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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Japan and South Korea's troubled relations
South Korean protesters burn a Japanese flag
South Koreans say Japanese books gloss over the war
By Japan analyst David Powers

Arguments between Japan and its neighbours - particularly South Korea and China - about the way Japanese schoolchildren are taught about World War II and Japan's colonial domination of East Asia are a depressingly regular occurrence.

The problem is twofold - it lies in the Japanese textbook approval system, and in the fact that Japan has never said 'sorry' in a way acceptable to countries that suffered wartime atrocities.


There is a deep-seated resentment against Japan in the Korean national consciousness

All textbooks - not just history ones - have to go through a rigorous government screening in Japan.

But it is the history books that always cause the problem - and not just with neighbouring countries.

A Japanese left-wing professor, Saburo Ienaga, waged a 30-year battle through the courts against the government in protest at the way the screening process distorts what children are taught about their country's past.

Professor Ienaga's case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but was eventually thrown out. Nevertheless, the prime minister of the time promised that the feelings of neighbouring countries would be taken into account in all future schoolbooks.

Judging by South Korea's reaction, Japan is still having problems understanding those feelings.

Cultural clashes

Japan's colonial domination of Korea from 1910 was often brutal and aimed at stamping out the Korean identity.

Everyone was forced to learn Japanese and adopt Japanese names.

Many were used as slave labour. Perhaps the most appalling case was that of the so-called 'comfort women', who were forced to act as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.

Fifa World Cup 2002 poster
The title of next year's world cup caused a big row
Even though all that came to an end more than 50 years ago, there is a deep-seated resentment against Japan in the Korean national consciousness.

Successive governments in Seoul have deliberately kept this alive by banning Japanese music and other artistic events.

When Japan's leading producer of musicals, Keita Asari, finally succeeded in getting the ban partially lifted a few years ago, it was on condition he staged something non-Japanese. He chose Jesus Christ Superstar.

It was not until June 2000 that the South Korean Government finally lifted its blanket ban on live performances by Japanese musicians.

Two months later the pop duo Chage and Aska gave a charity concert in Seoul's Olympic Memorial Park in front of 10,000 fans.

Culture and Tourism Minister Park Jie Won gave the event his personal blessing by attending the concert, but the sale of CDs and playing Japanese music on radio and TV is still against the law.

All this is rather strange for the two countries that will be co-hosts to the football World Cup in a year's time.

Even the naming of the event caused a major row with Japan, when Fifa decided it would be World Cup Korea-Japan and not the other way round.

Close ties

Yet official attitudes are often greatly at odds with the feelings of ordinary people, particularly those for whom the war really is history.

More than half-a-million ethnic Koreans live in Japan - most of them second and third generation descendents of people brought to the country during the colonial period. A recent poll among them revealed that more than half will be cheering either for Japan or for both Japan and Korea in the World Cup.

In South Korea, after years of official discouragement, there has been a surge of interest among young people in studying Japanese. One of the main reasons is because they want to watch Japanese anime (cartoons).

The huge amount of trade between the two countries is also an important factor. The South Korean electronic industry is heavily dependent on technology and parts imported from Japan.

The love-hate relationship between Japan and Korea is unlikely to change rapidly; and like most neighbours, they have little choice but to try to get on with each other. It will probably involve both sides making a considerable effort.

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See also:

09 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korea envoy recalled from Japan
04 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan stands firm on history book
03 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan textbook angers neighbours
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Attack on Japan ministry website
20 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Furore over Japan WWII remarks continues
19 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korea furious over Japan WWII remarks
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