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Column: The problem with Korea experts and Japan experts

  • 2015-02-18 15:00:00
  • , Yomiuri
  • Translation

(Yomiuri: February 17, 2017 – p. 4)

 

 By Takashi Nakagawa

 

 The other day at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I exchanged views on the so-called comfort women issue with a Japan school official who is a specialist in Japanese language at the ministry. The official said: “I wonder why I chose to study Japanese language.” The official’s remark has lingered in my mind.

 

 South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called for Japan to make concessions on the comfort women issue as a precondition for holding a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but Abe has refused to make concessions. Therefore, the official expressed the view in the ministry that more realistic measures should be sought. However, he was rebuked in the ministry, being asked, “Are you a Japanophile?” He probably prefers to steer clear of ideological debates in his own country, let alone conflicts between the two countries.

 

 It seems that there is a similar tendency in Japan’s academic circles. According to the book titled “What’s the Japan-South Korea Historical Perception Issue?” by Kobe University Prof. Kan Kimura (a specialist in the Korean Peninsula region), if scholars on the Korean Peninsula voice views that are unsatisfactory to another party, the scholars are often abused. The scholars often face situations in which they are given litmus tests.

 

 Kimura feels uneasy about this, saying, “Scholars who have no interest in ideological debate will avoid studying the Korean Peninsula.”

 

 If unproductive ideological arguments are repeated, there will be no “Japanese experts on Korea” and no “South Korean experts on Japan.” As a result, the two countries will implement misguided policies. This year Japan and South Korea will mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of their diplomatic ties. I hope the two countries will calmly think about their importance to each other.

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