Understanding starts with a meeting

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Understanding starts with a meeting

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Have you ever been to Jumunjin?” asked a Japanese friend. “More than 10 years ago,” I replied. Her friends are planning to visit Jumunjin in Gangwon this summer to visit the bus stop where BTS shot the photos and music video for the song “Spring Day.” They also want to visit Gyeongbok Palace, the Korea Furniture Museum and the HYBE building in Yongsan. As they can only make this BTS tour after getting vaccinated, they are frustrated by the slow pace of vaccinations in Japan.

A Korean friend reserved a ticket to Japan a few months ago. The flight ticket can be used within one year from the moment when tourism to Japan is allowed. As the pandemic completely stopped travel between the two countries for nearly two years, there are quite a lot of people in Japan and Korea who dream of visiting the other country, though they are not very visible due to news about aggravating relations between the two countries.

Ties worsened after the Korean Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling on wartime forced labor by Japan. The global spread of Covid-19 also helped worsen the situation. Before the pandemic, there were moves to exchange, visit and communicate despite the political confrontation. As Covid-19 suspended civilian exchanges including tourism, it is hard to find an opportunity to seek improvement. Misunderstandings are growing and antagonism is spreading.

It is getting harder to expect a reconciliatory mood at the government level. At the G7 summit in Britain last weekend, the Korean and Japanese leaders did not have a meeting. It is because of the Japanese government’s narrowmindedness and refusal to speak with Korea unless it presents solutions Japan can accept, propelled by anti-Korean sentiment in Japan.

At this rate, improvement cannot be expected for the Tokyo Olympics starting July 23.

But I don’t want to leave it as it is. Efforts should be made for both sides to cooperate on issues that can help recover “normal relations.” At present, vaccination rates in both Korea and Japan are not sufficiently high, but I hope discussion can start soon to allow free travel in a few months.

Just because it doesn’t help local elections immediately, I don’t want the Japanese government to stop its people from visiting Jumunjin. Theoretically, understanding cannot be built without meeting, seeing and listening. It seems to be the only thing that the Korean and Japanese governments can work on to improve relations.

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