Chronic nationalism in Japan

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Chronic nationalism in Japan

We really can’t communicate. Korea and Japan are neighbors but are as far apart as if each country were on a different planet. The two nations cannot find common ground over the Takeshima Day event in Shimane Prefecture. Japan says it is being considerate to Korean sensitivities, but we take it as a provocation.

Let’s listen to Japan’s rhetoric. The Liberal Democratic Party originally made a pledge to elevate the occasion to a government-level event. While Tokyo postponed the central government’s involvement, a parliamentary secretary attended the event. A parliamentary secretary is a position between vice minister and deputy minister; he or she assists in some of the administrative functions of the minister. However, the parliamentary secretary does not have the power to act as a proxy in the minister’s absence. The position is replaced with changes in power.

Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary with the Cabinet Office who attended the ceremony as a government representative, was a Democratic Party city council member in Naha, Okinawa. Her husband Noboru was a district branch executive of the Democratic Party. When her husband failed to get the nomination for the parliamentary election, the couple left the party in 2005. They are typical migratory politicians. Later, Aiko joined the Liberal Democratic Party and was elected to parliament. She belongs to the Nukaga faction, which is different from the Mori faction that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a member of.

Aiko Shimajiri has a meager presence in Japanese politics, so by sending such a low-profile figure to Takeshima Day, Tokyo claims it was being considerate to Korea.

However, it is still symbolic that a central government official attended the ceremony, no matter how trivial she may be. Of course, Shimajiri is not someone who can become a target of nationwide anger from Koreans. If we start picking a fight with her, we may seem petty. In fact, that may be what Abe’s government was going for.

Nevertheless, the attendance of a government official boosted the attention given the event. Japanese media seem to encourage a showdown to end the disagreement at once. This reflects the nationalism of Japan in the 21st century.

Japanese nationalism does not belong in a museum; it is alive and well, and it is spreading rapidly in broad daylight. It began as invasive aggression and war madness and continues in the 21st century.

Let’s look at a symbolic example. When former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida was the Asian Section chief at the foreign ministry, he met Yeo Un-hyeong in Shanghai in 1919 and disparaged the provisional Korean government.

“It is so convenient and lets us grasp the Korean situation better. From Japan’s point of view, the provisional government is a safety valve to release Koreans’ frustration.”

Even with such a nationalistic mindset, he later became the prime minister. He also said that the 1950-53 Korean War was a blessing for Japan. He is still revered as a conservative elder among Japanese politicians, spreading the nationalistic DNA.

It would be too much to ask the Japanese leader to act like British Prime Minister David Cameron, who paid a visit to a memorial for civilian victims of a massacre in India during British colonial rule.

Average Japanese people have also been influenced by nationalism for over a century. In 1903, a fair in Osaka drew attention with its “Human Studies Exhibition.” It was a menagerie of 20 men and women from Korea, China and India. The nationalistic fantasy that Asia is barbaric and Japan is civilized dominated the Japanese. That idea resulted in regret about the country’s defeat instead of about its aggression. Takeshima Day is an extension of such crooked nationalism.

Nationalism is constantly bubbling under the surface of Japanese society. Sometimes, it explodes. Then they make excuses, blaming the slow economy, the Korean president’s visit to Dokdo, or even a soccer game. And some politicians take advantage of it.

However, the Japanese are missing, or intentionally ignoring, one thing. Japan’s territorial issues are vestiges of the war of aggression that they started. Their attitude is completely different from that of Germany, which repented from its aggression and gave up its attempts at territorial expansion. Japan does not get respect from its neighbors because of its chronic outbursts of ultra-nationalism. And in the end, the Japanese are the ones who are condemned.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Nam Yoon-ho
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