Japan from the inside out

Flying hoop and weirdness alert

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THE literal meaning of the Japanese expression taga ga hazureta refers to a barrel from which the hoops have been removed. The tension of the metal rings around the barrel provides it with structural integrity. Take off the hoops, however, and the whole thing falls apart.

Barrels of that sort are seldom used anymore, but the expression is still used in Japan and applied to analogous situations in life. It’s been used quite a bit lately to describe South Korean behavior since President Lee Myung-bak choppered over to the Takeshima islets last week.

The blogger writing as Ryoko 174 thinks the South Koreans have allowed three “own goals” during the series of incidents. (She uses that name because she’s employed at a major financial institution and feels more comfortable expressing her opinions anonymously.)

The first is the Korean application of the logic of their “actual control” to the circumstances of Takeshima, a point I raised here yesterday. If actual control legitimizes possession, then Koreans have no justification for continuing to ask for compensation for the period of annexation from 1910 to 1945. (The 1965 treaty restoring relations also means they have no justification, but treaties don’t stop Koreans from doing what they want. Observe the Kim Dynasty’s attitude toward agreements about their nuclear program in Pyeongyang.)

The second own goal was scored by Bak Jong-soo, the soccer player who paraded around the pitch in London with a Korean-language sign that read “Dokdo is our land” after his team beat Japan in the bronze medal match.

Koreans insist there is no territorial issue. But Ryoko 174 notes that people don’t conduct demonstrations holding signs that read, “Seoul is our land,” or “Tokyo is our territory”. The need to hold up a sign about Dokdo at an international event, and the hometown support Bak received for it, shows that the Korean nation most definitely thinks there is a territorial issue.

The third own goal was scored by Mr. Lee himself. He provided the local media with two justifications for his Takeshima trip. The first was that it was nothing more than a tour of the outlying regions of his country, so how could the Japanese possibly object? The second was that it was “a diplomatic measure”.

This, as Ryoko 174 observes, is a contradiction. Simple trips to the countryside are not diplomatic measures. It would seem that Mr. Lee also thinks there is a territorial issue.

Rhetoricians everywhere will want to study the formal refusal they’ll send to the request for third-party resolution by the International Court of Justice.

South Koreans are worried that FIFA or the IOC might strip the soccer team of the bronze medal as punishment for the Bak pitch trot. The media and the Korean Football Association are defending him by saying that it was a spur of the moment act inspired by post-victory jubilation. The photograph above suggests otherwise. The sign the man in the first photo above is holding is identical to the one Bak flashed around the world. The photo below shows that he might be an official of the Korean Football Association.

He isn’t the one who actually handed over the sign to Bak, but they’ve got a picture of the guy who did. Some Japanese immediately accessed the KFA website to scan the photos of the board members, and they think they’ve found a match. I didn’t think it was possible to say one way or the other, but the man was able to score a ringside seat at an Olympic soccer match, after all. The FIFA will want to find out for sure.

Objections and rationalizations aside, the Koreans know they stepped in it. The Korean Football Association sent an e-mail in the name of their chairman, Cho Chung-yun, to the Japanese Football Association. JFA Chair Daini Kuniya told the Japanese media the mail contained an “apology” and a statement that they would ensure something like that would never happen again. Mr. Daini told the press that he was content to leave the disposition of the matter to the IOC and FIFA.

The mere thought of Koreans apologizing to Japan over a matter of national honor caused several more barrel hoops to snap over on the peninsula. Here’s an excerpt from an English-language report in the Korean media showing how quickly the KFA had to cover their tracks at home:

Kim (Joo-sung, KFA secretary-general), said “the email was sent to explain that Park’s acts were not intentional and the word ‘apology’ was not inside the mail.”

The KFA has insisted that Park had acted “in the heat of the moment” and said Park seized the sign from a fan, stressing that the incident had not been pre-planned.

“Fan”, eh?

On their website, however, the KFA said the Japanese mass media was clearly mistaken about an apology or “anything like that”. (Note how they were careful not to say that Mr. Daini was mistaken.) What they did, they explained, was express their “regret”. They also said the e-mail contained the sentence, “Let’s work together in the future so that a problem such as this doesn’t arise again.“

The part about working together was superfluous. That’s not how the Japanese behave at sporting events, international or domestic.

Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People get to learn all about other cultures and countries. What they usually discover is the fun and fascinating stuff. But sometimes the big old moss-covered cultural rocks are lifted up to expose the ugly little slugs underneath. Every country’s got ’em.

That’s what happened when the Joongang Ilbo released an exclusive interview with IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge. In the process of asking a few questions, they inadvertently exposed the creatures under a rather large Korean rock themselves.

Be prepared: If you’re unfamiliar with the Korean mindset, you might have to pick your jaw up off the keyboard when you read what they asked. The Japanese won’t have to. They’re used to it.

The first question was whether Korea would be stripped of its medal. But then they tacked on this:

“Public opinion in South Korea strongly supports Bak.”

Mr. Rogge said he would wait for the FIFA decision. He added that even if there were “special circumstances” in South Korea, the rules are to be upheld.

He refrained from saying, “So what?”

The Joongang followed that up with a statement, rather than a question. They tried to create an equivalency with the 1968 incident in the Mexico City Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in a Black Power salute.

Mr. Rogge wasn’t having it. He said the two situations weren’t comparable, and that the Smith/Carlos demonstration was rather a statement about the social problem of racial discrimination worldwide. Even then, he noted, their act was still, strictly speaking, a political statement.

He concluded by saying it was not possible to deny that the fact that Bak’s act was a political statement about a territorial issue directed at one country.

Now get ready for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Joongang: Doesn’t the rising sun emblem on Japanese uniforms have a political element?

Rogge: This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say there was a problem with the Japanese uniform.

No, they didn’t let it drop there.

Joongang: Does that mean there isn’t a problem?

Rogge: There isn’t a problem in the IOC.

There will also be no problem with Bak receiving an exemption from the mandatory Korean military service, according to the government minister responsible.

South Korean athletes are exempted if they win an Olympic medal. The IOC didn’t give him a medal, but the South Korean government said he was on the team, so…

When President Lee tries to justify his behavior, the barrel hoops fly off the entire stock at the Korean cooperage. People were ducking for cover yesterday.
At an unrelated event, Mr. Lee went out of his way to say:

“The (Japanese) Emperor seems to want to come to South Korea, and we told the Japanese that he can come if he sincerely apologizes to the independence activists who died (during the annexation period)…When President Roh (Tae-woo) visited in 1990, he expressed his ‘deepest regret’. If that’s what he’s going to say, he shouldn’t come.”

This caught Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro off guard when he was asked about it, and he quickly deflected the question. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t know how to respond. The Emperor hasn’t said anything lately about visiting South Korea, there are no plans for him to go, and the two governments aren’t even discussing a visit. Mr. Lee pulled it all out of the ether.

In fact, then-President Roh was pleased with his visit. Not only did he like the expression of regret, he also was said to have been impressed with the Emperor’s dinner table discussion of his partial Korean lineage. When he returned home, Mr. Roh told his countrymen, “We must build a new age of friendly relations with our neighboring country.”

Perhaps the wheels are coming off in addition to the hoops. It was the political and diplomatic equivalent of footballer Bak’s sign at the Olympics.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source told the Mainichi Shimbun:

“That’s an unbelievable statement. It is likely to have a negative impact on (bilateral) relations for several years.”

Mr. Lee’s term ends in February, so that means the new South Korean president will be starting off behind the eight ball as far as the Japanese are concerned.

Other Japanese quickly, and logically, reframed that as a Korean demand for an Imperial apology to independence activists as a condition for a visit.

Fancy that. Just two years ago, during the 100th anniversary of the Japanese annexation in 1910, the South Koreans were anxious for the Emperor to come. The idea was to have him get down on his knees in Seoul in the same way that West German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in front of the monument to the Warsaw ghetto uprising during his 1970 visit to Poland.

Give them credit for vividness of imagination. Now if they could only get comfortable with the concepts of moderation and self-restraint. Not to mention historical awareness.

Apart from Foreign Ministry sources, the general Japanese response seems to have been: Who do you think you are, pal?

Kobe University Prof. Kimura Kan, whom I’ve quoted several times here lately, suggested the Koreans enjoy this particular tactic. The theory goes that they know the Japanese respect the Emperor, so they intentionally leverage that respect to get everybody upset. He says it’s happened to him several times in South Korea.

See what I mean about arrested development?

There might be more to Prof. Kimura’s idea than you think. Years ago, I read Flying Visits, a collection of non-fiction pieces by the Australian Clive James writing for The Observer in Britain. Each article presented his experiences and observations during a visit to a different country, and one of those trips was to South Korea. Mr. James described a demonstration by Korean workers at an American-owned plant. They stormed the offices, threw out the foreign employees, broke all the windows, and placed the American flag on the floor in the lobby at the entrance, all the better to tromp on it when they entered in their muddy boots.

The management of the American company thought this meant the Koreans didn’t like them very much, so they closed the plant and went home.

The Korean demonstrators were flabbergasted at the withdrawal. “What’s the matter,” they asked. “This is just a demonstration.”

Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People learn all about other cultures and countries.

One of the things they’re learning is that the people who live on the Korean Peninsula are more insular and cloistered than people in some island countries, such as Japan.

To be fair, not all South Koreans are happy with this behavior. Anonymous members of Mr. Lee’s Saenuri (New Frontier) Party think the president has been unwise. The government (i.e., bureaucracy) has postponed indefinitely plans to build a marine science research center near the Takeshima islets, lest they upset the Japanese more than they already have.

But they seem to be in the minority. Today, 15 August, is national liberation from the Japanese day in South Korea. Enjoying some summer holiday fun is natural, as is a bit of patriotism. But if we go by form, we’re more likely to be treated to a three-ring circus than a festival of ecumenical sobriety. Time to break out the popcorn.

I don’t care, let it all hang out. The Koreans will.

3 Responses to “Flying hoop and weirdness alert”

  1. Aside from the humor of the Olympic spectacle and 2MB’s statements about his visit, why is it that none of these territorial disputes, including the Kurils, Senkakus, Spratly’s, or Liancourt Rocks seem to follow any pattern. Some are bilateral or multilateral; some involve the UN, some the US. There’s no common legal thread by which to reach a solution on each issue in one shot, except for opposition to the San Francisco Treaty

  2. Anyone who watched that bronze medal game can’t have failed to be struck by the Korean’s terrible behaviour on the field. It was mentioned several times during the game by the commentators, who had no clue as to the political events earlier that day and put it down to local rivalry. The referee was weak and so they were able to get away with foul after foul and some very unsporting conduct. No doubt they had been whipped into an anti-Japanese frenzy by officials before kick-off. That, and the carrot of exemption from national service did the trick. It was an ugly blot on what had been a good tournament, with Japan’s men and women’s teams continuing to make friends (especially the Nadeshiko!). Don’t think it enhanced South Korea’s reputation much.

  3. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    If I am correct, it is “taga” rather than “taka”, but I am not 100% sure even though I am a Japanese….
    2: Thanks for that. I fixed it. What’s weird is that inputting taka into hiragana on the Internet will bring it up too.


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