More important than Abe-bashing

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More important than Abe-bashing

The latest television hit in Japan is “Hanzawa Naoki,” a Sunday drama on TBS. Hanzawa, the protagonist of the series, is a loan officer at a bank who struggles against scheming bureaucrats inside his office and unscrupulous businessmen and regulators on the outside. He likes to say, “If your enemies hurt you, pay them back double.” Soft-spoken Japanese workers love the sentiment, and the phrase has grown immensely popular.

Shukan Bunshun, the Japanese weekly magazine with the largest circulation in the country, used the line on the cover of its latest issue - however, Shukan used it to target Korea. The cover reads, “Double Payback for Korea,” followed by the subtitle, “How to silence the annoying neighbor.”

The article argues that Japan can make the Korean economy wither away by having Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit the Yasukuni Shrine during the Autumn Festival from Oct. 17 to 20, spending 10 billion yen ($101.2 million) to lobby politicians in the United States to isolate Korea and levying a 100 percent tariff on parts exported to Korea.

It’s a ridiculous and nasty argument. However, it is unprecedented for that kind of comment to be published in a major magazine, the kind with advertisements all over the subways in Japan.

Lately, I can feel how the Japanese media intentionally highlight any negative story about Korea and spin it in their favor. For some time now, anti-Korean sentiments - or, more precisely, anger over Koreans’ anti-Japanese sentiments - have spread through Japanese society.

Koreans think the righ-leaning Abe government sparked those feelings. However, the first Abe government, from September 2006 to September 2007, was even more right-wing. The Basic Laws on Education, which had never been changed since being legislated in 1947, were quickly revised and a law to hold a national referendum to revise the constitution was enacted.

However, Japanese citizens remained calm, no matter how radical the moves made by Abe and conservative politicians. While the Japanese government provoked Korea by claiming that there was no coerciveness in the mobilizing of sex slaves during World War II, the average Japanese citizen did not buy the claim. They believed Korea and voters punished the Abe government in the election.

Before blaming Japan for changing its attitudes in August 2013, we may want to look at our own behavior. Was it so difficult to invite Prime Minister Abe to the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye in February? If Abe attended the ceremony and met President Park in person, Korea-Japan relations would not have been hurt so seriously. Are we pursuing a preemptive and strategic foreign policy?

Some of the Korean media’s reckless attacks on Japan are just too excessive. By beating up Japan indiscriminately, rather than sticking to fair criticisms based on facts, they only make average Japanese citizens feel “anti-Korean.” The Abe administration can only last a few years at most. We need to value the Japanese people, who will remain our neighbors for decades and centuries.

* The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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