“Maybe I should rewrite the lyric of ‘Dokdo is Japan’s land’ in the song to ‘Tsushima is also our land’.”
– Bak In-ho, composer of the popular Korean song Dokdo is Our Land, in a recent interview
“독도(獨島) 대마도(對馬島) 구주(九州) 시마네현(島根縣)도 우리 땅이다”
“Dokdo (Takeshima), Daemado (Tsushima), Kyushu, and Shimane Prefecture are our land”
– Korean novelist Pyo Man-un
AS IF ONE territorial dispute over a small island group weren’t enough to poison the well of improving Japanese-South Korean relations, another squabble is emerging over a different group of Japanese islands. This one is driven primarily by ill-advised Korean behavior and those elements of Korean society with a taste for opéra bouffe political gestures.
It would not be accurate to call this a territorial dispute—no one with an adult outlook or a triple-digit IQ considers the territory to be at dispute—but the recent mini-tempest is forcing people on both sides of the Sea of Japan to divert their attention from more productive and profitable matters. The focus of the commotion is Tsushima, an island group consisting of two primary islands with a combined area of 276 square miles, 90% of which is forest and 3% of which is arable land. Tsushima has a population of roughly 38,000 people (and an estimated 40,000 deer and 20,000 wild boar). The islands lie 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Korean coastline, which is visible from a mountaintop observation deck on clear days. They are administered as a city within Nagasaki Prefecture.
An important factor that must not be overlooked is the thriving interaction that has existed for millenia between the people of Kyushu and the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, pre-dating such concepts as a Japanese or Korean nation-state. Because it lies in the middle of the Korea Strait, Tsushima has naturally been at the center of this activity, serving as a commercial and political go-between for the Japanese central government and the Korean Peninsula for centuries.
One reason the reawakened South Korean interest in Tsushima is troubling the Japanese is that the islands have long been considered an important link in the chain of national defense. Japan built its first defensive fortifications there in the seventh century (against the Chinese). They have maintained that approach to the present day, as shown by their modernization of the defenses in the 19th century (against the Russians and British), and the Air Self-Defense Force radar station located there now.
Nonetheless, Tsushima had largely been ignored by outsiders until three recent Korean invasions of the island and the controversy over the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan upset the balance. Here’s what’s been happening.
The first Korean invasion: Garbage
Trash from the Korean Peninsula started to become a serious problem in 2004. According to the Tsushima municipal government, about 250 tons of cans, bottles, containers, plastic bags and other kinds of waste—including disposable hypodermic syringes with intact needles—washed up on the shoreline that year, most of it coming from South Korea. (Some also came from China and Russia.) The trash tonnage rose to 650 in 2005 and climbed to 4,000 last year.
According to the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, 85% of the refuse that washes ashore on the Japanese coasts comes from South Korea. (It’s easy to identify the origin of containers or packaging for commercial products.) The Japanese government disposes of 100,000 tons of seaside trash annually.
The sheer mass of garbage has overwhelmed Tsushima’s ability to deal with it all. Some of it has to be shipped to Fukuoka for disposal, saddling the municipal government with a 5-million-yen bill (about $US 51,600) every year. Islanders have formed an NPO consisting of about 80 volunteer sanitary engineers, but they have trouble storing all the debris until it can be disposed. (The trash they collect is bagged and fills up a parking lot at a business site owned by one of the members.)
Tsushima officials asked Seoul to help clean up some of their mess. The Korean response has been largely a volunteer effort. About 300 university students come from Seoul for a weekend every year to pick up after their countrymen. One report says they managed to gather an estimated 200-300 tons in a weekend, but that would mean each student stooped over and picked up a ton of trash by themselves in a two-day period. Some Korean women’s groups have also volunteered to help.
While the islanders are resigned to the inevitability of becoming the dumpster for a certain amount of flotsam and jetsam because of their geographical location, having to spend so much time and money to rid their own back yard of rubbish that should have been handled in South Korea is unlikely to inculcate feelings of international friendship.
The second Korean invasion: Tourists
There has been a 400% increase in tourism to Tsushima in the past five years, and South Koreans account for 99% of all foreign tourists to the islands. Most of the tourists are families and fishermen (or both), and they usually arrive on the Sea Flower 2, a ship operated by Daea Express Shipping out of Busan. The Sea Flower 2 makes the 2 hour and 10 minute trip 10 times a month.
Here are the annual statistics for the number of Korean tourists coming to Tsushima through its two seaports starting in 2003. The figures in parentheses represent the percentage of tourists accounted for by South Koreans among all foreign tourists to the islands.
2003: 15,725 (97.9%)
2004: 21,055 (99.3%)
2005: 36,768 (99.5%)
2006: 42,467 (99.4%) That year the number of South Korean tourists surpassed the island’s population.
2007: 65,750 (99.5%)
Tsushima Mayor Takarabe Yoshinari recently commented in the Japanese press on the trends for 2008:
“Tourism at this point is up 44% from last year’s total. There have been 50% year-on-year increases for the past several years, so the number of tourists is likely to reach 80 or 90,000.”
That means the number of South Korean tourists will have doubled in just two years, and the number of tourists this year will be twice that of the Tsushima population.
One can easily imagine the difficulties that arise when the number of people visiting an isolated, rural area with a population unprepared for tourism increases so sharply in such a short period of time—particularly when all of them are Koreans, who are not known as the most courteous of overseas guests.
The sheer number of Korean tourists, the unfortunate tendency among some Koreans to behave as if they are the lords of all they survey, and a local population reduced to acting as servants in their own home makes it inevitable that some friction would occur. While there are no statistics, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. The Japanese recoil at the habit of some Korean men of spitting in the street. A local Chamber of Commerce official says they are having difficulties trying to find ways to deal with the new problem of the human excrement now being deposited on the islands’ mountains. (Tourists are the ones doing the recreational mountain climbing).
Tales of Korean shoplifting are so numerous that, fairly or not, Koreans have now become tagged with that reputation locally. Here is the standard Korean motus operandi according to those stories: Large groups of people arrive at a convenience store together to occupy staff attention while the members on the fringes help themselves to the goods on the shelves. There are also stories of cab drivers getting stiffed for their fares.
The primary occupation of the islanders over the years has been fishing, and Korean fishermen are not winning their country any international goodwill in Tsushima. The locals claim the Koreans catch and keep fingerlings that the Japanese would toss back (to maintain the fish population), store them in coolers, and take them home for resale in local markets.
Bilateral amity was also not served by the group of 21 Korean military veterans who showed up in Tsushima this July to hold a demonstration outside city hall with a banner reading, “Dokdo and Tsushima are both South Korean land.” In keeping with the now-standard mise-en-scène for the vaudeville of modern Joseon nationalism, several members cut their fingers to write messages in blood on the large banner.
It’s not difficult to find on the web photos of Koreans on the beaches of Tsushima planting in the sand a Korean flag that bears the foregoing slogan, next to a Japanese flag in which the red rising sun in the middle has been cut out. They were published by the Yeonhap news agency of South Korea.
Nevertheless, the Tsushimanians are, for the most part, accommodating to the new tourists. Many of the road signs on Tsushima are now written in Korean as well as Japanese. The influx does provide new employment opportunities, albeit primarily at menial tasks in hotels and other facilities. The tourists are also spending cash on the island, though no reliable estimates of the economic benefits have yet to be released.
One factor mitigating the economic benefit, however, is that the cash is increasingly being spent at facilities owned by Korean interests, rather than at Japanese-owned establishments.
The third Korean invasion: Capital
Following the wave of South Korean tourism, Korean capital is increasingly being invested in Tsushima real estate to build or refurbish resort hotels, fishing camps, and villas or other lodgings. Unlike South Korea, Japan has few restrictions on the repatriation of foreign currency. (South Korea is known for having the OECD’s highest transaction costs, which include a requirement to buy government bonds when purchasing residential property. Also, the South Korean government recommends that locally earned income be repatriated through local companies.)
In addition, the land on Tsushima is cheaper than that on South Korea’s Jeju Island, also located in the Korea Strait.
Therefore, the Korean visitors to Tsushima are increasingly staying in Korean-owned facilities, which means a significant portion of the income generated stays in Korean hands.
According to sources on Tsushima, large Korean real estate purchases began about 20 years ago by people affiliated with religious institutions. They snapped up properties in cash and bargained over prices in 10 million yen units, an amount roughly worth $US 130,000 today. (What the religious groups have been doing with this property since then is unclear.)
Lately, however, individuals have been doing the shopping. About 15 lodges on the island are now Korean-owned, and there are ongoing negotiations to buy more. The Korean practice for buying property is to create a local subsidiary, which then buys the property in the name of a Japanese. Tsushima city officials say it’s difficult to determine how much property the Koreans have purchased. The lodges, for example, are dotted all over the islands, and it’s not possible to nail down the ownership from the documents alone.
Foreigners filling their shopping baskets in property-buying sprees are enough to cause concern in any country. Even the United States, which is relatively open about such matters, started fretting about Middle Eastern oil money and Japanese bubble economy profits being funneled into real estate in the 70s and 80s.
Tsushima radar installation seen from observation deck
Tsushima’s remote and rural location might not be generating such concern if not for one factor: The Japanese have always considered the islands a key part of national defense. The observation platform in the first photo in this post is used mostly to scan the horizon for the city of Busan across the strait—but it also looks directly down on the radar installation at the Unishima base of Japan’s air self-defense forces.
Next door to the military facilities is a new, Korean-built hotel. It was formerly the location of a cultured pearl plant (once an island industry), but the plant shut its doors in 2002. The plant’s owner negotiated with the Japanese government to have the naval self-defense forces buy it. When talks lagged, it was bought in the name of a local islander with Korean capital, reportedly provided by the president of a company on the peninsula.
What difference does it make to have a hotel next to a radar installation? The people who stay in Korean-owned tourist hotels in Tsushima are Korean tourists, and the South Korean government has a less-than-stellar record for preventing IDs from falling into the hands of agents from North Korea. And then there is the significant ethnic Korean population living in China next to North Korea.
Each of these problems, either individually or in the aggregate, might be resolved with little difficulty were it not for the reemergence of South Korean fables that Tsushima is their territory to begin with.
After Shimane asserted its claim to the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean city of Masan on 18 March 2005 declared 19 June to be Daemado Day, which is the old Korean name for Tsushima and the one favored by Korean nationalists. (It derives from the Chinese characters 對馬島. The official South Korean name for the site, however, is Tsushima Island, which they write as 쓰시마섬.)
Masan also claimed Tsushima as part of the country’s South Gyeongsang province. When asked to retract its claim, the Masan City Council refused on the grounds that Tsushima was never formally ceded to Japan.
The Tsushima City Council sent a protest to Masan on 6 October 2006, asking them to reconsider. Masan’s official reply:
“It is not worth a response.”
The Masan declaration has plenty of precedents. During discussions of the disposition of Japanese territory after its defeat in World War II when the peace treaty was being written, the South Korean government came up with a list of islands it wanted to snatch while the snatching was good. One of these was Takeshima, which the Americans rejected. Another was a sunken island that no longer existed. A third was Tsushima. The excuse?
“In the heart of every Korean is a longing for the return of these islands.” South Korean President Ii Sung-man, (Syngman Rhee) 17 August 1948
Those maudlin sentiments will be quite familiar to those who have followed the debate over Takeshima—only the names of the islands were changed to suit the circumstances. But the Americans were having none of that, either. From a U.S. State Department report on 30 March 1950:
“While many Koreans may be convinced of the validity of the claim (on Tsushima), it is obvious that the government’s demands and the popular support for them have not been based on a rational, legal basis of the issue.”
One notes with interest the use of the word “rational”.
By 19 July the next year, South Korean government agreed to withdraw their demand for Tsushima.
But popular support in South Korea for these claims still remains. A public opinion survey conducted this summer asked Koreans the question, “Should we demand that Japan return Tsushima?” Those responding in the affirmative constituted a majority at 50.6%, while 33.5% were opposed. Indeed, some Japanese in Tsushima suspect that Korean tour guides on the their islands contribute to the chorus of “Daemado is our land too” as they shepherd visitors around to different sites.
The South Korean military remains interested as well. In July 2007, Kim Seong-man, now a retired vice-admiral (the second-highest rank in the South Korean navy) and a former high official in that navy, submitted a request to the Korean government that a plan be formulated for the invasion of Tsushima.
This summer, 50 South Korean parliamentarians from both the ruling Grand National Party and opposition parties submitted a resolution to the National Assembly demanding that Seoul claim Tsushima. GNP member Ho Tae-yol explained their reasoning on 16 August:
“Rather than insisting that Dokdo (Takeshima) is Korean land, a method that would have a more effective response would be to insist that Tsushima is also our land. There is more historical and documentary evidence that Tsushima is Korean land than Dokdo is Japanese land. In addition, President Ii Sung-man said that Tsushima was Korean land. Geographically, it is closer to South Korea than to Japan…
“A genealogical study on Tsushima found there are four types of proteins, including AYW, in the hepatitis B genetic material. The ADR protein appears in South Korea. On the four main Japanese islands, this protein is in a 7-3 ratio with the other proteins. On Tsushima, it is nearly 100%…
“Historically speaking, Tsushima became Japanese from the Meiji period. The Tsushima feudal lord was appointed during the Silla period and ruled until the Joseon dynasty. Conditions in Japan changed, so the Tsushima feudal lord turned neutral and paid tribute to both. (Therefore) it would be a better method to counteract (the Japanese) by insisting that Tsushima is also Korean territory.”
A discussion of the relevance of hepatitis B genetic material in this context and the reasoning that demanding the return of Tsushima is “a more effective response” to Japanese claims on Takeshima is better left to psychologists. An examination of the historical record would be more to the point.
Those South Koreans who insist that “Daemado is our land too” cite the supposed Korean occupancy of Tsushima during the Silla period and Korean “control” of the islands during part of the Joseon dynasty.
Silla was one of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea, and it is traditionally dated from 57 BC to 935 AD. The problem with the claim that Tsushima was under Korean control during the Silla period is that it is based entirely on word of mouth. As the Korean scholar Dr. Paik Sung-jong notes here, there is no documentary evidence for Korean control during that period at all. (Scroll down further to read the questions he was answering.)
The modern Korean historian Lee Hyun-bok cites a history of Korea written by American missionary Homer Hulbert in 1905 that mentions Silla’s occupation of Tsushima. Again, there is no documentation for this claim, and as this biographical sketch makes clear, Mr. Hulbert—who was expelled from Korea by the Japanese–was more of a Korean nationalist than even some Koreans.
In contrast, there is extensive documentary evidence from the period that Tsushima was Japanese (or what could be considered Japanese in the pre-nation-state era.)
The Sanguo Zhi, or Records of the Three Kingdoms, is a Chinese historical text written in the third century. One section, known as the Gishi Wajinden in Japanese, contains the first written account of the Japanese polity at that time, which it called Yamatai (and which eventually became Yamato). One of the 30 settlements in the Yamatai was the Tsuikai kingdom—the present day Tsushima, where 1,000 families then lived.
Tsushima is also mentioned as part of Japan in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters). Dating from 680, it is the oldest surviving book in the country, and is based on oral histories and another written volume that has been lost. The islands also appear in the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), a history of Japan completed in 720. This work states that the islands were a staging point for a Japanese attack on the Silla kingdom. The 18th Silla king also wrote about these attacks in 408. (The Nihon Shoki is also a source of information on the struggles between the ancient Korean kingdoms of Silla, Goguryeo, and Baekje.)
Japan set up defensive establishments against China on Tsushima in 664. A Silla attack against the island with about 100 ships and 2,500 men was repelled in 894. So Kuremune, the founder of the local line of feudal lords, was sent to Tsushima from Fukuoka in the 12th century; his name first appeared in records in 1196.
In both 1274 and 1281 there were large attacks by the Mongols assisted by forces from the Goryeo dynasty (the predecessor of the Joseon dynasty). Records state that many men were killed or captured in the first attack. (During the first invasion, the Tsushima women were gathered in one place, a hole cut in their hands to allow a cord to pass through, and tied together as a group to a ship.)
In 1419, a large force from the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) attacked, but suffered large losses and withdrew.
In 1443, the local feudal lord So Sadamori negotiated with the Joseon dynasty a trade agreement known in Japan as the Kakitsu Treaty. This defined the limits on the amount of trade, both in the amount of ships and the value of trade conducted between the two. Tsushima was permitted to send 50 ships a year. This allowed So a near-monopoly on trade with the Korean Peninsula. In return, the Koreans sent 200 koku of rice to Tsushima every year (1 koku is approximately 278.3 liters).
One of the Korean negotiators for this treaty was Sin Suk-chu. The Joseon government officially printed, and later reprinted, his book Haedong Cheguk-ki, in which Tsushima is considered a part of Japan. The maps in the book confirm the government’s position. (The Joseon dynasty was inconsistent, however. Some of their maps show Tsushima as Korean, the latest of which dates from 1860.)
Yet it is this treaty, in which a tributary relationship was created between Tsushima and the Joseon dynasty, which forms the basis for the Korean claims on the island. Here is a passage explaining why a tributary relationship in East Asia had no relationship to sovereignty.
Tributary relations normally involved no element of administrative control or interference by the hegemon. At most, the hegemonic power might intervene in succession issues and might ratify the accession of a monarch. For this reason, the extrapolation from pre-modern inter-state relations to the modern international system is problematic. The modern-day heirs of tribute hegemons tend to claim that the tributary relationship should be understood as an acknowledgement of the hegemon’s sovereignty in the modern world, whereas former tributary states deny that there was any transfer of sovereignty.
For instance, modern Chinese authorities have sometimes produced a list of tributaries of Imperial China which implies Chinese sovereign claim over territories not now regarded as Chinese. An unusually elaborate and formalized tribute system developed in East Asia. Historically, the Emperor of China saw himself as the emperor of the entire civilized world. It was not possible for such an emperor to have equal diplomatic relations with any other power, and so all diplomatic relations in the region were constructed by the Chinese as tributary. The disdain of the state ideology of Confucianism for trade, and the conceit that Chinese civilization had no need of products or technology from outside meant that trade, when it was permitted, was also constructed as tributary. Diplomatic missions and trading parties from non-Chinese regions were interpreted in Chinese records as being tributary, regardless of the intention of those regions.
Even a casual scholar would recognize that the tributary relationship was that era’s mechanism for conducting official trade between two states of unequal strength. (The value of the tribute paid by Tsushima to Joseon, incidentally, was trifling in comparison to the rice received in return.)
One also wonders why Mr. Ho would use these historical circumstances as a justification for Korean sovereignty. Applying that same logic would mean the entire Korean Peninsula belongs to China.
This tributary relationship lasted for 200 years, but that did not prevent the So family from contributing 5,000 men to the 1591 invasion of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and to allow the island to be used as a staging point. The Tsushima forces were among the first to attack Busan, Seoul, and Pyeongyang in that unsuccessful invasion. Incidentally, the Joseon government did not record this invasion in their official records at the time because Koreans did not consider Japan a civilized country. (For their part, the Japanese who dealt with the Joseon court considered them effeminate, but those men were battle-hardened veterans of the Japanese civil wars.)
Tsushima continued to be ruled by So family during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), while it maintained trade with Joseon and its role as mediator. During this period, Tsushima samurai escorted Korean missions into Japan. They (and the Dutch in Nagasaki) were the only foreigners allowed in the country during this period of self-imposed isolation.
The Japanese government’s response
Japan’s print and broadcast media has recently brought the Tsushima controversy to the public’s attention, particularly the land purchases, and that means politicians are required to address the issue.
The public position of Prime Minister Aso Taro is that he doesn’t view it as much of a problem. His comment about Tsushima land purchases made quite a lot of sense:
“The land has been purchased legally. It’s the same as when Japan bought American property. We can’t say that it’s all well and good when we buy something, but not so good when other people buy it.”
Regarding the bill submitted in the Korean National Assembly, Mr. Aso observed:
“Not once has the South Korean government said that Tsushima was South Korean territory.”
The Foreign Ministry is also taking a hands-off approach:
“It’s not for us to comment as a government about legal transactions. (We’re) not sure whether (the purchases) can be restricted.”
But to allay any concerns, another foreign ministry official added:
“We’ve just become aware that real estate is being purchased with South Korean capital. We should respond appropriately if there is a political motivation. We should collect information.”
Added Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura Takeo:
“Just because they introduced the bill doesn’t mean they passed it. It’s clear from a historical perspective that Tsushima has always been Japanese territory.”
Mr. Kawamura also addressed national security concerns:
“The defense facilities on the island are properly functioning. There’s nothing to worry about, but from the perspective of Japanese security, it’s something that we of course have to think about as a country.”
Said a Defense Ministry official:
“It’s very difficult to determine the details, such as what sort of people bought the resort hotels, and the reason for their purchase.”
Issues such as these will inevitably arouse primal emotions, so of course some politicians, from motivations both altruistic and personal, will be sure to let the public know that They Are Very Concerned.
One group that has come to the forefront is the Diet Members League for Acting to Defend Japanese Territory. It has 47 members from both houses in the Diet and several political parties. The league is chaired by upper house member Yamatani Eriko of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (Machimura faction). She is also a member of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians Union.
At an emergency meeting this month, the Diet Members League agreed to formulate legislative proposals to restrict real estate purchases by foreign capital on Tsushima–particularly next to military installations–and enhance the self-defense forces there.
Upper house MP Yamauchi Toshio (LDP Yamasaki faction) asked a Ministry of Defense official how they would respond to an emergency (i.e., invasion). The official answered that the SDF is fully prepared for any eventuality, and even have a squad stationed there capable of conducting guerilla warfare in the mountainous and wooded terrain. He boasted that they even know the local animal trails. Replied Yamauchi:
“I have a different sense of the danger involved. The islanders would suffer the most damage in a guerilla campaign. We should station land, naval, and air forces there.”
Hawkish lower house member Nishimura Shingo of the Reform Club group (and former member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan) says defensive capabilities for Tsushima need to be strengthened because the islands have 900 kilometers (about 560 miles) of coastline, and stretch for 80 kilometers from north to south.
The Diet Members League plans to visit Tsushima and talk to Mayor Takarabe about the land sales and possible defensive measures. Meanwhile, the True Conservative Policy Research Group, chaired by Finance Minister Nakagawa Shoichi, has already made plans to send a delegation of its own to nose around later this month. The group was formed in December with 80 members from both houses of the Diet. Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi acts as the chairman’s representative.
Lower house member Furuya Keiji (LDP Ibuki faction), commented:
“This is a problem of sovereignty. Our territory is steadily being hijacked by legal means…When overseas corporations buy (American) companies, the Exon-Florio Provision enables the purchase to be halted if there are national security concerns. Shouldn’t we be thinking of…efforts to write a Japanese version of that legislation?”
Here’s lower house member Inada Tomomi (LDP Machimura faction):
“Using the names of islanders to purchase (real estate) is a criminal offense under the law. Shouldn’t we be able to conduct a police investigation using the provisions of the current laws to identify the motivations (for the real estate purchases)?
Suzuki Muneo is also showing some interest. Mr. Suzuki was once a second-tier LDP baron with connections to the Foreign Ministry, but served jail time for financial irregularities. After his release, he launched a vanity party, returned to the Diet as a proportional representative, and formed a loose alliance with the opposition DPJ. He demanded a response from the government to his questions about the purchase of Tsushima real estate by South Korean-affiliated capital. He asked whether the government had any details on these purchases.
The government’s written response:
“We do not have a detailed grasp of the circumstances. In general, real estate purchases conducted properly in accordance with the related laws are not a special problem.”
He also asked whether the government had filed a formal objection with the South Korean government over the introduction of a resolution in the assembly that Tsushima was South Korean territory. The government blandly answered:
“We have responded to it appropriately”.
The conversation between the two foreign ministries must have been a fascinating one.
That brings us to the purported observation of hawk/traditionalist lower house member Hiranuma Takeo. Mr. Hiranuma was a former LDP member thrown out of the party for opposition to former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s program to private the postal ministry, and who spurned an offer to return to the party after Mr. Koizumi left office. He is now an independent allied with the opposition DPJ.
Mr. Hiranuma attended a recent meeting of the Nakagawa Shoichi-led group (he is a member and the two are friends), and newspaper photos show him seated next to Mr. Nakagawa at that meeting.
In its article on the meeting, the Japan Times included this sentence:
Hiranuma referred to the dispatch of British forces to the Falkland Islands by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, saying any sovereign state should act with similar poise to defend its territory.
Two normally sober-minded English-language bloggers in South Korea saw that sentence and wrote the words “wacky” and “amazing” to describe it. Now that’s an understandable—albeit superficial—response, particularly for those not paying close attention to the issue. But let’s unpack that quote a little further. As we do so, keep in mind that, as I’ve mentioned before, I hold no brief for Hiranuma Takeo (so don’t even think about going there.)
- A Japanese-language Google News search using the terms Hiranuma and Tsushima turns up no Japanese language reports of this quote. It doesn’t mean that none exist or that he didn’t say it; it just means that I couldn’t find any. But it is worth noting that while there have been many articles in the vernacular press about this issue lately, very few specifically mention Mr. Hiranuma.
- All the other quotes above are translated from recent articles in the Japanese press. As they make clear, the Japanese mass media is quite willing and able to provide direct quotes from other politicians about the need to beef up the defense on Tsushima, including several from his ally Mr. Nakagawa. Why then would, for example, the Asahi (politically on the left) or the Sankei Shimbun (on the right), overlook this one? Surely both would glom that statement to further their own editorial views.
- There are no other sources for this quote in the English-language press.
- Read that passage again and you’ll see that it’s not a direct quote; the Japan Times is paraphrasing what he said. Yet the newspaper had no problem at all with inserting a direct quote from Mr. Hiranuma earlier in the article.
- Apart from Akahata, the house organ of Japan’s Communist Party, the Japan Times is farther to the left than any of the Japanese dailies. They have a well-deserved reputation in Japan for a combination of left-wing advocacy and shoddy journalistic practices. In addition, the newspaper’s chairman and publisher, Ogasawara Toshiaki, has South Korean business interests.
- Is Mr. Hiranuma capable of saying something outrageous? He certainly is. Is the Japan Times capable of bushwhacking him by putting words in his mouth? They most certainly are. (Mr. Hiranuma, would you say the situation on Tsushima is similar to that of…)
It would be most informative to know the situation in which Mr. Hiranuma delivered that statement—and just as informative to know why only The Japan Times has it, and why they chose not to put it in direct quotes.
But, let’s take The Japan Times at its word (I know, I know) and assume that he actually said that or something like it without being prompted. Here’s a question for our blogger friends:
When a rear admiral in the South Korean Navy asks his government to draw up invasion plans for Tsushima, what is a Japanese politician supposed to say?
For as long as the region has been inhabited by humankind, the people of the Korean Peninsula, Kyushu, the Ryukyus, China, and Mongolia have been mixing, mingling, visiting, living among, buying from, selling to, mating with, running scams on, killing, torturing, arguing with, blustering at, and partying with each other since before the days of written history. In short, they’ve behaved like people everywhere. This interaction will continue long after all of us are gone.
Now, however, the South Koreans are swarming in record numbers to Tsushima—considered by the Japanese to be a strategic defense outpost for as long as there has been a Japan—and using it as their garbage dump and toilet, upsetting the local equilibrium and infrastructure, spending money at facilities recently purchased by Korean interests and repatriating the funds, supporting a popular domestic movement that claims the islands as their own, and holding raucous, in-your-face, Seoul-style demonstrations to assert their claim in front of Tsushima City Hall–in other words, showing up out of the clear blue and acting as if they own the place.
All things considered, the Japanese response so far has been remarkably muted. No other East Asian country would behave with such restraint in the face of such actions.
If, after observing Korean behavior, Japan concludes that it has to reassess the levels of its military forces on Tsushima and pass a law limiting foreign ownership, and Japanese-Korean relations grow chillier as a result, the South Koreans will have no one to blame but themselves.
But they won’t. They never do. They’ll blame the Japanese instead.
- A Japanese-language translation of some of Mr. Pyo’s comments can be found here. The page contains a link to the original Korean-language article.
- Vice-Admiral Kim was referred to in Japanese as a “commander” in the South Korean navy, but I cannot find a logical equivalent for that in English, nor is it clear what his duties were while on active duty. I don’t think he was the CNO. The navy is divided into four “headquarters”, and he might have commanded one of those. That is all speculation, however.
- Memo to the Japan Times: Brush up on your English, guys. Phrases like “numerous numbers of” don’t enhance the tone of your newspaper. Try something like “many” instead.