[Viewpoint]Letter to Japan

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[Viewpoint]Letter to Japan

To the leaders of Japan: It is a sweltering, muggy summer. The global economy is fluctuating, leadership is faltering and countries around the world are suffering. It does not matter whether they are in the East or the West, wealthy or poor. Your country and Korea are no exception.

In this troubling time, a new problem has been thrown at us: the Dokdo islets issue.

You probably know what happened, so I will not repeat it here. I believe you understand that the Dokdo islets are Korea’s territory historically and geographically, based on numerous documents.

In February 1905, the Japanese cabinet decided to absorb Dokdo, which you call Takeshima, as a part of Shimane Prefecture. There is historical evidence that this decision was made in the course of Japan’s annexation of Korea, depriving the country of its territorial rights in February 1904 and diplomatic rights in November 1905.

While I was staying in Japan a few years ago, I once visited Izumo Taisha of Shimane on my way to China. It is known as the largest and best Shinto shrine in Japan, where it is said that all the Shinto gods from all over Japan gather every October. The shrine is impressive in its monumental scale, its grand moss-covered roof and deep shadows from Japanese cedar and pine trees around it. I plan to visit the area again with my wife this summer.

You Japanese are proud of your documentation culture, and “Izumo Fudoki,” written in the eighth century, is one such record. The legend about Izumo’s foundation includes the following story: A god planned to expand Izumo, which was small when he created it. As he saw available land at the cape of Silla, he cut off a piece of that land as though thrusting a wide shovel into the gills of a large fish, and then caught it with a fishnet that he twisted into three strands. Of course, the episode speaks about a deep connection to the Silla people, but I cannot stop thinking about its frightful imagery as I recall the Dokdo issue.

The “Nihon-shoki,” the Chronicles of Japan, includes the 17-article Constitution that Prince Shotoku created in 604 A.D. Article 1 said, “Harmony should be valued and quarrels should be avoided.”

As we can see in many Japanese words such as yamato, washitsu and washoku, harmony is Japan’s ideal. Harmony was the guiding principle for internal unity and solidarity from 1,400 years ago through the end of World War II. Japan had hoped that this harmony would resonate around the world, just like the symbol of Japan’s peace constitution in the post-war era.

However, Japan behaved strangely toward its East Asian neighbors, and now it has touched the Dokdo issue again. Do you think Korea-Japan relations and the peace of Northeast Asia can be ignored for the sake of harmony in Japan, particularly among Japanese politicians?

Many of your country’s leaders say the territorial issue has nothing to do with history. However, as I have explained already, there are no territorial disputes, including Dokdo, the Kuril and Senkaku Islands, which are not connected to the past.

Some of you say that you have offered more than enough apologies and compensation for past deeds. Some of you have asked what you should do now.

As you have said, you have made apologies and paid compensation. We are not saying that you should build a grand monument at the center of Tokyo to comfort the souls of Japan’s victims, like Berlin did.

All we want is for you to leave us alone.

Whether it is about your territorial claim over Dokdo, visits to the Yasukuni shrine or disrespect to wartime comfort women and the Nanjing massacre, we just want you to refrain from aggravating our wounds. It this really too much to ask?

And you must remember that when Kakuei Tanaka visited China as the first post-war Japanese leader to do so and met with Zhou Enlai, Tanaka told Zhou that “Japan wronged China during the war. I apologize.” Zhou replied sternly, “Such an apology is only appropriate when a lady has accidentally spilled tea on a guest.”

History’s favors and grudges do not disappear. We only put them aside for the sake of our future.

As I see you insist on publishing the Dokdo issue in your teaching handbook, I feel I am seeing a stubborn old man ordering his grandson to recover what he plundered, no matter what.

Instead of teaching youngsters about truth and harmony, why are you telling them to go after property that does not belong to you and that you should have no interested in?

Early next week, I will still go on a backpacking trip to Dottori and Shimane. This is not because I had already reserved boat passage and I did not want the hassle of making new travel plans.

I am still going because I value the relationship between Korean and Japanese people and because I have faith that the relationship will further develop thanks to the efforts of you, their leaders.


*The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Tae-wook
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