[Viewpoint] Learning to heal relations

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[Viewpoint] Learning to heal relations

I recently visited the Kansai region of Japan for three days and two nights. The trip was made at the invitation of a local youth organization.

Before they extended an invitation to me, the representatives of the organization visited me in Korea a few times. Every time they came, I told them about my thoughts on the differences between Korea and Japan in terms of thinking and attitude.

At first, they refuted my opinion when they came to see me. However, as time progressed, it seemed that they started to think they would learn more if they listened to me.

This youth organization has produced many politicians, including a prime minister.

There is only one reason why they visit a person like me, a person who was naturalized in Korea. They want to know how Japan can maintain good relations with Korea by learning about the problems related to the history of Korea and Japan and the Dokdo issue.

I was quite surprised to hear, at first, that a group of Japanese people, who were not even scholars, came to see me to learn about the problems between Korea and Japan.

Nevertheless, I was quite happy, because I could confirm that there were, to my surprise, quite a lot of Japanese youths who wanted to learn the truth about history.

Through the contacts we have made so far, some have even started to claim that the “Dokdo Islets are completely Korean territory,” and some others have presented an opinion that it would be fine for their country if Japan could get some other benefits in return for recognizing Korea’s territorial right over the islets.

Although it is only the beginning, I am hopeful that they can develop their learning further.

They have decided to come to Korea to study matters related to Korea-Japan relations firsthand, and have started to visit Korea in small groups for preparatory field studies.

The first group arrived in Seoul a few days ago and had a meeting with people on my side. They asked me to arrange an opportunity to hear what Korean students have to say about various issues, so I urgently asked a student to participate in a meeting with them.

The meeting proceeded in a Q&A format, with the Korean student answering the questions of his Japanese counterparts.

The student spoke frankly about Japan. He told them that when Japan provoked problems related to the Dokdo Islets or comfort women, they brought back all kinds of bad memories about Japanese imperialism, compelling them to speak out against Japan.

By mixing some of his own experiences in the explanations, he made them sound more authentic.

The conclusion we reached that day was that Japan should not make reckless remarks about past history between Korea and Japan, and should always make time for self-reflection.

What Japanese people need to understand is that Western countries that had colonies treat their former colonies with respect, and do not repeat brash remarks or behave with a sense of superiority like Japan does.

In other words, the emotions of Koreans will not rise up and boil over if Japan makes an effort to show even a minimum level of respect to Korean people.

The next day, the group from Japan went to Cheonan, South Chungcheong, to visit the Independence Hall of Korea.

When I asked them what they thought of the exhibitions, they said they were very shocked, that they would use this visit as a turning point in their lives and make an effort to study areas in which they think they lack understanding.

The second group, which will arrive in Seoul soon, is particularly interested in An Jung-geun, who assassinated Resident General of Korea Ito Hirobumi. Hirobumi is considered a great man in Japan but a symbol of evil in Korea. An is seen as a patriot and a hero. The Japanese group say their aim is to study An from a Korean perspective.

I hope that exchanges like this will contribute to help resolving Korea-Japan problems and lead relations between our two countries in a more amicable direction.

*The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University.

by Yuji Hosaka
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