[Viewpoint] Winning the respect of the JapaneseRecently, I was invited to Waseda University two times as a lecturer. The lectures I gave were on the topics, “A comparison of Korean and Japanese politics” and “Understanding Korean culture,” respectively. As the students raised so many preposterous questions, I could not help but realize that there is still a high wall of misunderstanding between the two countries.
For example, they asked the reason why Korean women take photos of themselves and post them on Cyworld; why Korean authorities make public the photos of criminal suspects, etc. I replied that they might do so because they could take photos of themselves easily with a digital camera. I even had to correct their misconception by letting them know that it is exceptional in Korea to expose the identity of a suspected criminal, but it is customary in Japan.
Like this, Japan always tries to measure Korea by Japan’s own standards. When Korea was under the rule of imperial Japan, the situation was even worse. “Datsu-A Ron” or “Goodbye Asia,” written by Yukichi Fukuzawa in 1884, marked the climax of the move.
Fukuzawa, who appears on the 10,000 yen ($107) banknote, agitated the Japanese by saying, “There is no time for us to wait till our neighbors become enlightened so that we can bring Asia to prosperity together with them. Instead of being generous to them, we should treat them in the same way as the Westerners do.” The viewpoint of “the founder of modern Japan” became the prevailing view of the Japanese on colonial Korea. Perhaps for that reason, the Japanese do not show interest in the fact that this year is the 100th anniversary of Korea’s forced annexation to Japan.
At the bottom of the Japanese view on Korea, there lies a mentality of evading their responsibility and being arrogant toward Koreans. This was revealed when the Japanese government recently paid only 99 yen as compensation to the Korean women they exploited through forced hard labor in the past.
The Japanese government also decided to teach high school students, as they did to middle school students earlier, that the Dokdo islets are an integral part of Japan.
Another typical example of their prejudice and arrogance is the way they disparage Korean food. They slander bibimbap as if it was junk food.
Such behaviors of the Japanese renew our awareness that we cannot leave the future of Korea-Japan relations to the goodwill of the Japanese. The negative view of the Japanese on Korea, which only highlighted Korea’s shortcomings in the 19th century, is more deeply rooted than we think.
Japanese people want to say that it is useless to talk about the past, and that what is important is the present. Their logic is that past wrongdoings are not their responsibility because they were committed by the previous generation. The “Korean wave” fever in Japan is an aspect of the double standard of the Japanese. As the fever heated up, the number of Japanese tourists to Korea exceeded a record number of 3 million last year.
Their itinerary extends from Seoul to local provinces. Introducing Baekje and Silla as 1,000-year-old ancient kingdoms, they even sell 160,000 yen Korea tour packages, which is as expensive as a package to Europe. The Japanese rediscover Korea through these Korean wave tours.
There are people who anticipate that such a favorable mood toward Korea will be followed up by an announcement of Prime Minister Hatoyama in which he would proclaim that Japan will pay back its past wrongdoings to its neighbors.
Even if an announcement to that effect is made, however, it will be hard to expect that the prejudice and arrogance of the Japanese will disappear easily. As the Korean wave has showed us the potential of Korean culture, the shortcut to winning the genuine recognition of the Japanese is making Korea a country more attractive and healthy than it is now.
*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Dong-ho