Awareness of Korean Resentment that Japanese Do Not Understand
A former diplomat’s point of view who jumped into the “fire”
The Deep Darkness of Japan-Korea Relations
In 1987, I was transferred from the North America Section, which was responsible for economic relations with the United States, to the Northeast Asia Section, which was responsible for relations with the Korean Peninsula at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Negotiations with the United States were extremely tough, and it was not unusual for me to stay up all night twice during a week’s business trip to Washington. The Northeast Asia Division was also extremely busy.
At the time, however, most of the Northeast Asia Division’s day-to-day work involved dealing with Korea. Relations between Japan and South Korea were not at all good, even then, and this transfer was like jumping into a hot frying pan or into fire.
Having never been to Korea before, and having rarely spoken to Koreans or Koreans living in Japan, I studied its history and learned of the many serious problems that remained between the two countries. At the end of World War II, Japan was left with nearly 700,000 people from the Korean Peninsula who had renounced their Japanese citizenship. They were stateless or later acquired Korean nationality and were not treated on an equal footing with the Japanese. They were so-called “Koreans living in Japan.
I felt it was Japan’s responsibility to solve the problems of those who were forced to acquire Japanese nationality through the annexation of Japan and Korea without their own will, and who renounced their Japanese nationality because of Japan’s defeat in the war and were not protected as Japanese.
I worked on a number of issues, such as the abolition of the fingerprinting system for alien registration certificates, the return of Koreans who had remained on Sakhalin to Korea, and support for those who had returned to Korea after being exposed to the bombing and were unable to receive medical treatment in Japan. These issues were not requested by South Korea. Japan had to tackle these issues on its own.
Even after retiring from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005, I remained active to this day as a member of the Japan-Korea Forum, which consists of experts from Japan and South Korea. I have been active for more than 30 years.
It has been ups and downs over the course of 30 years. The period from the signing of the Japan-Korea Joint Declaration by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and President Dae-jung Kim in 1998 to the co-hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2002 was probably the period when Japan-Korea relations blossomed. The Korea-Japan Joint Declaration declared a new partnership for the future, President Dae-jung Kim proactively lifted the ban on Japanese culture, and the Korean wave boomed in Japan. Ahead of the Japan-Korea World Cup, shuttle flights between Haneda and Gimpo are back on track.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Korea in 2002 and was welcomed by President Dae-jung Kim, who had adopted a policy of sunshine toward North Korea.
Today, however, relations between Japan and South Korea have become bogged down and there is no way out. The fact that the deterioration of relations between Japan and South Korea has been triggered by South Korea is a fact. South Korea has overturned an agreement on the comfort women issue, and there has been a series of events, including the irradiating of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces ships with radar and the issue of the Japanese conscription army, that Japan has been unable to understand.
But if we consider the long-term relationship between Japan and South Korea, we must also recognize that there are structural problems that prevent us from unilaterally attributing responsibility for the deterioration of Japan-Korea relations. I would like as many Japanese as possible to be made aware of the deep darkness in Japan-Korea relations.
We Must Understand the Resentment
This is something I have been dealing with ever since I first became involved in relations with South Korea more than thirty years ago. Whenever I traveled to Seoul at that time, my counterpart, the head of the Japanese section in Korea, would point to the building of the former Korean Governor-General’s office and say to himself, “That building will be demolished.
It was here that the 1948 declaration of the Republic of Korea’s establishment was made and since then it has served as the government building until 1983. It was finally dismantled in 1995, although it remained a historical building both during and after the colonial period.
The building stood right in the center of Seoul, and although the idea of preserving it as a historical landmark was considered, the reason for its demolition was that it was a symbol of historical humiliation. But the reason for removing the building is that it is a symbol of historical humiliation. The building of the DPRK’s Governor’s Office may be seen as a symbol not only of Japanese domination, but also of hundreds of years of being threatened and dominated by a different race.
The Korean people’s sense of resentment is evident in the Korean War of the 16th century, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi left for Korea, and later when it was invaded by the Qing Dynasty, and became a Japanese colony after the Sino-Japanese War and the annexation of Japan and Korea. At the same time, it is a matter of resentment that they had to be dominated by the Han, Mongolian, and Japanese peoples, and at the same time, it is a matter of vexation that they escaped from Japanese domination in the form of the Japanese defeat, and that they did not win their independence by their own hands.
Even after Korea’s independence, it was still ruled by the military dictatorship of Seung-man Lee and Chung-hee Park, and it would not be wrong to say that a sense of “resentment” is still deeply rooted in the hearts of the Korean people.
After I retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former South Korean President Dae-jung Kim, who was a close friend of mine, told me before his death, “When I was abducted (in 1973) from Japan and put on a small boat to South Korea, I saw many stars in the sky, and I thought I wanted to win democracy at all costs. At that time, I thought I wanted to win democracy at all costs. I was impressed by his words, “Until then, Korea had never won even its independence by its own hand.
Many Japanese people wonder why Japan continues to dwell on the past despite its commitment to pacifism in the post-war era and the change in generations, how many times Japan should apologize, and whether Korea’s anti-Japanese attitudes are likely to continue indefinitely. Some argue that South Korea’s behavior toward Japan is so irresponsible that it is often argued that this is because Japan has coddled Korea too much.
It would be a mistake to short-circuit Korean attitudes toward Japan. I believe that what exists in Korea is a deep-seated sense of resentment. Many Koreans harbor a sense of resentment when problems related to history arise. This is resentment, sadness, and resentment for not being able to break free from the long years of domination by other peoples. It is directed at Japan and at the ruling class in Korea at the same time. We cannot face Korea without understanding the resentment that has been ingrained in the hearts and minds of the Korean people for so many years.
The reason why the Korean government cannot resolve the issue of history in a way that makes it part of the problem is that this “resentment” is directed not only at Japan but also at the Korean government. For this reason, it is basically Japan’s responsibility to solve the problem. The aforementioned issues of the South Koreans on Sakhalin, the A-bomb survivors, and the comfort women are just some of the examples.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, The Japan Research Institute, Ltd.
Born in Kyoto, Japan. He is a Senior Fellow of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE). After joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he completed his master’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University in 1972. He served as Director of the North American Affairs Bureau, North America Division 2, Asia Division, North East Asia Division, and Minister to the British Embassy in Tokyo, as well as Director of the Foreign Policy Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, and Deputy Director of the North American Affairs Bureau, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco, Director of the Economic Affairs Bureau, and Director of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau. He was a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy (2006-18). His publications include The Power of Diplomacy (Nihon Keizai Shimbun Publishing Co., Ltd.), Professional Negotiation Skills (Kodansha), and The Challenge of Japanese Diplomacy (Kadokawa Shinsho Co., Ltd.).