[Viewpoint] Ushering in a new eraJune 2 was the day of the local elections in Korea, and after I cast my votes early in the morning, I left for Tokyo.
The purpose of the trip was to collect research data, and it was before noon when I arrived at Haneda International Airport.
The airport was filled with countless Japanese ladies waiting for someone with banners and flags. The banners and posters bore the name and face of a top Korean celebrity.
With the “Korean wave” fans waiting for the arrival of the star, I boarded the airport limousine and headed to Shinjuku in downtown Tokyo.
As soon as the bus arrived at the west gate of Shinjuku Station, I saw the special edition of Asahi Shimbun, a national daily newspaper. The bold headline read, “Prime Minister Hatoyama Announces Resignation.”
Only a few days earlier, Yukio Hatoyama had attended the trilateral summit of Korea, Japan and China held on Jeju Island.
I stopped walking for a moment and read the paper. Hatoyama was stepping down after only eight months in office due to financial scandals and the controversy surrounding the relocation of the U.S. military base in Okinawa.
It was a very long day, both in Korea and Japan, as Korea heated up with the local elections and Japan was shocked by the resignation of its prime minister.
I checked into my hotel, and after unpacking my luggage, I went right out to collect my data.
My plan was to return to my hotel room as early as possible so that I did not miss the television news. I wanted to witness every moment when changes happened.
I flipped the channels to watch the news on various Japanese networks. The programs were focused on the resignation of Hatoyama and the selection of the next prime minister with reports and commentaries. It was about 8 p.m., a prime time spot of the day.
When I changed the channel, “Iris,” a Korean drama series that was very popular in Korea, was on. And the drama starred the top Korean actor whose arrival in Japan had been passionately welcomed by countless female fans at Haneda Airport earlier that day.
The drama could be watched in both Korean and Japanese. I flipped the channel again to watch a news show, which covered the local elections in Korea. The segment featured video footage from a Korean television broadcaster.
When I heard the voice of the Korean anchor, I felt like I was watching the television evening news in Korea. The Japanese news reported that the opposition candidates were waging a neck-and-neck battle with ruling party candidates, contrary to the election forecasts.
To me, it was a day in which Korea and Japan alternated right under my nose.
The five-night, four-day trip to Japan gave me the refreshing feeling that the wall between Korea and Japan was clearly crumbling. During my stay in Japan, I often felt like I was still in Korea.
Nowadays, Korea and Japan are enjoying free exchange of politics, culture and language.
The Korea-Japan exchange on the civilian level has advanced considerably, and since the Democratic Party of Japan, which is known for an especially friendly tendency toward Korea, came into power, it feels that we have entered a new era of dialogue and communication.
Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has a background in a civil grassroots movement. He had been a member of a socialist faction party before he was one of the founding members of the Democratic Party along with former Prime Minister Hatoyama.
Upon resigning, Hatoyama publicly announced that he had asked his successor to take good care of Japan’s relationships with the United States, China and Korea.
And Prime Minister Kan declared that he would continue the direction of Hatoyama’s policies.
In Japan, the last four prime ministers came from prominent political families of former prime ministers, and all of them stepped down within a year.
It’s been a while since a self-made man, rather than a second-generation politician, was elected prime minister of Japan, and the approval rating for the ruling Democratic Party jumped by more than 20 percent.
The Democratic Party has been faithfully promoting foreign policies that emphasize Asia, although it has experienced certain difficulties in the past.
Now I hope that not just the private sector but also the government would work harder to pull the thorns out of the relationship and build a solid friendship between Korea and Japan.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University.
By Yuji Hosaka