I just arrived in Seoul for the World Editors Forum. I'm on a panel tomorrow to talk about blogging.

This is my first time in Seoul. It's amazing to me that I've never been here before. Korea is very close to Japan. I have had a great deal of interaction with Koreans and feel a fairly strong bond with Korea. The Akasaka district where my office is is primarily Korean getting much more excited about Korean Soccer victories than Japanese. My aunt is Korean and I believe that we have Korean ancestors on my mother's side of the family. For some reason, I grew up generally believing that Japan and Korea were quite friendly. I do know that there is some bad history and the extremists on both sides are unreasonable.

As recently as March, Korean protesters chopped off their fingers in a rally protesting Japanese claims over some disputed islands. Clearly this represents some strong anti-Japanese feelings. I have recently been interacting with my Chinese friends about their anti-Japan protests and am in the process of trying to develop some projects together with them to try to address some of the issues. I am eager to talk to my Korean friends to find out how strong the anti-Japanese sentiments are and what might be done to address them as well.

I've heard a lot about the highly connected, high tech Korea and have participated in a number of Japanese corporate meetings where executives were being briefed on how Korea is leading in so many ways these days. I have also heard that blogging is quite active, but in a very different style than the US and Japan. Heewon is organizing a bloggers dinner and I look forward to finding out more about the scene here.

Unfortunately, my GSM phones don't work here so I don't think I'll be able to moblog.

22 Comments

"For some reason, I grew up generally believing that Japan and Korea were quite friendly. I do know that there is some bad history and the extremists on both sides are unreasonable."

Lordy, Joi, and you wonder why you're getting criticism in comments about what you write. But this does speak to the 'historical editing' common in Japan, and makes an interesting cultural perspective. How you and other Japanese perceive your country's role in history must differ rather drastically than how other countries, particularly in that region, see it.

Shelley, I think I was not clear in the way I phrased it. I think recently Japan and Korea have been trying to become more and more friendly and within my limited network, there is a great deal of friendship with Korea. I grew up surrounded by Korean culture and that's why "I grew up generally believing that Japan and Korea were quite friendly."

I realize that historically, there has been a great deal of bad blood between Korea and Japan and that the Japanese occupation of Korea was particularly aweful for the Koreans. I think there is racism and hate on both sides as a result of it, but I can imagine that the resentment on the Korean side is probably higher because they were the victims of the occupation. See my post about my dinner with Karel van Wolferen for some thoughts on the Japanese right wing and revisionist texts. Also, see the discussion we had on the post about the anti-Japanese protests in China.

I agree that how each of us perceive Japan's role in the history of the region differs drastically depending on who you talk to, but after talking to a great number of people, I think that there is probably more difference between the extremes within each country than between the educated people of each of the countries. Unfortunately, the educated moderates may or may not represent the majority and they are clearly not the most vocal.

Shelley, that's unfair. None of us are to blame for the influences we feel during our childhood. I grew up in a white community and barely even knew that people came in colours other than white. Is that my fault? No. What is my responsibility is how, as an adult, I transcend the experiences of my childhood.

I believe that what Joi was saying was that his heritage is partly Korean, so in his childhood it appeared to him that relationships between Japan and Korea were good. His familial ties created a certain atmosphere which he absorbed, as all children do. Now, as an adult he is aware of the history between Japan and Korea (and China) and is actively attempting to broker conversations which, we all hope, will help in healing wounds and building bridges.

As far as I can see, Joi has transcended the experiences of childhood in a very honourable and constructive manner, and to accuse him of revisionism and a lack of understanding of his own country's history is unfair and inaccurate.

I believe that Heewon represents a whole new generation of the Koreans, not necessary similar to the Koreans who never drove toyota cars or watched Japanese cartoons or movies. I also believe that they have left these historical sentiments behind, and move forward to lead the country to a whole new ground. Talking about freedom of the Internet, equal access to information is much much more important than nationalism and patriotism, in the days of our life :-)

Wish you have a fruitful visit in Seoul!

Thanks Chiao. I agree, Heewon is a new generation. Also, with the huge success of Korean TV dramas in Japan, Japan is going through a huge "Korea boom" right now. However, I will try to meet some more traditional Koreans that I know here and gain a better understanding of their position as well. As with the discussion with the Chinese, we have to go very far back in history since our histories are so involved. I want to understand more than just the superficial facts.

I am glad the Japanese emperor publicly discussed his Korean roots when he visited in 2001. I think that opened up a dialog of part of Japan's history and Korea's influence on Japan that was previously not very public in Japan.

Suw, there is no 'unfairness' in regards my comment. There is no 'unfairness' in regards to Joi's post. Both of us are expressing our opinions. And if Joi feels my opinion is in err, I'm sure he'll discuss it with me. He is, after all, an educated, highly intelligent, sensitive, and open minded adult, capable of critical debate.

I am not questioning Joi's perceptions during his youth. It is, Joi, your opinion that those who are angry, on either side, are the 'extremists' within each culture that I'm questioning.

For instance, many people (myself included) who know the story of the 'comfort women' of Japan are furious about Japan's inability to acknowledge its past actions. (See recent article.) I realize though this is a "woman's issue" and therefore of less worth to many people (and I don't include Joi in this, we've discussed this issue before), if this anger is extremism, give us more of it.

Another article, this one related to Korean women from last year.

Joi,
I did not know that your family has Korean ancestors. It is well kept secret that the ancient rulling families in Japan, probably including your family and emperors family, came from Korea with houses and metal weapons and conquer the native Japanese. It is well known that one of the oldest tomb of Japanese emperors stores shoes and clothings, which are obviouly Korean. I thought Matsumoto Seicho once wrote about this.
Masat

There's a lot of bad blood, mostly unilateral, between Japan and Korea. And while things tend to be on the mend, overall, any pinprick will get overinflated in a minute, and exploited by nationalists, and God knows how many there are on both sides.

On an individual level, there's a lot of interaction, first because many people have relatives in both countries, and because the recent history of the two countries is intertwined (from the colonization of Korea by Japan to the economical kick-start of Korea with Japanese funds and tech in the 60s and 70s).

It's a good thing you went to Seoul Joi, as it'll give you a better perspective. It may be not the best of moments, as things are kind of tense, but both countries need people with no grudges and an open mind to help clear the bad air.

Have fun there, for once I wish I was still back in Seoul...

Oh, BTW, you can get roaming on your GSM, at the airport, and prolly in SK Telecom shops.

Masat, when Emperor Akihito visited Korea in 2001, he stated publicly that he was a descendent of Baekjae's King Muryong and it was on the front page of many Korean newspapers. It's no longer a "secret".

Shelley, I agree about the comfort women. I think the Japanese government response to their requests and the inability to acknowledge their pain is atrocious. I also agre that it is not "extreme" to think that this was a terrible thing and want more recognition of this fact. I sort of glossed over the history thing because I was thinking about writing another post about the history issue after visiting with more Koreans and I wanted to keep this first post shorter. The point about the extremists was most a reference to the fact that it is the extremists who are fueling the hate and that I believe (or hope) that the normal people in each country don't harbor the same kind of deep hate or racism that is emphasized by the press. I do think that we need to resolve the revisionist text and historical damages issue, but at this point, most of the people who are officially resisting are probably bureaucrats and extremists. I don't think most "average" Japanese doesn't believe it happened or that it was justified in any way. (I may be wrong. I haven't taken a poll.) Having said that, there is still some basic racism among "normal" Japanese and Koreans and I think this is something we can and should work on actively.

Joi,
I am surprised to hear that. Did Japanese newspapers and TV picked the news up? It must have been a big news. What were the reactions of right wings in Japan?
Masat

I don't remember exactly what the response in Japan was but according to the website I linked to:

Given the centuries-old prohibition of questioning the holy origin of their imperial family among the Japanese, it is natural that Akihito's remarks touched off varied speculations regarding their implications among the Korean media and the public. Showing a stark contrast is the explicitly unnatural response from the Japanese. While reporting on the emperor's news conference given prior to his 68th birthday, where he responded to questions concerning Korea-Japan relations, most Japanese media killed the emperor's statement about his family history.

The silence itself may speak for the embarrassment, or the tacit disapproval, felt by the majority of the Japanese toward their emperor's surprise statement about a sensitive historical subject. It may also attest to the deep gulf that exists between the popular notions of the two nations viewing their bilateral relations as two immediate neighbors that have been more stressful than amicable through the centuries. In a word, the emperor spoke the truth that generations of Japanese rulers and scholars have struggled hard to conceal.

I wonder if revisionist history counts as remix culture.

But more seriously, Seoul and Tokyo are staggeringly similar in structure, features and fashions. It's a shame that pride, posturing and an unwillingness to admit or forgive still causes such bickering.

May Yong-sama save us all :)

on the subject of blogging. i tried to get my kids (I each english in korea) to start english languages blogs as a way to share their knowledge of english between each other (i.e. they could read each other's blogs and comment and make corrections). Neither my boss nor any of the Korean teachers at the school were able to figure out a way to explain the project to the children and the children apparently failed to see a use in it (I told them it was an online diary that they could all read etc). I was trying to get them to use blogger.com which has instructions in korean but somehow they still didn't get it. When I was Seoul I mentioned this story to a Korean there and she was rather amazed by all of this, telling me that most koreans have blogs. In my general experience Korean bloggers are very different than other bloggers. They primarily like photo blogging sites like sayclub.com and cyworld.com in fact cyworld as ties in with mobile phones similar to flickr's phone-cam option. Additionally Korean blogs like cyworld and sayclub double as digital download stores for local and american hip-hop and then let you access your music collection from anywhere (i.e. they've sucedded at what mp3.com could not do in the u.s.). I have yet to find a good text blog though for koreans. if you find one out please hit me off with the address would love to get my kids sharing content and learning this little piece of american culture.

peace,
a

Hi, Joi
Oh, you are in Seoul now. How great!! Wish I could come and meet you there.

Joi Ito wrote @13:
I don't remember exactly what the response in Japan was but according to the website I linked to:
Korea Herald, Dec. 26, 2001:
”[..] Given the centuries-old prohibition of questioning the holy origin of their imperial family among the Japanese, it is natural that Akihito's remarks touched off varied speculations regarding their implications among the Korean media and the public. Showing a stark contrast is the explicitly unnatural response from the Japanese. While reporting on the emperor's news conference given prior to his 68th birthday, where he responded to questions concerning Korea-Japan relations, most Japanese media killed the emperor's statement about his family history.”


I think the sentence I've highlighted above is pretty examplative of an attitude that is all too common among foreigners – the illusion that they understand Japanese society or culture well enough to pontificate e.g. about the significance of how a story is reported in the Japanese press.

Concerning the emperor talking about the imperial family's Korean roots:

- First, that story has been carried by most Japanese media outlets, instead of being “killed”, as alleged by the Korea Herald

- Second, the idea that there might still be a lingering prohibition in Japan on discussing the imperial family's lineage is laughable. The prejudiced/misinformed/intent to disinform innuendo that such a prohibition might exist, however, is less of a laughing matter.

- Third, the story hasn't had as much coverage in Japan as, perhaps, in Korea, because it belongs to the “so what”, or “what else is new” category of information. Most Japanese people know that there's been a history of cultural exchanges with Korea and China stretching back for more than a thousand years, during which Japanese rulers interacted with the continent, seeking to import new knowledge, techniques and culture by inviting people from Korea and China to settle in Japan. Would, say, the British press run sensationalist headlines if a member of the house of Windsor mentioned, say, that there is some German blood in their lineage ?

Joi & MostlyVowels,

The following is from The Japan Times, March-12th, 2002:
The link from Joi's mail. Asahi Shinbun is considered to be very left in Japan and is not polpular among Japanese establishment.

Masat

"Of the five national papers, however, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun ignored the Emperor's Korea reference. Only the Asahi Shimbun ran a story highlighting its significance.

The Emperor's remarks certainly surprised Shuichi Kanda, a media studies lecturer at Obirin University in Tokyo. Kanda said it was hard to believe the Imperial Household Agency would make public a remark of this nature.

Formerly a member of the agency press club as a reporter for TV Asahi, Kanda saw Emperor Showa, or Hirohito, the late father of Emperor Akihito, in 1984 tell then South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan during Chun's visit to Japan that the Imperial family had a "close kinship" with Korea.

"But it was only us who reported the comment, while all the other TV stations and newspapers dismissed it, favoring the agency's desire (to have the remark played down)" he said.

Kanda explained that reporters' questions to the Imperial family -- and even the responses of family members -- are, as a rule, strictly censored by the agency, minimizing the potential for public controversy."

“Kanda explained that reporters' questions to the Imperial family -- and even the responses of family members -- are, as a rule, strictly censored by the agency, minimizing the potential for public controversy.”
Seems normal. In most countries with a “royalty”, the executive is ultimately responsible for, and vets, their pronouncements. Anyway, I remember hearing on the Japanese national TV in 2001 the news about the emperor referring to a Korean ancestor, and reading a newspaper article (in the Asahi or the Nikkei, I don't remember, as I read both) mentioning the commotion that pronouncement caused in Korea.

Regardless of whatever alleged “censorship” the Imperial Household Agency might try to impose on the Japanese mass media, neither the imperial family, nor, a fortiori, the IHA, are very relevant in today's Japanese society. Unless one has a totally misguided idea about the role of the emperor in today's Japan, the fact that what the emperor says usually won't make headlines is hardly surprising.

By the way, “Masat”, why are you using a pseudo Japanese-sounding handle name ?

Joi & MostlyVowels,
I am very proud of Akihito for what he said in public in Korea.
My wife did not want to call me "Masa" because it sounds like "Master" to her.
Masat

Joi,

The problems you describe are not unique, although I have a theory that they are much more common in rigidly stratified societies. Fortunately, the world is changing, and this kind of denial about the past's mistakes is becoming more and more difficult to justify. I think a lot of that is due to things like the Internet putting such a wealth of redundant, difficult to suppress information at a curious person's fingertips.. So, maybe its time for the leaders to start admitting the truth about the past instead of wallowing in their self-congratulatory deceit. The leaders of all of our nations. Lying is becoming increasingly difficult, I'd even say, impossible, to justify. Plus, it ruins a nations credibility.

That said, the US shares some of the blame for Japan's indifference to their war crimes because we are the ones who apparently signed away the rights of perhaps hundreds of thousands of victims who never had anything to do with the US's 'deal' with Japan. That should (is?) be illegal and it was a huge mistake. How many of the veterans of Unit 731 can get pensions, having never been prosecuted, is beyond me. The Japanese government goes beyond insensitivity into the realm of the criminal in this.

Why don't THEY prosecute these former torturers? They should.

There are probably similar travesties of justice here in the US, although not as severe..

It sets a very bad precedent.

The world needs some kind of 'truth and reconciliation committee' to at least document the lies of governments and expose the futility of attempting to rewrite history in an age of databases and global, instantaneous access to written and oral history.

Chris

>masat izu @ May 31, 2005 06:07 AM
>My wife did not want to call me "Masa" because it sounds
>like "Master" to her.

"Masa" doesn't sound Japanese either, if it's not a nick name a Japanese person uses in the US... There are many Chinese/Korean activists in disguise of Japanese, beware! ;)

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