Twists of a love-hate relationshipWhen the Tohoku earthquake took 18,000 lives in Japan five years ago, a surprising thing happened in Korea. As posts urging humanitarian aid for the Japanese, regardless of the history disputes, surged online, the Red Cross Korea raised 45.6 billion won ($39.6 million) in donations. The casualties of the Sichuan earthquake in China were 87,000 — nearly five times more — but the donation total was 4.6 billion won. Nearly 10 times more donations were collected for the Tohoku earthquake when Koreans had a slightly more favorable attitude toward China than Japan.
What caused the discrepancy? Experts say that Korea and Japan are in a kind of love-hate relationship. The feeling is born when you are disappointed in someone close. When he thrives, you hate him, but when he falls, affection kicks in. If an old lover becomes successful, you may feel bitter.
But when he or she is in an unfortunate situation, you feel sympathetic. Japanese cuisine and comics are popular in Korea. While Koreans are antagonistic toward Japan, we also subconsciously feel familiar with Japan and acknowledge its merits. The love-hate mechanism was working in the aftermath of the earthquake.
But after another earthquake hit Kumamoto, Japan, love was nowhere to be found in Korea. People say there is no need to raise donations or offer help. Koreans are generous and affectionate, but their feelings toward their neighbor have changed.
People are upset that Japan refused the relief goods Korea had sent after the Tohoku earthquake. But the two countries’ politicians are fundamentally responsible. At the time of the earthquake, Japan’s Democratic Party government wanted to reconcile with Korea. In 2011, 41 percent of Koreans said they were favorable toward Japan, while about the same number — 44 percent — didn’t feel favorable. But as the Shinzo Abe government began promoting history whitewashing last year, 74 percent felt unfavorable toward Japan — 4.4 times the 17 percent who were favorable. The Park Geun-hye administration also contributed to the deadlock by adhering to the position that there would be no diplomacy with Japan without resolving the wartime sexual slavery issue.
What made the situation worse was news that rumors of Koreans poisoning wells in Japan were spreading. Koreans were outraged, as it reminded them of the tragic massacre of 6,000 Koreans after the same rumor spread at the time of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.
The Japanese who don’t know the background would not understand Koreans’ rage. According to the Northeast Asian History Foundation, Japanese textbooks are being revised so that damages on Koreans at the time of the Kanto earthquake will be reduced greatly. At this rate, ignorance and misunderstanding will only grow. It is a case illustrating how urgent it is to have a joint history textbook for both countries.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 31
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.