AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Hands across the Sea of Japan

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 13, 2009

IT’S A RELIABLE rule of thumb that a nation’s political class is more often the problem than the solution regardless of the matter at hand. The reliability of that rule continues to be borne out by the behavior of the Japanese in Kyushu and the Koreans on the southern part of the peninsula. While the politicos vaguely talk the talk about the importance of good bilateral relations, folks on the ground continue to walk the walk and do the job themselves. Here are two more examples—one of people at work, and the other of people at play.

At work

Busan’s Ulsan region in South Korea resembles Kyushu in that it is the center of flourishing auto and shipbuilding industries. The Ulsan region, however, is home to 1,500 companies in the industrial textile sector that supplies products to both. Many of the firms have created a niche by producing items for car interiors and specialty textiles, and they are eager to develop ties and do business with Kyushu’s auto industry.

To help them make their pitch, the International Footwear, Textile, and Fashion Expo in Busan has invited representatives from Kyushu auto companies to attend the three-day event starting on the 19th. Business and opinion leaders on both sides of the Korea Strait are excited about the potential. The Nishinippon Shimbun described that potential in two stories on the Expo and the specialty textile industry in the Ulsan region that covered half a page.

They quoted Paek Mu-hyon, the chair of a textile industry group in Busan:

“We want to promote technical ties and business with Kyushu’s many auto companies and use high-function Japanese and Korean products to compete against China, which is increasing its presence as a market and production region.”

Who needs summit meetings about East Asian entities when the private sector demonstrates this much enthusiasm to achieve the same result on their own?

At play

Here are two events that go together like ice cream and cake. The first is the Yamaga Lantern Dance, a festival from Yamaga, Kumamoto, in which hundreds of women dance to a stately traditional folk song while dressed in summer yukata and wearing lighted lanterns made of paper and glue on their heads. (Here’s a previous post with photos.) The second is the Seoul World Lantern Festival, which is underway in that city right now and will run until the 15th. Those of you near Seoul and willing to visit will have a chance to have your ice cream and cake and eat it too, when the women from Yamaga perform on Saturday and Sunday.

Yamaga officials say the dancers visit such Asian cities as Shanghai and Singapore once a year, but this is the first time they’ve been to South Korea since 1993. Held on the banks of the Cheonggyecheon, the Lantern Festival is one of the attractions of the 2012 Visit Korea Year. The events feature performances from South Korea, Japan, and China, and the area is decorated with displays of both real lanterns and lantern-like objects. During the Yamaga performance, the streets will be lined with candles in bamboo holders and traditional Japanese umbrellas. In addition to the group from Yamaga, a group from the Nebuta festival in Aomori will also participate.

The lack of coverage given by the overseas media to this flourishing cross-strait interaction notwithstanding, the only remarkable thing about this activity is that it isn’t remarkable at all—it’s a fact of daily life. Regional and local politicians have enough sense to either get out of the way and let it happen, or lend a helping hand from behind, rather than elbowing their way to the front to pose for photo ops.

Now if the national politicians would only get the hint that grand schemes aren’t necessary when people are allowed to act naturally without interference. Everyone else already has.

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