Japan’s interest in the election

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Japan’s interest in the election

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I have a simple question. Why do television programs air specials on the next Korean presidential election instead of the Tokyo provincial assembly election?”

Renho, a member of the House of Councilors representing the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, sent out this tweet on June 30, four days before the Tokyo provincial assembly election. I couldn’t help laughing because I was thinking the same thing. With former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-yeol announcing his bid for president, Japanese news shows prepared specials to report on Korea’s presidential election.

These days, Japanese media pay extraordinary attention to the Korean presidential election. Actress Kim Bu-seon was on television, and the program discussed Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung’s scandal with her. The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s biggest newspaper, wrote an editorial discussing who young Koreans would support in an analysis of the election next March and pointed out Gov. Lee’s hardline stance toward Japan. The editorial advises that radical comments to win popularity in Korea should be avoided.

Many attribute Japan’s extreme obsession with Korea to its anti-Korean sentiment. Since the Korean Supreme Court in 2018 ruled on compensation for wartime forced labor, the idea that “Korea is strange and radical” was created, and the dynamic discord in Korean politics, which differs to Japan, has been broadcast like entertainment. The Cho Kuk incident and the discord between former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and former Prosecutor General Yoon have been the main themes of Japanese news shows.

A positive interpretation is that Korea’s presence in Japan has grown. While there are political views interested in regime change out of antagonism against the Moon Jae-in administration, the general public in Japan is simply “amused.” A political scholar said, “Japanese people are used to inherited politics and the one-party control of the Liberal Democratic Party, and they find the Korean political climate of a thirtysomething man becoming the head of the opposition and former prosecutor general running for president quite unfamiliar yet interesting. Broadcasters must have caught that point.”

Either way, coverage of Korean politics certainly offers a diversion from Japan’s frustrating situation. Comments on Renho’s tweet included this one. “[Japanese news shows] are encouraging hatred toward a neighbor to divert criticism from the Japanese government. Japan’s decline today is an outcome of the Japanese people neglect of domestic politics and society.”

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