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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Japanese royals make symbolic trip to Seoul
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, right, talks with Japan's Prince Takamado
It is the first Japanese royal visit to Seoul since 1945
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has met a cousin of the Japanese emperor, in a highly symbolic move which is seen as progress towards healing the historic rift between the two countries ahead of their co-hosting of the World Cup.


I believe that the World Cup will serve as a motivation to re-establish a mutually friendly relationship between Japan and South Korea in the 21st century

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung
The visit by Prince Takamado and his wife Princess Hisako was the first official visit by the Japanese Imperial family since World War II.

There is still significant bitterness in South Korea over its colonisation by Japan between 1910 and 1945.

President Kim offered to consider further relaxing restrictions on cultural imports from Japan, if Tokyo helped ease Seoul's concerns on how it handles its wartime past.

South Korea first opened its market to Japanese cultural products in 1998, but still restricts Japanese music, books and films.

Prince Takamado visited South Korea's war ceremony and, during a visit to a palace, talked to elderly Koreans who lived under Japanese rule.

Symbolic

"I hope the royal couple's visit will strengthen the co-operation and friendship between South Korea and Japan and lead to a successful World Cup," President Kim said on the eve of the opening World Cup ceremony and match in Seoul.

Anti-Japan Protest in Seoul, 21 March 2002
Older South Koreans remember Japan's war-time record

"I believe that the World Cup will serve as a motivation to re-establish a mutually friendly relationship between Japan and South Korea in the 21st century."

Prince Takamado, who is seventh in line to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne, is due with his wife to watch two World Cup matches over the weekend.

The BBC's correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, says the visit is a sign of warmer relations between the two countries since a series of rows in the past year over Japan's handling of its war-time past.

Seoul had originally hoped that Emperor Akihito himself would attend the football tournament's opening ceremony, but Tokyo responded that the timing was not right.

Arguments over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to his country's controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which honours several war criminals, and a Japanese text book which Seoul claimed whitewashed its war-time past, have hampered bilateral relations over the past 12 months.

But the joint award of the World Cup to the two rivals has gone some way to easing that bitterness, with the two countries taking more interest in each other's popular culture, and co-operating on security for the tournament.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"The hope is football will build bridges between the two countries"
See also:

30 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
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