Takeshima Day: ‘We’re almost sick of it’: Japanese Tired of Korea, Here’s Why
Tomokazu Shigemura, Professor, Tokyo Tsushin Univ.
On March 1, 2019, South Korea will mark the 100th anniversary of the 3.1 Independence Movement, which aimed to gain independence from Japanese rule. Just before that, on February 27 and 28, the second US-North Korea summit will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam.
There is no doubt that both leaders will appeal the success of the meeting to the world. In South Korea, the anti-Japanese ceremony commemorating the “3.1 Independence Movement” is unlikely to gain momentum due to expectations for the U.S.-North Korea summit and the North-South summit.
Against this backdrop, a news reporter from Shimane came to me for an interview to find out what the situation on the Korean Peninsula will be like in the future. He asked me about a series of issues on the Korean Peninsula, including the recent deterioration in Japan-South Korea relations, the issue of radar irradiation of Self-Defense Force aircraft, the future of the U.S.-North Korea summit, and the abduction issue. What particularly bothered me was when he finally asked, in a tone as if he had something caught in his back teeth, “What should we do about the ‘Takeshima Day’ commemoration ceremony? The last question was, “What should we do about the ‘Takeshima Day’ commemoration ceremony?
His words conveyed a feeling that was difficult to express openly. As a newspaper reporter myself, I was careful to ask him frankly why he was asking.
I was told that there was a feeling in Shimane Prefecture that the Takeshima Day ceremony should be stopped. I was told that there was a feeling in Shimane Prefecture that the Takeshima Day ceremony should be stopped. There seems to be a “Takeshima Day fatigue” that is not apparent outside of the prefecture. However, I told them that we have no choice but to continue the ceremony because we will lose our basis for claiming territorial rights to Takeshima. The ceremony to commemorate Takeshima Day must be considered a historical mission of Shimane Prefecture.
The Takeshima issue is complicated. The Japanese people and the people of Shimane Prefecture are all “Takeshima critics” and have their own opinions. On the other hand, there is a strong opposition from the South Korean government. Once they speak out, they are caught in a storm of slander and defamation, and are subject to protests from the South Korean side every time. Shimane’s sentiment that the ceremony was “almost disgusting” is understandable.
This phenomenon has been a part of the “Korean disease” or “Chosun disease” that has persisted since the early 1970s, when I began working on Korean issues. In the meantime, in 1994, I wrote “North Korea will develop. On the other hand, in 1994, when I wrote that “North Korea cannot wage war because it has no oil,” I was criticized as “an agent of North Korea. This is because there were many people in Japan who were like agents of the two “agent states,” South Korea and North Korea, condemning each other’s “enemies” while representing one side.
North Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a meeting on June 12, 2018.
But battling misguided “public opinion” was a “way of life” for newspaper reporters. With the support of the newspaper, senior reporters, and friends who protected freedom of the press, he continued to make his case.
As is well known, the ownership of Takeshima was “shelved” in the Japan-Korea Basic Treaty. If then-President Park Chung-hee had acknowledged that Takeshima was Japanese territory, the Park administration would have collapsed.
Korea’s people are obsessed with Takeshima. This sentiment and public opinion is incomprehensible to the Japanese. It is the conviction of a nation that has lost its nation to “prevent invasion of its land.
In 1965, when the Korean delegation returned to Japan after agreeing to negotiate the Japan-Korea Basic Treaty, they declared at the airport that “Takeshima is recognized as Korean territory. This is the starting point for the Korean people. However, the Japanese government did not protest.
Both the Japanese and Korean governments “tacitly agreed” that their respective governments would explain domestically that it was their territory. In addition, at ministerial meetings between Japan and South Korea, both sides would hold ceremonies to “record their respective claims that Takeshima (Dokdo) is our territory,” but they chose not to make this public. However, this ritual “shelving system” was forgotten after the fall of the Park administration in 1979.
The root of “Takeshima Day fatigue” is not just a prefecture-level issue. The root of “Takeshima Day fatigue” is not just an issue at the prefectural level, but an issue that directly affects Japan’s future and its international status and role.
So what is the biggest cause of the recent confrontation between Japan and South Korea and “being taken lightly by South Korea”? It lies in the fact that Japan has not experienced economic growth for more than 20 years.
Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) has barely grown since 1994. It remains at about 500 trillion yen. Perhaps due to the public opinion that “economic growth is bad” and “quality over quantity” that arose from the bursting of the bubble economy, the Japanese government did not embark on much growth policy.
On the other hand, South Korea’s GDP has grown about five times since 1994. Above all, the nominal GDP per capita is approaching that of Japan. While Japan’s has been hovering around $40,000 (about 4 million yen), South Korea’s has risen sharply to $32,000 (about 3.2 million yen).
Twenty years ago, the gap between Japan and South Korea was roughly four times as large. Five years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that South Korea’s per capita national income (GNI) would soon overtake that of Japan.
GDP per capita is said to be equal to the starting salary of a college graduate in a country. If the disparity between the two is large, the country is said to have a “great disparity between the rich and the poor.
In the face of this reality, the Korean people have developed a feeling that they no longer have anything to learn from Japan, and their respect for Japan has disappeared. To blame this on mere “anti-Japanese sentiment” is to turn a blind eye to the truth about Japan and Korea.
Korea and its people have a feeling that they have put up with Japan for a long time. On the economic front, they have relied on Japanese investment to learn how to run their businesses. During the Cold War, they had to rely on Japan for security as well. With the collapse of the Cold War and the progress of reconciliation between North and South Korea, South Koreans feel that the security threat has finally disappeared.
Furthermore, Japan’s dependence on China has increased in terms of economy and security, and its need for Japan has rapidly declined. This is the “inconvenient reality” for Japan.
In an interview with a U.S. newspaper, National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said that the issue would be resolved if the emperor held the hands of former comfort women and apologized. Speaker Moon, who refused to retract his statement, saying, “It’s my usual theory and I’ve been talking about it for 10 years,” may have been talking to Japanese politicians about such tea talk. If that is the case, the Japanese side would have to respond by saying, “That’s impossible,” and explain the Japanese people’s “feelings toward the emperor,” or they would mistakenly believe that the Japanese side has accepted the idea.
In Korea, there is no learning about the changes in Japan after the war and the status of the emperor. There is no explanation of the Japanese Constitution. There is no mention of “apologies by successive prime ministers and emperors” in textbooks.
The same is true of Japanese textbooks and education. It is also an “inconvenient reality” that there is no education or textbooks on postwar social changes and cultural understanding between the two countries. The fact that Japan has apologized many times is not common knowledge among Koreans and Japanese.
The U.S.-North Korea summit was a “TV show” between the two leaders for a global audience. President Trump and Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un are “geniuses” at staging events to make them look successful, and they are in complete agreement on the “success” of their staging and acting. That’s why President Trump says they have a good relationship.
South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Ki-sang visits a facility from the era of the Korean Empire in Washington, U.S., in February 2019 (Yonhap)
For President Trump, it would be a great success if he could show the American people the “emotional drama” of how he taught market economy and economic development to an international “troublemaker” who was willing to go to war with the United States, leading to peace.
Behind this is President Trump’s judgment that if he can continue to suspend nuclear and missile tests, the American people will not have a problem with the delay in denuclearization. The success of the U.S.-North Korea summit and progress in inter-Korean relations will inevitably lead to a further “decline” in South Korea’s interest in Japan.