[Viewpoint] Japan’s Dokdo delusions

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[Viewpoint] Japan’s Dokdo delusions

This summer was unusually hot and clamorous. We all needed some peace and quiet to recover from the scorching heat and emotional highs of the Summer Olympic Games. But that wish failed to come true thanks to the escalating tensions in the Far East Asian hemisphere over territorial claims on seas and islets.

A different type of heat has swept over our land, returning bitter memories as Japan unabashedly demands control of our territory and challenges us to go to international court to claim it. Japan calls the Dokdo islets, part of Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang, Takeshima, which means bamboo island. It shows a depth of ignorance for the Japanese to think they can claim sovereignty just by christening the volcanic islets with a thoroughly unfitting name!

Japan has long been a prisoner of self-delusion and the victim mentality. This was best demonstrated in Japanese emperor Hirohito’s broadcasted statement of unconditional surrender of the Japanese military at the end of World War II. The “important” public address was broadcast on the morning of Aug. 15, 1945, for three minutes. The emperor used classical Japanese few could understand and the audio quality was wretched. It sounded like noises from outer space.

Entitled “The Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War” the emperor said he had ordered the government to inform the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that his empire accepted the provisions of their joint declaration demanding Japan’s military surrender. “It has been far from my thought to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or embark upon territorial encroachment … The enemy has employed a new and cruel bomb, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also in extinction of the human civilization,” he said.

The declaration of the war surrender was brimmed with resentful language of victim hood. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been hit with a new type of weapon, claiming lives of 90,000 and 60,000, respectively. Col. Paul Tibbets flew the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, named after his mother, and dropped a new type of bomb dubbed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima without knowing what it was capable of. He disobeyed his commander’s order not to look back. He did and witnessed the mushroom cloud and firestorm. He had delivered an atomic bomb.

Japan, which had infringed on the lives of other nations for decades, suddenly became the victim of the worst ever weapon made by man. The statement of surrender carried no words or tone of remorse, but condemnation for the brutal and cruel bombs that wiped out the two cities. On the day of “humiliation,” nostalgic Japanese visit the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to soldiers and others who died fighting for the Imperial Empire of Japan, including war criminals. They also continue to make claims on other national territories to revive the empire and Japan’s colonial glory.

If it wants to claim sovereignty over its neighbor’s land, Japan should have at least done its homework and gotten the name right. Ancient papers showed that the feudal shogunate envied the islets rich in natural resources closest to the Japanese islands of Oki and referred to them as Matsushima. It called Ulleung-do on the mainland Takeshima.

When Japanese fishermen frequented Korean waters and Matsushima, the Joseon court prohibited Japan’s fishing. The Tokugawa Shogunate inquired with Shimane Prefecture if either of the two - Takeshima (Ulleung-do) and Matsushima (Dokdo) - were part of its districts. It said no, and the shogunate reaffirmed in January 1696 that the two islands belonged to Korea. In 1877, the Japanese Supreme Council, or the government under the Meiji Constitution, issued an order stating that neither Takeshima nor Matsushima were under its jurisdiction.

Then under imperial rule, Japan discovered the strategic value of the Dokdo islets while engaged in a war with Russia. The imperial government in 1904 incorporated the islets as its own, claiming that its occupation of uninhabited islets was justifiable under international law. The U.S. and other European powers kept silent.

If it had not been Hirohito’s “thoughts to infringe upon sovereignty of other nations,” who was behind the invasions of Joseon, China and Manchuria? The Japanese imperial Army? Was eradicating the history of Joseon and forcing a different national identity onto another people not an act of “obliterating” a nation and human civilization? Does the country think it can recover from its victim mentality by claiming sovereignty over Korean rocky islets?

A patient afflicted by an extreme case of victim mentality suffers delusions. Japan could not even differentiate between Takeshima and Matsushima when registering Takeshima as a part of Okinoshima of Shimane Prefecture. Bamboo does not grow on volcanic rock islands. Only one breed does: the indigenous Korean evergreen spindle tree. Few Japanese are aware of the history of Dokdo. The public is just swept up by the nationalistic fever extreme rightists are fanning in desperate measure to redeem the country’s lost dignity. Really, there is no contest here. Delusions always crumble in the face of the hard facts of history.


*The author is a sociology professor at Seoul National University.
By Song Ho-keun
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