Japan from the inside out

Baba Masahiro on bilateral relations

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 8, 2012

Japan’s recent series of aberrant foreign policy actions is reminiscent of their history 100 years ago. After controlling Korea with military force, they turned Manchuria and China into a battlefield and started the Second World War, thus driving the people of Asia into the misery of war. It seems that Japan has learned nothing from its history.

– An editorial in the Chosun Ilbo on 22 August titled, “Japan Hasn’t Changed in the Slightest from 100 Years Ago”

BABA Masahiro is now a business consultant after a career in the IT industry. He also has a blog. Here’s most of a recent post in English that’s worth reading for its perspective on Japanese-Korean bilateral relations.

IN South Korea, it is as self-evident that Takeshima is South Korean territory as that the sun rises in the east. The only people who say the sun rises in the west are mad. When the Japanese claim that Takeshima is their territory, it means to South Korea that we are the sort of people who would make any sort of ridiculous claim.

The tendency to dismiss as malefactors those people who oppose one’s claims to the territory exists in Japan too, but the South Korean response is a type of distorted fundamentalism. In other words, beliefs have become absolute, leading to the level of full-bore attack on anyone in opposition.

South Korea also says that the Japanese claim to Takeshima is a manifestation of a growing shift to the right wing. While the effort to have references to the sovereignty over Takeshima put into textbooks might be partially due to the recent influence of the Right, the South Korean expression of this takes the form of: “It is not possible for serious and sane Japanese to think Takeshima is Japanese territory. The ones who argue so loudly about Takeshima are those crazy right-wingers.”

Perhaps that South Korean view is of some assistance in preventing a total confrontation between the two countries over this issue, but the belief that only some crazy revanchists in Japan claim Takeshima is obviously mistaken. While it might be correct to say that Japan was able to convince the world that Takeshima was its territory through the series of incursions into the Korean Peninsula that led to its military control and merger, this is by no means evidence that Takeshima is South Korean territory.

There is no question that the South Korean territorial claim is rooted in the vexation and grudge they hold towards the Japanese occupation. But with the perspective that any Japanese who won’t recognize Takeshima as South Korean territory is by that basis alone an evil revanchist, the South Korean attitude of making sweeping judgments is not helpful. One could even say that it is extremely dangerous.

In response to Japanese efforts to include an insistence on sovereignty over Takeshima in textbooks, senior members of the ruling Saenuri Party in South Korea declared they should make claims on Tsushima. This is not an idea that suddenly fell out of nowhere; some people in South Korea have made this claim for a while. Some in the Korean news media have suggested it is reasonable by saying, in effect, that’s one way to look at it.

It goes without saying that everyone on Tsushima speaks Japanese and considers themselves Japanese. The only way it could be made South Korean territory is through the use of force in a military occupation. The South Koreans who declare that Tsushima is their territory use several claims as their basis. One is that Korea once occupied it (more than 500 years ago), and another is that the antibodies in the blood of people from Tsushima have much in common with the people on the Korean Peninsula. Using that logic, however, the Mongolians could claim that South Korea is their territory.

I don’t know the level of support in South Korea for the Tsushima claim, but if they really believe it, they have, based on universal common sense, lost their senses. The South Korean explanations for their Takeshima claim sound as if they are coming from radical fundamentalists.

The Danger of a Head-On Confrontation with Fundamentalism

What should Japan do? The idea that “Those people are blindly making territorial claims, so we should make more claims ourselves” is the same as a game of “chicken run”, in which two drivers race toward a cliff to see who will be the last to turn away. In this game, the South Korean steering wheel is locked into place. No one’s going to turn it.

Rather than abandon claims to Takeshima, the best option for both countries would be to share fishing rights and (if any exist) mineral rights in the area around the islets. But that sort of compromise does not seem possible.

If one country is reluctant to turn the wheel in the chicken run (by formally abandoning its claim) because the other country won’t turn the wheel, the only thing to do for now is to stop the race for the cliff.

It often happens in both business and among nations that people come to resemble their enemies. Japan should not respond to South Korean fundamentalism with fundamentalism of its own. I can say with confidence that would not be beneficial either for the national interest or for world peace.

It is fortunate that while the South Korean language is over the top, their behavior is relatively moderate. They are unlikely to land military forces on Tsushima. If Japan does nothing, the fists they’re waving will strike only air.


* There already is a non-governmental fishing agreement in place over the use of the area around the islets by fishermen from both countries, but South Korean fishermen have not upheld it. The complaints of the Shimane Prefecture fisherman about the Koreans preventing them from fishing led to the Shimane declaration of Takeshima Day and the last controversy a few years ago.

Yesterday, however, Jeong Mung-jun, a national legislator in the Saenuri Party, called for the repudiation of that agreement. He also said:

“After the UN Law of the Sea went into effect in 1994, Japan declared that Dokdo (Takeshima) was the basis for their EEZ. This is a grave act of invasion that is on the level of a military threat.”


“South Korea often says that Japan is a friendly nation with whom we share the values of liberal democracy, but in the end, I wonder if Japan is really such a country.”

Mr. Jeong was the head of the South Korean committee in charge of arrangements in that country for the 2002 Japan-South Korea World Cup.

* I’ve known people from Tsushima. If you were to tell them they were really Korean and not Japanese, they would probably look at you as if you had said the sun rises in the west.

Speaking of imperialism, here’s Yurayura Teikoku. The word teikoku means empire, and yurayura falls into the territory of swinging, swaying, flickering, or waving. It can be used in such expressions as “Shadows dancing on the lawn” or “Smoke curling upwards”. Or maybe the gas floating up with the visual balloons in this video.

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