The continuing emergence of distorted textbooks shows Japanese rightists’ plans to remilitarize. By presenting historical facts, this exhibition aims to lead Japan to the correct path by forming an international consensus,” explains Jung Jae-yoon, who is in charge of the exhibition. Unfortunately, there are no foreign language translations available.
The recent looting of Japanese stores in China was not seen in Korea, but the Korean equivalent reaction seems to be taking place in other arenas. Not only is the Dokdo theme widely used for corporate promotion, but the government has also taken an active role in bringing the issue to the fore. For instance, the catch phrase “Dokdo is Our Land,” from a recent television commercial by a cell phone maker can be seen in pop-up quizzes on the homepages of key ministries.
What worries many Koreans, amid the complexity of these issues, is the heightened emotional response by the public, especially the younger generation. Lee Seul-gee from Paekahm High School, who came to the exhibit for a history class assignment, commented, “We need to write our impressions after seeing the exhibition. Well, I don’t feel good. If I could, I would tear some of this nonsense down.”
Ryu Jin-young, from Mapo district in western Seoul, who visited with his two elementary school-aged sons, says, “I was impressed with the detailed explanations and the rare historical documents, but I couldn’t understand the collage ‘A nation that distorts history will fall’ featuring the Japanese Emperor signing a document in front of General McArthur, and Japanese people bowing in the background. What does that have to do with this?”
According to the exhibition staff, over 1,000 people have signed a petition protesting against the distorted textbooks.
Most acknowledge that distortion of the truth is wrong. A logical and rational approach is needed to fully appreciate what the exhibition seeks to deliver.
Saburo Kawamura, a Japanese student studying for his doctorate in Korean language and literature at Korea University, remarked, “I am saddened by Japanese politicians’ reckless remarks, but at the same time, I don’t think that people arguing Tsushima is a Korean island just because they think Japan is making unreasonable demands is helping much in solving the issue.”
Informing the public is necessary, but the vibrant red and black colors dominating the exhibition, not to mention the giant photo of an exploding atomic bomb, are perhaps not the best way to mend friendships and nurture understanding. It is time for Koreans to say no, not only to willful distortions, but also to propaganda generated from within.

by Kim Tae-won

“Lies and Distortion” runs until June 19. Admission is free. The museum is open daily except Mondays. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. For information, call 02-724-0114 or visit www.museum.seoul.kr. The museum is located near Gwanghwamun station on line No. 5, exit 7.
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