I had been reading, in recent years, that the enmity between Korea and Japan was lessening, thanks to new generations of kids growing up removed from the horrors of World War II, and thanks to cultural exchange between the two countries. Korean comics, for example, had grown wildly popular in Japan, as had some TV dramas, like the one I was obsessed with this past spring, “Winter Sonata.” Japanese tourists were visiting Korea more than ever before. And the World Cup of 2002, which pitted the two countries against each other for the right to host the event, is long past. (FIFA feared what would happen if it chose one country over the other, so it split hosting duties between the two. This stunned Koreans, who had been rallying for the right to host their second big international sporting event since the 1988 Seoul Olympics and in the process gain some bragging rights over Japan, which has hosted three Olympics…. )
With all of this seemingly friendly exchange between the two countries, I was surprised to read about a new Korea-bashing comic that’s popular in Japan. Koreans have always been considered second-class citizens in Japan, where even third and fourth generation residents are usually unable to gain Japanese citizenship. It’s pretty disturbing to see this kind of hatred manifest itself in recreational reading.
What’s more, tensions seem to be heating up again over a group of disputed islands in the Sea of Japan. (As an indicator of feelings toward their island neighbor, Koreans refuse to call this body of water by the name generally accepted by most of the rest of the world…they refer to it as the East Sea.) When I lived in Korea, the students I taught English to were always bringing up these rocky bits of land — Korea calls them Tokdo, Japan calls them Takeshima — as proof of Japan’s ruthless nature.
But, like most relationships, this one is complex…there’s also talk of the two countries joining forces for defense purposes.