FUKUOKA — A South Korean city will not take part in an annual event at a world heritage site in the southwestern Japan city of Munakata this year due to deteriorating relations between the neighboring countries, the Munakata government said Wednesday.
Gimhae, which has sister-city relations with the city in Fukuoka Prefecture, has been sending its mayor and the speaker of the city assembly to the Miare Festival, an October ritual at Munakata Taisha shrine, but the South Korean city informed in early August that they would not attend this year.
The Gimhae government said it “cannot ignore public sentiment concerning the current state of relations between Japan and South Korea,” according to the Munakata city government, as the feud between the countries over wartime history and trade policy has been escalating.
The South Korean city has been represented at the ritual every year since 2008, except last year when the event was canceled due to a typhoon.
“It is disappointing,” a Munakata official said. “But we would like to hold an exchange event for museum workers as planned in October in Gimhae.”
Munakata Taisha holds a series of autumn Shinto rituals and festivals following the Miare Festival, in which several hundred fishing boats hoisting great catch flags sail through the Genkai Sea to pray for a good haul and the safety of sea lanes.
The sacred island of Okinoshima and associated sites in the Munakata region between Japan’s southwestern main island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2017.
Bilateral relations have deteriorated sharply since the South Korean Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies last year to pay compensation to South Koreans for wartime labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
In August, Japan decided to remove South Korea from its “white list” of preferred trade partners subject to minimum trade restrictions on goods such as electronic components that can be diverted to military use.