A chronicle of Korea-Japan
'friendship' By James Card
SEOUL - Korea-Japan Friendship Year 2005
didn't turn out to be all that friendly.
It was conceived after the euphoria of
co-hosting the successful World Cup of football in
2002. With the catchphrase, "To the future,
together to the world", it was supposed to be a
year of reconciliation, positive steps and
celebration of the 40th anniversary of
normalization of diplomatic ties. Cultural,
economic and sports and arts exchanges were
But the year was a chain of
events that resulted in ugly diplomacy, raging
nationalism and the opening of old wounds.
In January, declassified dossiers relating
to the Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty of 1965
opened the first old wound. It was
first disclosure to the Korean public; it revealed
that Seoul demanded US$364 million compensation
for individuals who died, were injured or used as
laborers during Japan's 35-year occupation on the
Korean peninsula. Instead, the South Korean
government received $800 million, in a combination
of grants and low-interest loans, as reparations
South Korean dictator Park
Chung-hee agreed that after this payment, South
Korean citizens would give up their right to make
individual claims against the Japanese government.
What the declassified documents revealed was that
Park only paid out about 2.56 billion won ($251
million) to families killed by the Japanese and
6.6 billion won to owners of destroyed property.
None of the thousands of South Koreans conscripted
into the Japanese military and labor workforce
The remaining money
was earmarked for nation-building construction
projects. Park's often-criticized vision of
linking Seoul and Busan in the south by expressway
became a reality. He poured money into developing
infrastructure and heavy industry, especially his
favored state-owned business, Pohang Iron &
Steel, which later became Posco, one of the
world's top steelmakers.
reparation money, along with American foreign aid,
was the gratuitous seed money that bootstrapped
the South Korean economy into the industrial
nation of today. Arguments in the winter of 2005
revolved around the wartime victims being
sacrificed for the greater good of the nation and
Park's Japanese philosophy of "poor people, strong
Elderly women held protests every
Wednesday throughout the cold winter outside the
Japanese Embassy. They were the so-called "comfort
women", sex slaves forced to service Japanese
troops during World War II. The declassified
dossier revealed that no compensation was included
for the women subjected to sexual slavery. The
"comfort women" and their supporters increased
their demands for financial retribution and
apologies, and more than 2,000 individual families
filed suit against the South Korean government for
unfair distribution of the compensation money.
With such old grievances in the news and
on the minds of South Koreans, the mood to correct
historical issues was in the air and it exploded
into national consciousness over the sovereignty
of two uninhabited islands.
February, Shimane prefecture proposed a bill that
called for "Takeshima Day". Takeshima is the
Japanese name for the Liancourt Rocks. Koreans
call the small rocky islets "Dok-do", which means
The Liancourt Rocks are
composed of two rocky crags and 36 other volcanic
rocks located in the body of water known by South
Koreans as the "East Sea" and the "Sea of Japan"
by Japan and the rest of the world. As with the
islands, the name of the body of water is in
dispute. Both nations claim the barren rocks as
sovereign territory and each has historical and
legal arguments to back up their claims. The
islets are uninhabited except for a small South
Korean coast guard outpost. Besides national
pride, fishing zone rights and the possibility of
natural gas deposits are at stake.
well-worn cliche of the year was, "expressing
regret", and it seemed as if every other media
release contained the words. The South Korean
Foreign Ministry "expressed regret" over the bill
proposed by Shimane lawmakers, and asked for an
immediate repeal. The same day, Japanese
Ambassador Toshiyuki Takano told reporters in
Seoul, "The Takeshima Islands are historically and
lawfully Japanese territory." To the South
Koreans, this was an incredible affront and the
Foreign Ministry summoned Toshinao Urabe, a senior
Japanese diplomat, and lodged a formal protest.
Urabe defended the statement by saying it was
taken out of context.
A day later, civic
groups protested outside the Japanese Embassy.
Many were bare-chested in the late winter weather
but were warmed by burning Japanese flags and
photographs of Takano. South Korean scholars
trotted out Japanese-drawn maps from 1592 and 1785
that apparently proved Dokdo was historically
Korean territory. Another British map from 1951
marked the islands as Korean land. Other
historical claims go as far back as 512 AD.
On March 1, South Korea's Independence
Movement Day, President Roh Moo-hyun stated that
Japan must reflect on its past in order to heal
old wounds "otherwise, no matter how strong its
economic and military power may be, it will be
difficult for Japan to become a leader of the
world". He also asked Japan to provide more
apologies and compensation. Japanese Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi later downplayed the
speech as rhetoric to placate South Korea's
domestic audience. This comment lead South Korean
National Security Council chief Chung Dong-young
to retort that it was "unreasonable to regard such
an effort as a gesture to appease Koreans".
The day before in the South Korean
National Assembly, lawmakers called for the East
Sea/Sea of Japan to be renamed the "Sea of Corea".
Meanwhile, residents of nearby Ulleung Island
sailed to Dokdo and hoisted banners and helium
balloons proclaiming it South Korean territory.
And the once obscure Dokdo Museum, built in 1997
on Ulleung Island, was flooded with visitors and
In front of the Japanese
Embassy on March 14, a 68-year-old mother snipped
off her little finger with pruning shears and her
41-year-old son cut off his finger with a butcher
knife. They intended to send them to Koizumi to
protest the Dokdo issue. Separate rallies spread
across Seoul. Some called for the removal of
Takano, while others burned Japanese flags.
Police wrangled away a pig (representing
Koizumi) that was being readied for slaughter.
Former South Korean military commandos
demonstrated in front of the Japanese Embassy
holding portraits of Korean independence fighters
and later tried to infiltrate the embassy but were
held back by 800 riot police.
later, four South Korean F-5 jetfighters scrambled
to thwart a Japanese civilian C-560 Cessna
approaching within a mile of Dokdo airspace. The
aircraft belonged to the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese
daily newspaper. It previously requested
permission to enter the air defense zone to
photograph the islands, but was denied. The plane
finally turned back after four radio warnings.
By mid-March the situation worsened.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura
rejected Seoul's new demands for compensation to
individual South Koreans during the colonial era,
citing all claims were resolved after the 1965
treaty. Nor did it help when a parade and a rally
were held in Matsue, Japan that celebrated the
passage of the "Takeshima Day" bill. On the news
of the bill's passage, the Japanese Embassy in
Seoul was again surrounded with riot police and
On March 19, Heo Gyeong-wuk
set himself ablaze in front of the Japanese
Embassy while waving a protest flag. A few days
later, Roh wrote in a letter to the public that
Japanese foreign policy has reached an intolerable
point and he foresaw a "merciless diplomatic war".
The strongly worded letter left South Korean
diplomats nonplussed. Grand National Party
chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, criticized the
president's emboldened war of words.
early April, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara
labeled Roh's criticism of Japan "a third-rate
political technique" meant to garner home
popularity. Two days later, Seoul mayor Lee
Myung-bak defended Roh with the unimaginative
retort, "If our politics are third rate, then
Ishihara's must be fourth and fifth rate."
Anti-Japanese sentiment and Dokdo fever
swept the country. Several anti-Japan rallies held
throughout Seoul welcomed Koizumi when he met Roh
in mid-June. They talked for two hours and nothing
South Koreans also protested
with their spending habits, and many vowed not to
buy Japanese goods. Civic groups called on
consumers not to buy Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and
Isuzu vehicles - a pointless gesture since hardly
any Japanese autos can be seen on South Korean
In Busan, an Accord was set ablaze
at a Honda dealership with the message, "Be ready
to pay the price if you buy a Japanese car." The
Busan Women's Coalition issued a statement to
boycott all Japanese goods, and Internet message
boards abounded with hate toward products made in
Also a handful of Koreans
volunteered to move to Dokdo, while other families
registered their family households to be based on
Dokdo as a symbolic gesture. Japanese did the
same, and currently the count is about 900 South
Koreans and 2,000 Japanese living imaginary lives
on the two barren rocks. In a bizarre gesture, the
city council in Masan, a city in Gyeongnam
province, passed the "Daemado Day" bill,
commemorating June 19 as the day when 15th-century
general, Lee Jong-mu, led forces to take over the
Japanese island known as Tsushima, an island fully
recognized as Japanese territory.
politics and boycotts, the anger spilled over into
other spheres of life. The Lakehills Country Club,
an operator of two golf resorts, banned Japanese
guests from entry. Other sports exchanges were
cancelled, along with scheduled university matches
between the two countries. Japanese expatriates
living in South Korea kept their heads down with
most of them bewildered about the outrage over two
barren rocks. The Japanese Embassy sent out
warnings urging caution.
marketers got into the action with blatant ads
that appealed to nationalism.
A maker of
MP3 players, Reigncom, asked South Koreans not to
buy Apple's iPod because it was unpatriotic. KTF
broadcast a commercial claiming its mobile phone
service even reaches the far-off Dokdo. In a
clever scheme, Daegu Bank created a "Dokdo branch
bank" that only existed in cyberspace and quickly
garnered $100,000 in deposits. A commercial by
Daelim apartments depicted a cartoon where a giant
South Korean robot-warrior rises out of the sea to
thwart a Dokdo invasion by Japanese marauders
portrayed as half-naked, buck-toothed goblins.
Makers of computer games invented Dokdo battles;
another was a crusade to conquer Tsushima Island
that is controlled by the "Monkey Chief", a
character that resembled Koizumi.
United States military even got sucked into the
issue though its position is neutral about Dokdo.
Jang Sung-min, a former lawmaker, reasoned that
the US recognized Dokdo as South Korean territory
because Operation Foal Eagle, the annual US-South
Korea joint military exercise, took place near
Another historical issue was
renewed over Japanese textbooks, a long-standing
argument between South Korea and Japan. The main
flare-up was related to the Dokdo issue when a new
edition for middle schools stated that the Dokdo
islets are Japanese territory under international
law whereas the previous edition stated Japan
merely had historical claims to the islets.
Another contentious issue was the lack of
reference to "comfort women" and forced laborers.
Japanese students may be kept
intentionally ignorant of their forefathers
wartime atrocities, but South Korean educators
fanned the embers of old grievances.
South Korean classrooms, all levels were taught in
special classes about South Korea's sovereign
rights over Dokdo with lesson plans supplied by
the Korea Federation of Teachers' Associations.
The Gyeonggi English Program in Korea, modeled
after the Japan Exchange and Teaching program,
lectured foreign English teachers about South
Korea's rights to Dokdo, regardless of their
apathy on the issue.
The most disturbing
images of the year were drawings on exhibit at
Gyulhyeon Station on the Incheon subway line. The
crayon sketches from the students of Gyeyang
Middle School depicted the Japanese islands either
awash in flames or getting bombed, stabbed or
Warlike South Korean stickmen
attacked bloodied Japanese stickmen; skulls and
crossbones and burning flags were prominent
motifs, along with the words "Kill! Die!" as well
as some foul language. Photos of the exhibit were
taken by a Canadian expatriate and posted online.
The photos drew thousands of hits and much
commentary. Shortly after the buzz on the web, the
pictures were removed from the public eye.
In mid-April, former special forces
commandos protested at the Japanese Embassy, and
then later at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism
where they fought police with pickaxes and hammers
while lobbing firebombs. The leader brandished a
hunting rifle, but it along with two explosive
devices were confiscated by police. About midnight
at Takano's residence, they set fire to a coffin
and launched flaming arrows at his home. Lacking
the backbone to enforce the law, the police did
not charge the former soldiers with any crimes
because they did not want to upset the ongoing
wave of anti-Japanese sentiment.
cultural front of South Korean-Japanese relations
in 2005, BoA, a South Korean bubblegum pop idol
created by S M Entertainment, went to the top of
Japanese music charts with her fifth K-pop album.
Incredibly successful in Japan since 2001, she
appeared in numerous commercial and advertisements
throughout the country. On the screen, the most
popular man was Bae Yong-joon, the foppish South
Korean star of the drama Winter Sonata. His
appearances drew massive crowds of Japanese
housewives and his film, April Snow, was a
box-office success this year.
Korea, Japanese novels this year outnumbered local
novels on the bestseller list for the first time
in Korean history. Haruki Murakami, Kaori Ekuni,
Jiro Asada, Ryu Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto were
the most popular authors.
however, inflamed South Korean readers. One was
titled, Medicine for Korea's Ills by Ryoma
Nakaoka. The satire portrayed South Korean men as
twisted stalkers and women as harridans, and
mocked South Korea's plastic surgery fetish. The
other is a backlash of the popularity of the
so-called "Korean Wave" of pop culture. Titled,
The Hate-Korea Wave, the comic book by
Sharin Yamano sold more than 360,000 copies in
Japan. Considered by most as Japanese bigotry, the
book delves into the half-truths and historical
distortions of South Korea.
another major historical hangover haunted South
Korean-Japanese relations: the Yasukuni shrine.
Located in Tokyo, the shrine holds the Book of
Souls, which identifies 2,466,532 Japanese and
21,000 Korean-conscripted soldiers killed in war.
For the Japanese, to be enshrined is an honor to a
soldier's name and family. It is the house of
fallen warriors that fought for the empire, but
among those listed are 14 Class A war criminals
honored as the "Martyrs of Showa".
both North and South Korea, China and most of
Asia, the shrine represents Japan's refusal to
completely acknowledge its aggressive military
past, and when Japanese politicians visit the
shrine, it is viewed as gross insensitivity.
Koizumi made four visits prior to this year, and
was condemned for it. He maintained he visited for
remembrance, a kind of reminder there would be no
further wars involving Japan.
15, he did not make his annual visit to Yasukuni
shrine but paid his respects at the Chidorigafuchi
National Cemetery. He offered a broad apology for
Japan's past wars. The carefully worded statement
said Japan accepted that it brought suffering to
Asia, expressed heartfelt apologies and affirmed
there would be no more war.
On the same
day, the 60th anniversary of liberation from
Japanese control, North and South Korean
delegations issued a joint statement calling for
more compensation and a stop to Japan distorting
its militaristic history. Roh said in a televised
speech that new legislation was necessary to
compensate victims of Japanese colonial rule and
the military regimes from the 1960s through 1980s.
In late August, the third round of
Korea-Japan Treaty negotiations still ground out
historical issues. Seoul maintained the position
that despite the 1965 treaty, Japan was still
responsible for colonial-era aggressions. A
committee concluded that the 1965 treaty payoff
was not meant for damages inflicted during Japan's
colonization but simply resolved credit affairs
and financial liabilities between the two
In the committee's eyes, the
treaty did not cover wartime atrocities such as
drafting of "comfort women" as sex slaves, Korean
victims of the atomic bombings and displaced
laborers on Sakhalin Island. Tokyo still maintains
it has no legal responsibility for further
compensation to individuals and the 1965 treaty
fully absolved Japan of all future claims.
On October 17, Koizumi created another
furor when he made his fifth visit to the shrine,
claiming it was for private purposes. Seoul called
the visit "most regrettable", and cancelled the
annual "shuttle summit" scheduled for later in the
year, and thereafter - until the Yasukuni visits
On November 9, an annual soccer
match between Japanese and South Korean lawmakers
was cancelled. The Korean National Assembly said
members would attend, but not play against any
diet (Japanese parliament) members that visited
Yasukuni. The Japanese withdrew their invitation.
At the November Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation meeting in Busan foreign ministers Ban
and Taro Aso found no common ground in a bilateral
meeting. Later, Roh met with Koizumi for 30
minutes, with the time spent reiterating old
In early December, despite South
Korean and Chinese bitterness toward the Yasukuni
visits, Koizumi stated he would continue to go to
the Shinto shrine. As a result, the annual
three-way summit between South Korea, China, and
Japan at the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur was postponed.
Jared Diamond, an American author and
biogeographer,once wrote: "Like Arabs and Jews,
Koreans and Japanese are joined by blood yet
locked in traditional enmity. But enmity is
mutually destructive, in East Asia as in the
Middle East. As reluctant as Japanese and Koreans
are to admit it, they are like twin brothers who
shared their formative years. The political future
of East Asia depends in large part on their
success in rediscovering those ancient bonds
Thus, ends Korea-Japan
Friendship Year 2005.
is a freelance writer in South Korea. He can be
contacted at www.jamescard.net