A long winter in JapanYOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A few months ago, I was walking with my daughter in downtown Tokyo on a weekend day. There was a man with a microphone at a small square in front of a department store. The Rising Sun was hoisted, and there was a black propaganda flag. I could see that it represented a far-right group.
“The neighbor is a country that does not keep promises and treats international law as rubbish. Koreans do not keep promises.”
My heart dropped. I had to listen to the hate speech on a peaceful weekend day. I fled out of fear that my daughter would hear it. Anyone who has ever listened to a far-right speech would know how horrifying and unpleasant it is. A Korea-Japan festival was held at a nearby park that day. On the day celebrating the partnership of Korea and Japan, I felt like I was stabbed in the back.
“Korea is violating international law.” Since the Supreme Court decision on the forced labor on Oct. 30, 2018, I hear this at least once every day. The rhetoric is simple, and the argument requires a long explanation on the “different interpretations of the agreement.” The Japanese government’s claim is featured on television, radio and the internet and in newspapers and magazines. Japanese viewers think that’s the truth, and Korea becomes a strange country. It is understandable that 69 percent responded in an opinion poll that there is no need to rush in improving Korea-Japan relations if concessions have to be made.
It is the result of labeling Korea that lasted more than a year. In Japanese society, there is a negative mood when it comes to Korea. There is no agreement, but general anti-Korean sentiment dominates Japanese society. A Japanese friend said I was responding sensitively to a mere political claim. Political claims mixed with hatred on Korea are hovering like heavy air. Even a person with a strong heart feels intimidated.
When I receive unfriendly treatment at a restaurant or a store, I wonder if the bad treatment is because I am Korean. I wonder if my daughter is standing at the back row at a school performance because she is Korean, not because she’s tall. I don’t open Korean search sites on my smartphone when I am on the subway. In fact, a man approached me and said, “You are reading Korean.”
Will Korea-Japan relations improve in the new year? Will the relationship go back to what it used to be with a solution on the forced labor? Things collapse at once, but it takes twice the time to rebuild. Spring will come, but it may not feel like spring. Winter is long.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 32