[Viewpoint] Japan’s unbelievable behavior“Meiwaku,” meaning to annoy or trouble others, is a word that is deeply-seated in the lives, culture and behavior of the Japanese people. It is a concept that is pounded into children from an early age at home and school. Residents in Japan’s northeastern coastal region withheld their sorrow from the public despite losing their families, friends and homes in the earthquake and tsunami out of fear of “troubling” or “upsetting” others. Their extraordinary show of perseverance, restraint and civility generated awe and respect from the entire global community.
The members of the government must, however, be alien to the innate Japanese nature of civility and selflessness. The government turned a blind eye when Tokyo Electric Power Co. dumped radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, jeopardizing the safety of seafood and posing a hazard to other countries. It caused a “serious annoyance” to its closest neighbor by authorizing the publication of history textbooks that declare Korea’s Dokdo islets to be Japanese territory.
Tepco officials explained that they had no other choice but to release the contaminated water into the sea in order to prevent flooding within the reactor and normalize the crippled plant. Yet it did not bother to provide advance notice to other countries sharing the Pacific Ocean.
The Japanese government brazenly brushed aside demands from neighboring countries for accurate information on the radiation leak and played down safety and environmental hazards. It insisted that its action was legitimate under international law and that the radiation levels were so low that they posed no threat.
But the local fishing industry demanded an immediate halt to the dumping. The Japanese, more than anyone else in the world after having experienced two atomic bombs in WWII, are sensitive to the hazards of radiation. But without a word of explanation, Japan poured out more than 10,000 tons of contaminated water into the sea. If such extreme measures were unavoidable, Japan should have explained this to its neighbors to seek understanding.
If release of contaminated water poses a health risk for Koreans, Tokyo’s action on Dokdo has been like stabbing a knife into our hearts. It has angered Korea in the past by giving naming the disputed islets as its territory in middle school history and geography textbooks. This time it was more specific and direct in proclaiming Dokdo as its own. The newly authorized textbook unequivocally said Korea illegally occupies the Japanese territory of “Takeshima.” It also claimed that Japan inevitably had to annex Joseon Korea because Ahn Jung-geun assassinated Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi. Do the Japanese bureaucrats intend to make their future generation ignorant of historical facts and make them international fools?
Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that since Takeshima is Japanese territory, a missile attack on the island would be considered as an attack on Japan when questioned in the Diet’s House of Councilors. His remark is not surprising coming from a blood descendent of Ito Hirobumi, the first resident governor of Korea after annexation. He publicly complained about a statue of Ahn Jung-geun standing on Mount Namsan in the middle of Seoul. His words and conduct are no less inconsiderate and senseless than that of the American pastor who burned a copy of the Koran last month in front of his church in Florida that led to violent riots in Afghanistan.
The Naoto Kan administration is under fire for contributing to the worsening crisis at the Fukushima reactor complex with its inadequate response. It declined an offer of help from the United States and France at an early stage of the crisis, raising suspicion that Tokyo may be hiding something from the world.
The government also angered its people by giving vague information about the exclusion zone around the reactors and the level of radiation contamination in food. We can hardly expect sincerity from the government when it cares so little about the safety of its people.
Few Japanese now believe what the government has to say. The world, which at first was stunned by the dignity of the Japanese people, are now equally dumbfounded by the poor crisis management by the government in one of the world’s most advanced countries.
How the Japanese government find the time and energy to annoy its neighboring country through a territorial dispute and historical distortion while battling an earthquake and nuclear crisis is bewildering. The Japanese government has turned back the clock. It splashed cold water on Korea’s favorable sentiment toward a Japan in distress. Our path is set out clearly. We should not lose our sense and civility just because the other party has. We should continue humanitarian support to a country in hardship, but at the same time tighten our grip on what is ours.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Young-hie