I'd like to take a quick (and hopefully fairly objective) look at the long-standing 'Dokdo issue' which has inflamed Korea over the past few weeks.
지난 몇 주동안 한국을 격분해져 있는 '독도 발행'을 여기 한 번 (잘 가면 객관적으로) 볼거다.
Celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations was bound to be a source of nationalism on both sides. The "Korea-Japan Friendship Year 2005" hasn't been going well. In fact, it seems relations between the two countries are at their lowest point in a long time.
40년의 외교적인 관계를 축하하기가 틀림없이 국가주의의 근원이었다. "2005년 한일 우정의 해"가 잘 지내 오지 못 하는다. 사실은 이 두 나라 사이 관계가 오랜만에 최저의 상태에 이른다.
A few days ago, a local Japanese assembly (Shimane Prefecture) enacted a 'largely symbolic bylaw' [Reuters] stressing Tokyo's claim to the small, uninhabited islands mid-way between the two. Korea calls the islets Dokdo and Japan calls them Takeshima. Nationalists in Shimane Prefecture managed to have 22nd February named as "Takeshima Day".
며칠 전에 일본 지방의회 (시마네현)가 [로이터에 따라] '주로 상징 지방법'을 통과했다. 이 지방법이 한국이 독도라고 하고 일본이 타케시마라고 하는 섬들에 대해선 도쿄의 주장을 강조했다. 시마네현에 있는 국가주의자들 2월 22일에게 '타케시마의 날'이라고 부름에 성공했다.
The islets are now a nature reserve, overseen by the Korean coastguard. Allegedly, Shimane's actions were made on the grounds of fishing claims - everyone from Europe to Australia knows of Japan's aggressive fishing industry - although the islets are rumoured to be sitting on a natural gas deposit that could be worth up to US$150 billion. [Reuters]
Reasons for the Japanese politicians' tactless actions stem from the struggling economy, the rise of China and Korea as regional competitors - hence the increasingly conservative electorate that politicians are facing. (Likewise, in Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun recently called upon the Japanese government to apologise for the Japanese occupation of Korea - something that wasn't likely to happen, but stirred conservative voters.)
Local assemblies are granted a high level of autonomy in Japan, including in foreign policy. That said, the Japanese Central Government has so far failed to condemn Shimane's actions and seemed to endorse them, sending a fighter jet flying towards the island the next day. Observers have noted that Tokyo seems to have greatly underestimated how strong Korean feelings remain on this topic...
There has been an emotional and widespread backlash by many Korean civic groups and general petty boycotting of Japanese-made imports. Including daily demonstrations outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and even a report that two (possibly sick?) Korean men even cut off a finger each outside the building in protest. (There's also a sad photograph circulating of a group of grey-suited Koreans holding Korean flags as they walk over the Japanese flag.)
Korea's president, Roh Moo-hyun, has echoed popular sentiment by issuing strongly worded warnings to the Japanese government. The Japanese public, unaware of the details, sees only that Korea is angry at them. Shimane's actions were rash, but this overreaction is just as likely to harm both sides. No, things don't bode at all well, especially for Korea. We should all hope this wave of emotion and nationalistic sentiment dies down soon.
Some Japanese have questioned Shimane Prefecture's aggressive stance, but (and this may surprise many Koreans) it’s really not very important to most of them. They have higher priorities - what in Korea is generally perceived as rivalry with Japan is just 'historical baggage' to most people on the other side of the East Sea. As quoted in the on-line newspaper OhMyNews: "Actually only right-wing extremists care about the Dokdo issue."
On a personal note, only one of the dozens of Japanese travellers I've met overseas knew anything at all about Dokdo and most expressed little interest in it - it's simply not important to them. That said, a number of them asked to know more about the distorted Japanese history textbooks which, famously in Korea, have whitewashed important aspects of Japan's colonisation of the peninsula.
Feelings towards Japan seem to remain a mixture of lingering resentment of the past, competition and, I hate to say it, a bit of an inferiority complex. I remember being shocked by how many schoolchildren I've taught claimed they 'hate' Japan, but couldn't say why.
Bearing in mind the cruel and degrading treatment Koreans suffered under Japanese colonial occupation, which ended 40 years ago, to some extent I can sympathise. A number of the 'comfort women' taken by the Japanese army still protests every Wednesday in Seoul, demanding compensation. However, these protests just keep Koreans' old wounds open, to the extent that the views of a significant number of Koreans, as shown by this Dokdo issue, have little to do with present-day Japan or the vast majority of Japanese people. If they could talk with them on an objective, civilised and human level, they'd know that.
Due to the "hallyu" or Korean Wave that's sweeping Asia (and probably also economic ties) , many Japanese I've met have expressed an enthusiastic interest in learning Korean and visiting their closest neighbour. Most Japanese have moved on; so has Korea, right?
아시아를 휩쓰는 '한류' 때문에 제가 만난 일본인은 한국말을 공부하기와 이 이웃 나라를 갔다 오기에는 열심한 관심을 보였다. 대부분의 일본인이 진행했는데 한국도 그렇다. 그렇지요?
The most sensible advice I've come across is this from OhMynews: "While Koreans have every right to stand up to unfair treatment, they also need to realize that most Japanese cannot be judged according the actions of a handful of politicians."
저는 들었던 가장 양식있는 충고는 이건 [오마이뉴스에서]: "한국 사람이 부당한 대우에 용감히 맞서길 요구할 권리가 있으면서 대부분의 일본 사람을 소수의 정치인의 활동에 따라선 비판하지 않을 수는 없는 걸 깨달아야 한다."