Your prime minister, my president
The author is a Tokyo corresponden tof the JoongAng Ilbo.
Four years ago I had just been posted in Tokyo when I met friends at a restaurant near the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters. As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in trouble for scandals involving those close to him, I was naturally curious about whether the administration could change.
“Could the prime minister change?,” I asked a friend. He quickly rebuked me, saying, “That’s what Koreans would do. Why are you disappointed that Abe is not being replaced?”
I was puzzled because the most passionate critic of the government at the table was suddenly defending Abe.
Lately, I can understand how my friend felt. When I meet Japanese friends, nine out of ten ask me who the next president of Korea would be. Without hesitation, they say they want a certain candidate to win. The presidential candidates are not officially decided, but Japanese newspapers already cover the candidacies of the ruling and opposition parties.
In fact, interests in the post-Moon Jae-in era started early in Japan. Complaints about a sudden progress in North Korea-U.S. relations since 2018 and the Supreme Court’s ruling on wartime forced labor compensation were directed to the Moon administration. Some Japanese people think that the chaotic Korea-Japan relations would become stable when the administration changes in Korea. It is only natural that people are interested in the politics of another country, but it becomes a problem when certain wishes are mixed.
Koreans are no different. When the approval rating for Suga’s cabinet goes down, they ask, “Will the prime minister be replaced?” And when a corruption scandal arises, “Will there be a candlelight protest in Japan?” People make predictions and judgments based on their own standards. If they don’t take into account the political structure of the cabinet system of indirect voting for the prime minister and a passive social atmosphere for collective action in Japan, it is easy to make the wrong predictions.
Japan is also full of questions about Korea. “Why do political parties change their names so often?” “Why are members of the National Assembly changed so quickly?” “Why do former presidents end up in jail?” These are things that cannot be understood if they are not in the position of Koreans.
Korea and Japan will have elections to select a leader in a few months. The media and internet pour out information and present analysis. The Japan I felt when I arrived here was very different from what I saw from the outside. If I measure the country with my yardstick, it is hard to read the essence. Lately, I have realized the importance of objective thinking instead of easily judging what’s right and wrong.