[Viewpoint]Let’s cool down relations with JapanHitoshi Tanaka has retired from diplomatic service after finishing his career as assistant vice minister of foreign affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, a job he took in 2005. He was a competent diplomat who played a vital behind-the-scenes role in materializing former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to North Korea and his summit meeting with Kim Jong-il. I found Mr. Tanaka’s column, in the Feb. 5 issue of the Asahi Shimbun, titled “East Asia, Japan and Explanations of their Responsibilities,” with his recent photo. In the beginning of the article, Mr. Tanaka described part of a lecture he gave in Singapore. It was a series of witty remarks to “friends” of Asian countries.
“Friends in Japan, let’s see things with a broader perspective; friends in Korea, let’s think more cool-headedly; Chinese friends, let’s think with more freedom; friends in Asean countries, let’s have more confidence in ourselves; friends in Australia, let’s behave more in an Asian manner; friends in India, please talk less; and, our American friends, please be more gentle.” From the remarks he made, we can see his long experience as a career diplomat and his age. To me, his advice to Korea and Japan sounded the most appealing.
The Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives opened a hearing on the issue of comfort women as it considers adopting a resolution. Japan has been extremely reluctant to see the hearing opened. The country is still far from seeing things with a broader perspective.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the dispatch of a Korean envoy to Japan, following the end of the Japanese invasion in the 17th century.
A variety of commemorative events, including the dispatch of the 21st century Korean envoy to Japan, will begin starting April 1 of this year. Some Japanese call the historical visit of the Korean envoys in the 17th century “the second Korean cultural wave” to reach Japan.
According to them, the first Korean cultural wave was the arrival of people from the Baekche Kingdom (BC 18 - 660 AD) of ancient Korea, including a Buddhist priest who brought Buddhism to Japan for the first time. The third wave is Korean pop culture, which created a craze for Korean cinema, music and other performing arts among Japanese audiences recently.
Korean people who arrived at the Japanese archipelago 2,000 years ago created the Yayoi culture, Japan’s first rice farming and metal using culture, and they say that genetically, the Japanese are closer to Koreans than the Chinese. In that sense, I wonder whether the arrival of the first Korean wave to Japan should be traced further upstream in Japanese history. Those commemorative events may be intended to find a common denominator in the history of reconciliation and friendship shared by the two countries’ ancestors.
I think, however, the task of confirming the differences between the two countries is no less important than identifying the common points.
Koreans lose their cool-headedness and think that they should win over the Japanese whenever there is a sports contest between the two countries. It is because, for Koreans, Japan is not an “ordinary foreign country.” Koreans think of Japan as a country that inflicted damage on them.
In the era when Korean special envoys were sent to Japan, there was a very talented Japanese diplomat named Hoshu Amenomori. He was the man whose name was mentioned by former President Roh Tae-woo as a symbol of Korea-Japan friendship in a speech he delivered at the Japanese Diet in 1990. In his memoir, “Reflections on Exchanges with Neighboring Countries,” Mr. Amenomori emphasized that Korea and Japan should promote exchanges keeping in mind the differences between the two people. For example, a Japanese asked a Korean interpreter, “What does the king of the Joseon dynasty plant in his majesty’s garden?” When the Korean interpreter answered that “His majesty plants barley,” the Japanese laughed, saying, “What a poor country!” But Mr. Amenomori understood the Korean interpreter’s intention correctly and explained to Japanese that “Since the virtuous king doesn’t forget the importance of farming, the Korean interpreter might have thought the Japanese would sympathize with his words.”
Some time ago, I read a Japanese paperback, “The Japanese and the Koreans, Oh! That’s it!” published by PHP Pocketbook Publishing Company of Japan. The pocketbook gives detailed explanations on the differences in the way of thinking and the customs and practices of the two countries’ people.
For example, the Japanese dance by moving their waists, while the Koreans dance by moving their shoulders. The Japanese keep their distance with strangers, while the Koreans open their minds to strangers instantly, etc.
It is necessary for Koreans to keep cool. If the Koreans can only do so, they will understand Japan better and that will, in turn, benefit Korea.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun