Friday, February 13, 2009

Korea-Japan Relation Saga, Part V - Contemporary Korean Nationalism

Dear Korean,

Do most young Koreans still hate the Japanese with a vengeance, and if so, what do they do when they meet a Japanese person? (And yes, I am well aware of the all too recent dreadful atrocities the Japanese committed in Korea and continue to disgracefully deny.) A Japanese friend’s husband said that young people don’t hate the Japanese so much anymore, but you imply that almost all Koreans (including young Koreans) possess a vitriolic hatred for the Japanese. And how then are Koreans that marry Japanese then viewed?

Just Kinda Curious

Dear Korean,

How much of a bad idea it is for me to visit S. Korea, being Japanese American? I just read your "Why Koreans Hate Japanese People" post and my dreams were just shat upon. Do I wear a sign reading "I’M SORRY" at all times? Wear a mask? I was actually considering being an English teacher a couple years from now in Korea but I think it's safe to say that I've crossed it off my list of future careers.

Sensitive Susie

Dear JKC and Susie,

Yet another question about the relationship between Korea and Japan. Apparently, a four-part series devoted to the relations between Korea and Japan has not been enough. Very well, the Korean will add Part V, nearly two years after the conclusion of the initial series.

The Paradox of Koreans’ Attitude toward Japan

The Korean will begin by highlighting two conflicting outlooks in Korea regarding Japan. First is Korean people’s tendency to go completely over the top whenever there is some type of contest between Korea and Japan. Such contest can be as innocuous as a sporting event. The sport does not have to be popular at all, as long as Korea beats Japan in some way. Take figure skating, for example. Is there any country in the world that goes completely nuts over a figure skating championship, like Americans would watch the World Series? Korea does, if it beats Japan in some way.

Currently one of the biggest star athletes in Korea is Kim Yuna, a world-class figure skater who won the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating two years in a row. To be sure, everyone in the world loves winners. It also helps that Kim looks adorable, and even more so when she performs. But it is undeniable that her stardom is partially propelled by the fact that on the way to winning those titles, Kim beat Asada Mao, a prominent Japanese figure skater. Recently Kim set a world record in short program, scoring 72.24 in Four Continents Figure Skating Championship held in Vancouver. When reporting the news of victory, Korean media also invariably reported that Asada finished with a mediocre score.

If Korean people get worked up over something as graceful and non-testosterone-driven as figure skating, one can only imagine the psychopathic heights that Koreans would reach if Korea were involved with Japan in a more serious problem – say, a territorial dispute. Currently, there is a territorial dispute between Korea and Japan with respect to two islets in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. [WARNING: Any comment discussing the substance of Dokdo/Takeshima/Liancourt Rocks will be summarily deleted. There will be another time for that.] To most Koreans, that Japan has the nerve to claim a piece of Korean territory as theirs evokes the images of Japan’s annexation of Korea before World War II, and all the atrocities that followed.

When this dispute flared up in the July 2008, all kinds of over-the-top reactions flowed from Korea, ranging from full page ads on Washington Post to a massive military drill around the islets. But this one definitely takes the cake: a far-right group called Korea Society of Special Agents (named thusly because they purport to represent former special agents for the Korean army – essentially the same as American Legion or John Birch Society in the U.S.) staged a protest in front of Japanese Embassy by bringing live pheasants, Japan’s national bird, and smashed their heads in with a hammer. The Korean will emphasize that the last act was considered insane and barbaric even to those Koreans who profess absolutely no love for Japan. (See this blog for example – one commenter wonders, “Why wasn’t burning Japanese flag enough?”)

The point is that when Japan is involved, it drives Koreans to overreaction, and some Koreans to truly crazy lows. To answer JKC’s question, are these overreactions based on vitriolic hatred to Japan? Yes, absolutely. But confusingly, that does not capture the whole picture, because of the answer to Susie’s question: is it really a bad idea for her to visit Korea? Answer: not at all.

The fact is that despite all of this, there are booming economic and cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan. Each year, 2.5 million Korean tourists visit Japan, the country that they supposedly hate. Japanese tourists visit Korea each year in similar numbers as well, without any concern for their personal safety. Japanese products, when not blocked by Korea’s trade restrictions, are extremely popular in Korea. One of the status symbols for the wealthy in Korea used to be the Zojirushi rice cooker, known as the “elephant rice cooker” in Korea based on its logo. Sony Playstation sells in Korea just as briskly as it sells anywhere else in the world.

Fine, so Koreans like high-quality products like everyone else in the world. But surely they would reject the cultural products of Japan with vitriolic hatred, right? Again, not at all. Japanese cartoons are very available in Korea, and have been highly influential. A cartoon named Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue was responsible for single-handedly making basketball popular in Korea in the early 1990s, leading to the golden age of Korean basketball. (The Korean himself has a hardbound collector's edition series of Slam Dunk.) Popular Japanese movies are popular in Korea as well, and the hip crowd in Korea is usually well-versed in the latest Japanese pop music.

So, to answer JKC's question, Koreans do not do anything special when they meet a Japanese person. Generally, they do not harass, nor do they get violent.

To those who have not seen this type of thing, this disparity is an utter mystery. Understanding the relationship between Koreans and Japan requires the full understanding of how nationalism works.

Understanding Nationalism

Nationalism is a peculiar thing. Although it is such an amazing force that motivates the actions of many countries in the world, it is not actively discussed like, for example, Communism once was. But the hold of nationalism is strong in many parts of the world, and those who fail to understand it do so at their own peril. This warning is especially relevant for those living in nations who distinctively lack strong nationalism, namely the United States and Canada. In particular, Americans’ utter failure to understand nationalism led to many, many foreign policy failures, of which the latest example was the War in Iraq. ("Greeted as liberators" – seriously, American policymakers believed that. Any Korean with half a brain could have told them otherwise.)

The Korean dealt with nationalism previously, but he intends to make this post the definitive post that explains what nationalism is, because it is nationalism is one of the cornerstones in understanding modern Koreans, especially with respect to their attitude toward Japan.

At the foundation of nationalism, there is a very simple premise: a person is nothing without his country, and his country is in constant danger of disappearance. Therefore, a citizen of a nation must absolutely devote himself to his nation to prevent such disappearance. Every member of the nation must contribute what he can for the country – soldiers must guard their country, businessmen must earn money for their country, artists must display the country’s creativity, and athletes must display the country’s physical prowess.

The corollary to this premise comes from the obvious truth that the world is made up of many nations. For nationalists, every citizen of every country in the world strives to strengthen their country. Essentially, each and every person in the world operates as a member of a team called "United States of America", "Brazil", "Thailand", "South Africa", "France", etc. And each team is striving to outdo one another in a giant world race for power, be it economic, political, social, cultural, or any other type one can think of. And losing this race is not an option, because the losing countries are taken over by the winning countries, and its people are to become slaves of the people of the winning countries.

The validity of this ideology, especially in the context of contemporary international relations, is at least arguable. For example, one can argue as following: “In theory at least, most of the world have come to recognize universal human rights, which include life and liberty. Enforcement of such right is a responsibility of all nations, and it does not depend on whether or not you have your own country.” But for Koreans, nationalism is a self-evident truth, because their recent historical experience of their losing their country proves it.

The Korean believes that this is the historical experience that non-nationalist countries lack. People from non-nationalist countries such as U.S. and Canada do not understand how terrible it is to lose their country, because they have never truly experienced it. Americans, for example, do not seriously believe that any other country will conquer America and subjugate Americans. Even for the most strident national defense hawk in America, the disappearance of America from the world is too remote of a possibility to be true.

But for Koreans, it actually happened. They have lost their whole country twice in the last century – for 36 years to Japan, and briefly to communist North Korea during the Korean War. At each occasion of losing their country, many Koreans lost everything –their history, tradition, language, their property, family, children, and their own lives. Set against this historical experience, any objection to nationalism rings hollow. For Koreans, it is obviously true that without Korea, Koreans are nothing. Therefore, Koreans are absolutely terrified at the possibility of losing the “race of nations”, and by extension losing their country. It does not matter how remote that possibility is. It happened twice, and it can happen again – and it is simply something that must not happen ever again. There is no room for debate.

Nationalism within Korean Mind

Ok, so that part is easy enough to understand. Once nationalism is understood, the over-the-top behavior of Koreans with respect to Japan becomes completely understandable. But what about the other side of the equation? Why do Koreans nonetheless accept Japan and Japanese culture without much resistance?

Some observers saw this paradox as a sign that Koreans are hypocrites, or that Koreans do not truly take nationalism seriously. Neither interpretation is true. The apparent paradox is very easy to understand once one considers the analogue of nationalism. What other set of belief system puts a non-human entity above humans, and teaches that the value of human beings depends upon that entity?

Answer: Religion. The Korean will not go so far as to say nationalism is equivalent to religion. The Korean is a religious person, and there is much more to religion than there is to nationalism. But the Korean will say this much – the way in which ordinary Koreans, who are generally nationalistic, deal with nationalism is very similar to the way in which ordinary Americans, who are generally religious, deal with their religion. There are those who are fundamentalist and orthodox, and there are those who believe in god but do not think much about religion in their day-to-day lives. That is exactly how nationalism operates in Korea.

In Korea, the “fundamentalist nationalists”, as it were, are relatively few in number. Very few Koreans get violent or rude at the sight of Japanese people. Instead, most Koreans enjoy Japanese product, Japanese culture, and even Japanese people to varying degrees, despite their nationalistic tendencies. This is not very different from what we see in America. 78.5 percent of Americans say they are Christians, but only a handful can be seen firebombing an abortion clinic or holding a picket that says “YOU WILL GO TO HELL” on Las Vegas Boulevard. In fact, majority of American Christians directly go against their own religion by believing that people of other religion and even those without any religious belief can make it to heaven.

Make no mistake about it – Koreans generally believe that they are nothing without their country, and they must devote themselves to their country. Nationalism is a constant presence in a typical Korean mind. But it is hardly the only presence, nor for most Koreans is it the most dominant presence. Koreans are just like any other people in the world – they like high-quality Japanese products, and they find Japanese culture interesting. They know harassing a complete stranger is a wrong thing to do, regardless of nationality. And those countervailing concerns are, for most Koreans, much stronger than their nationalistic zeal.

Korean Nationalism in Practice

It is important to note that nationalism is a constant presence in a Korean mind, although it may not be practiced to the fullest at all times. But there are several specific situations in which, even from “non-practicing” Korean nationalists, the latent nationalism flares up.

The most obvious situation is when a non-Korean makes an insulting statement about Korea or Koreans in general. Such action, for a nationalist, is a clear blasphemy. Similarly, making a claim that poses a threat to Korean territory or Korean self-determination also provokes nationalism.

It goes without saying that leaders of Japan manage to do both quite often. It was only last November when Japan’s Chief of Air Force claimed that Japan actually helped Korea during World War II. In 2006, Shimane Prefecture in Japan declared Feb. 22 to be “Takeshima Day”, advocating for its control of Dokdo islets that Koreans consider theirs. And along with North Korea, Japan is always at the best position to offend Koreans' nationalistic sensibilities because there is so much history between the two countries, and because Japan generally remains either ignorant or insensitive to the crimes of its past.

But another situation is worth a mention – when Korean politicians are in trouble. Samuel Johnson’s aphorism, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” holds true in Korea as well. It is often the path of least resistance for an unpopular Korean politician to stoke the nationalist fire to distract Koreans from more pressing issues, much like the way Richard Nixon used race-baiting to distract Americans from Vietnam War. North Korea has always been the favorite target for the Korean dictators from 1950s through 1970s, while Japan became more of a scratching post for Korean politicians in the recent times.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. very informative! excellent post.

    the Korean wrote:

    Japan is always at the best position to offend Koreans' nationalistic sensibilities because there is so much history between the two countries, and because Japan generally remains either ignorant or insensitive to the crimes of its past.

    this is a good summary of one part of the equation. i live in japan and it is always absolutely baffling how little people here know about the shared history of J and K. history education in this part of the world is in a sorry state and so are the relations between the countries.

    i was surprised you didn t say anything about education in Korean schools. (if i remember correctly you did so in another entry saying f ex that Japan-vilifying is part of the curriculum)
    there have been numerous posts here and on other blogs about
    incidents that show that Korean children are brainwashed (to various degrees) to hate everything Japanese.
    i think this is worth mentioning when talking about contemporary K-J relations.

  2. great writing aak,

    are you aware of any internationalist public figures/literature/movements, as opposed to nationalistic ones, in either korea or japan?

    i'm not sure if this is even email or wall worthy, so i'll trust your judgement.

  3. umakk,

    When Korean children learn history at school, they learn the truth -- and that is quite enough to develop a strong hatred for Japan.

    However, the Korean will say this: there are a lot of apocryphal stories in Korea about Japan's crimes, such as the Corea v. Korea. They are not a part of the regular school curriculum, but Koreans believe them. Then again, if one hears about the kinds of human experimentation that Japanese scientists did in Unit 731, you are just about ready to be believe anything.


    Perhaps the most notable effort is the joint effort by Korean and Japanese historians to come up with a unified history textbook for WWII. There are also several professors in Korea who write vigorously about the perils of nationalism, but the impact that they make is minimal.

    Mark, thanks.

  4. For Susie:

    As an English teacher of elementary and middle school students, let me tell you what I see on a daily basis. Most of the kids don't usually express strong feelings one way or the other. Colonization was, after all, something that happened before many of their grandparents were born. There may be one kid in a class who has latched onto it and may say something pretty foul if the topic of Japan comes up, but there are an equal number who are in awe of Japan and feel no qualms about saying so openly. Most young kids just seem disconnected from that past. Just a couple days ago, we were having a discussion about the best cities in the world and at least two or three kids in each class said Tokyo. That's more than those who said Seoul.

    There is a period, however, when every kid goes through that part of history class, when they suddenly become more aware of the history and are understandably angry. That tends to bring out a few more nasty comments. Even then though it's pretty uncommon and I think you would be fine. If you're quite thinned skinned, you might want to just call yourself an American. I'd suggest that you go the other way, however, and openly talk about being Japanese American and give the kids a positive image.

  5. Jin,

    the regions on both sides of the Korea Strait, namely Kyushu and the area around Busan, are working on creating a "Transnational Regional Alliance". you can read more about it here


    as The Korean already mentioned, there is also exchange within many culture / science communities. i have no statistics but my impression is that currently only a small number of people are involved in these activities.
    Even though Korea is (geographically) their closest neighbour, Japanese in general show very little interest and at best have spent a week end shopping in Seoul.

  6. Thank you both for the information.

    I am not sure what to do with this. I guess I just wanted to know if there has been any positive inroads made for listening to the other's stories, as a way of doing justice.

    And if I chose to, these sources may be useful to mention (somehow?) as Korean students and friends of mine have seen little concrete evidence of collaboration.

    I am in Korea now and will be in Oita for the summer, working and visiting friends and family, so I may try to track down some kind of academic community that educates the public in this vein.

    I am curious to see if Japanese academics with a passion for the Korean narrative exist.

    And not that I have much to offer, I haven't. I am not in the business of fixing people.

    But perhaps such people are powerful metaphors for something beyond this mess, and I hope it's not just empty academic gesturing, a sign that someone, an enemy even, actually cares. And that-that- would be worth mentioning and exploring with both students and friends, no?

    If you have any idea where I should dig, just keep feeding me with stuff.

    I hope I am not wasting your time, thanks again.

  7. god, that came off a bit sappy. sorry about that. but it's what I think.

  8. In Australia, I sometimes did part-time work as an English language teacher for international students living and working in Australia with the goal of improving their English. Most of the students I had were Japanese and Korean, so I got to know a bit about how they went about their lives there.

    In my experience, Koreans and Japanese tend to 'buddy up' more than they do with people of any other nation. There is obviously a big cultural difference with Western nations, and they seem to find that the Chinese and south-east Asians are a little too culturaly different as well. Koreans occasionally bring up issues such as Dokdo, but most of the young Japanese I've met simply shrug their shoulders. I guess they don't care about those issues anymore.

    Furthermore, Korean guys tend to dig Japanese girls (generally for fairly shallow reasons) and even a lot of Korean girls I met often mentioned that Japanese guys were 'very kind'. Japanese girls also tended to be crazy about Korean guys thanks to the effects of the Korean wave, and I know one Japanese guy who learned quite a lot of Korean to impress the female companions of his Korean sharemates. I realise these are fairly enormous generalisations but again, it's just what I've seen in my experience.

    The atrocities commited by the Japanese are as horrid now as they were then but they aren't directly relevant to the new generation. For that matter, my grandparents' generation harbours a pretty intense hatred of the Japanese for the terrible things they did to Australian prisoners in the POW camps, but again it's not directly relevant to my generation.

    More on topic, I've always felt that Koreans are very welcoming to Japanese visitors to Korea. I've spent a bit of time with Japanese friends of mine here in Korea, and most Koreans they encountered were very polite and friendly, sometimes even trying out a bit of Japanese here and there.

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  11. True story, I attended an art opening at the New Museum (NYC) last week. I bumped into an acquaintance, who was with a friend. I was introduced to the friend and the friend said he was from Japan. I told him I was born in Korea. To my amusement and to my acquaintance's shock (who is white and American), the friend from Japan (with no irony or humor) said "oh I don't mind". As the Korean says, in the US nationalism is not part of the national psyche and in that context, the inappropriateness of the Japanese friends comment is more obvious. But insulting in any context!

    Another clear headed and an even handed post form AKK. Thanks.

  12. There are some good points in your post, but with the Korean government trying to change the history books as to paint Korea in a better light (Documented on Briandeustch.blogspot) I wouldn't exactly say Koreans are taught "the truth".

    Also, using nationalism as an excuse to proliferate racism and ridiculous acts of violence is pathetic. I can never understand that.

    In the end, like with every country and every situation, there are plenty of sane people to offset the crazies.

  13. Paul,

    The Korean was only talking about Korean history textbook with respect to Korea's relationship with Japan. Nothing at Brian's site says anything about that.

  14. umakk69 is right that Japanese textbooks tend to leave out pretty much everything about Korean-Japanese relations which causes tensions. In my wife's textbook the entire colonial period got one bloodless sentence. However, this is not true everywhere. Textbooks in Hiroshima for example are much different.

    Korean schools also tend to be fonts of nationalism, just in completely different ways. One day all my afternoon classes were cancelled so the whole school could practice the Dokdo Song, and teachers were very casual about dropping anti-Japanese comments.

    Korean kids get taught to hate Japan. Japanese kids aren't taught hate, but they are led to believe a version of history with gigantic holes in it. The children of both nations are being very ill-served by their educational systems.

    Anyway, it's very true that the vast majority of Koreans get along very well with individual Japanese.

  15. Nathan

    The irony is, they also leave out the 'good' (noncontroversial) parts!

    The fact that K and J have a long history of cultural exchange (at least a millennium) was exploited by the J government during colonial times for propaganda purposes, like "we have always been together".
    after WWII, it became politically incorrect to look at history from that perspective, and textbooks were modified accordingly.

    The Korean may be right that children "learn the truth", but on top of that many school boards / teachers seem to promote activities that create extra ill will against J (famous example: exhibition of young children s drawings in Seoul subway stations

    to The Korean:

    i find it also ironic that J nowadays is seen as a bigger threat than NK (or at least that s what K politicians want people make to believe), any explanations?

  16. Hi Susie. Go to Korea and tell them that you are a Korean American who can't speak Korean... and stay in Seoul or Pusan... ;)

  17. Hey man, good post.

    I think an interesting related topic of discussion will be how much of the conservative/right-wing parties in Korea have their roots in Pro-Japanese factions (친일파), dating back to Syngman Rhee.

  18. On one hand, I had a Korean administrator from the younger generation who venerate Hiyao Miyazaki. (Totoro in particular.) One the other hand, a fellow Korean teacher of the same gneration who loathes products like Hello Kitty and has, since she was a small child, refused to purchase/own/keep even as a gift such items.

    A funny thing about American and Americans, being one myself.. I'm not entirely convinced many of us know what it is to feel as though we really 'belong' to a country in the first place. It does make me wonder what sort of debate might take place between a post-revolutionary war American and one from the modern day of distant ancestry (think Mayflower, Daughter of the Revolution, etc) and an American of either very recent ancestry or immigrant origin. All I know is that, for myself, I understood Kurt Vonnegut when he called himself 'a man without a country.' (Just realized I had to change that sentence to the past tense.. sad.)

    How can one possibly feel as though they belong to a country with such a schizophrenic self-image as America? We're for freedom but also secret prisons, we're for the rule of law as long as it isn't international law or among friends... It's enough to drive one insane. I may not understand Korean nationalism, but hell if I understand American nationalism either. Such people too often come in the form of neo-Nazis.

    Thanks for the article. So well stated, as always. Have you considered writing a book of your own? I think you'd corner the market.

  19. "A funny thing about American and Americans, being one myself.. I'm not entirely convinced many of us know what it is to feel as though we really 'belong' to a country in the first place."

    Well said, Arctic Penguin. There are times when I feel ambivalent about identifying as an "American." In order to understand why I feel this way, let me explain a little about my family history...

    My great-grandfather came to the United States from Italy in the early 20th century (1900-1910). For those who don't know much about U.S. history, it wasn't a great time to be Italian in America. At that point in time, being American was predicated upon "whiteness" (and to some extent still is, IMO). To be an American was to be a WASP, which Italians were not. We were Europeans definitely, but not "white." Therefore, my great-grandfather assimilated as quickly as possible.

    While I don't readily identify as being American, I can't exactly identify as "Italian-American" either. Sure, I look phenotypically Italian and have been told by people that I look Greek, Jewish, and Armenian (and I don't even have a unibrow!) as well. I even have an Italian surname. However, I don't speak Italian, or know much at all about Italian culture except through movies (and not just gangster flicks).

    Still, it pisses me off having to spell my last name for people whenever they ask for it, or when they butcher its pronunciation. And it pisses me off even more when people tell me that I look "foreign."

    Okay, enough digression.

    So how does this relate to nationalism? When I was in Korea for a semester of studying abroad, I never felt more American than I did there. A lot of people in America with European ancestry feel that they have no culture. Their ancestors have all assimilated into the category of "white," and therefore have no cultural heritage . To those people I say this: Try spending half a year in a country where you are a racial, cultural, and linguistic outsider... Then tell me that you don't have a fucking culture!

    I remember an instance where I had to explain to some Korean friends that I was both Italian and American. Because my last name is Italian, they thought that my Dad was from Italy and my Mom is American. It's not surprising to me now, knowing that in Korea nationality and race are not mutually exclusive things.

    With all that said, I don't feel as Kurt Vonnegut did when he said he was "a man without a country." America is and will always be my home. It is still the land of opportunities and second chances. And it is for those reasons why my great-grandfather came across the Atlantic to Ellis Island nearly 100 years ago. America is by no means perfect, but deep down I love it.

    Thank you, the Korean, for this insightful post.

  20. Nathan,

    while the official history curriculum in Korean schools contain the truth, the Korean would agree that the school teachers are quite liberal in planting anti-Japanese sentiment in an informal manner.


    Please see the questions policy on the right.

    Arctic, Nexus,

    Good points. The Korean thinks America does have a distinct culture -- it just needs a little extra digging to figure out exactly what it is.

    As to a book, the Korean is just waiting for a random email that says "HERE IS $100,000 FOR A BOOK DEAL!" Hopefully it makes through the junk mail filter.

  21. Nexus,

    Good post!

    I think we are beating this issue to death!!!

    I dont believe Koreans view race and nationality as mutually exclusive. For example, Koreans don't view Korea-Chinese as "Koreans" per say, although we definitely share a distinct culture and history. In other words, Koreans perceived them to be more Chinese than Koreans. This sentiment is partly correct because China has been their home for a number of years, so they act and think like Chinese more so than Koreans.

    Korea and Japan saga!! What else can I blog about that has not been said before by others. Obviously, Koreans, to simply put, have every reason to be fking mad at Japan. After all, we were living peacefully by burying cabbage in the ground -- penicillin for SARS and minding our own business, until occupation was full in force. At the end of the day, Koreans have nobody to blame but ourselves. History has clearly been noted that dissension among North and South Koreans led to the weakness, which ultimately became Japan's successful annexation of Korea.

  22. Great post. I like your writing style in particular. I had a couple points to comment about, but since I am not as good at writing in English, I was about to go without leaving a comment, when I noticed that many non-Koreans are enjoying your posts and asking questions about Korea here. I can't help but leaving a few words about Korean history.

    The Korean wrote:
    >> They have lost their whole country twice in the last century – for 36 years to Japan, and briefly to communist North Korea during the Korean War.

    Surprised by your saying we (I am a (South) Korean) once lost our county to North Korea. Korean Civil War, a terrible tragic incidence, is a result of tension right after WW2 between Soviet Union and the US, another imperialistic powers then. Although elderly South Koreans may think that the North is the one and only one who's responsible for the War, and hence we, South Koreans once lost our country to the North, the fact is that the War is due to those two countries (USSR and US) who tried to get their feet on each half of the Korean Peninsular as a way to dominate the world and were governing each half. So, it's more like we Koreans lost our country (again) and independence to a (then) new imperialism.

    Remember that we, the North and South (Actually there were no "North and South" Korea before modern history), had been stayed as one from at least the Korea Dynasty until the Civil War, which is like for a thousand years, and we've separated very recently for like only 50 years. We have had the same culture, language, and history.

    In that sense, the following does not apply to the Civil War,

    The Korean wrote:
    >> At each occasion of losing their country, many Koreans lost everything –their history, tradition, language ...

    Another point I'd like to make is regarding Miguk chonhnum's mentioning,

    >> History has clearly been noted that dissension among North and South Koreans led to the weakness, which ultimately became Japan's successful annexation of Korea.

    As I previously stated, there were no "North and South" Koreans before around 1945-1950, when the USSR and the US were governing each half of Korea right after our independence from Japan.

  23. Pilsung,

    Your point is good, but the Korean would argue that it is not exactly the one and only truth. In the Korean's opinion, Korean leaders after liberation are just as responsible for the division. Also, Kim Il-Sung's desire to take over the South played more of a role in starting the Korean War than any desire on the part of U.S. or U.S.S.R. But clearly, this point is debatable.

  24. Personal anecdotes cannot substitute for a broader study or at least survey, but the experience of my Japanese friends/acquaintances almost uniformly contradict this claim:

    "So, to answer JKC's question, Koreans do not do anything special when they meet a Japanese person. Generally, they do not harass, nor do they get violent."

    In fact, I've been harassed myself getting in a cab ride from the airport to my destination in Seoul, because the cabbie thought I was Japanese (I have a pretty pronounced Kyongsangdo accent, but WTF?--not that pronounced!).

  25. Still love Japan more they may be both dominant countries in Asia but to still favor Japan overall and no bias here I'm not from any of these countries. :p

  26. My experience as well (American who spent 3 years in the JET programme in a Japanese Middle School & now facing a 2nd year in a Korean MS tells me that this is a fairly accurate depiction that has described my experiences and estimations as well.

    My Korean is still not up to speed, so spending time delving into the kids' history texts here is still at least another year off, however, I would def. say that a Japanese American man would have any trouble. There was a Japanese engineer (retired in Japan) working for one of the car companies in town that went to my gym. He frequently went out with the guys, just as he would in Japan & most all the guys made a shocking effort to speak Japanese to him (at the time that was all I spoke as well). I was quite shocked at how fluent in Japanese some of the random folks at the health club were. This shock wore off though, the more I learned how similar Korean and Japanese really are.

    I even once went on a date with a girl (Japanese Major at the University)where we both spoke Japanese the whole night.

    You might have the odd encounter with a xenophobe, but all the weigooks get some of that I think. You're as likely to get it for being American as being of Japanese descent. Just be sure to refer to the two islands as Dokdo, and root for Korea in the baseball/soccer games.

  27. re: Tyler

    On a positive note, (I'm living in Tokyo right now), during the 2010 World Cup, I was in a bar full of Japanese and they were all cheering energetically for Korea (vs some small European team.... either Slovenia or Slovakia, I think).

    It was good to see that in that most non-academic of settings, a little regional camaraderie was thriving!

  28. The Korean wrote:

    "It happened twice, and it can happen again – and it is simply something that must not happen ever again. There is no room for debate."

    This was the most resonating comment in your lengthy post for me. I hinted at this in my own blog on Korea ( why Koreans feel a need to defeat Japan in sporting events and beyond.

    I think we can sum it up by acknowledging it is hard to trust someone who has invaded you on more than one occasion. Heck, if a country has invaded you once, they might invade again (probably when you least expect it).

    In a sports analogy, Korea beating Japan would be similar to the Lakers defeating the Celtics. It is much sweeter to beat your long-time rival than to defeat merely another foe. So, until the day Koreans feel that Japan is sincerely sorry for their wrongs, Koreans will always view the Japanese as rivals (and for a few, enemies).

  29. I think the Korean is confusing nationalism with racial pride? Koreans like Japaneses and Chinese are very proud of their homogeneous ethnicity (you hear it endlessly). So when it comes to competition of any kind like sports or other more serious matters, the tribal factor of I'm stick with my own people/tribe will carry much more importance!

    I would say that US and Canada are VERY nationalistic.US and Canada don't have a homogeneous bloodline to follow. So they have to be bind by something else which is the common goal of a single country! US is bind together by a piece(s) of paper (constitution). Tell me what other countries have this much devotion?
    If you mention any thing that remotely suggest Canadian's submissive role with the US you will get your teeth knocked out by the otherwise friendly Canadians:)

  30. I think overall it was a vert precise article on the relationship between S. Korea and Japan..


    There is one vital thing which is not mentioned at all.
    - The paradox of South Korea hatred towards Japan BUT NOT USA..

    You said that the Koreans had their country taken twice (by N. Korea and Japan). That is actually not the whole story.

    The fewest remember why we have two koreas.

    USA wanted South Korea to further wage war against the communist nations, China and Russia. The combined Japanese and American administration in South Korea wanted such confrontation as long as USA had forces in Korea. When the Americans left, the dictatorship that was installed in S. Koreas was there to oppress any socialist/communist opposition. Polls show that at that time around 80% of South Koreans were leftists.. American sponsered government in South Korea continued until the late 80's thereby pacifying what the koreans really wanted.

    It was a way more subtle way of annexing a country however the things that happened in those years were also horrible, but no one talks about that. Even the South Koreans fail to see sometimes.

    South Korea got democracy in the end of the 80's start 90's which makes the conservative military junta of South Korea one of the most long lived juntas apart from North Korea and Burma.

    Think of USA's role in the splitting in the koreas and how much evil it has brought. We may have had one united korea instead of an invisible "berlin wall" that still stands and seems to be there for atleast a 100 years still.

  31. From the poster above:

    "...The paradox of South Korea hatred towards Japan BUT NOT USA."

    It's true that the U.S. occupied the South after WWII because it would not compromise with the Russians (nor would the Russians compromise with the U.S.), but America helped keep the South from being annexed by the North during the war. Despite how repressive and authoritarian they were, the military juntas during 1945-87 were (and are) preferable to being ruled by North Korea. That is why South Koreans are generally grateful for America's involvement.

    For the Korean - I'm guessing Korean nationalism also stems from the world's general ignorance regarding South Korea. Most people in the world don't know much about Korean culture, so I'm wondering if Korea feels it has a lot to prove to the world. Being physically and figuratively sandwiched (and historically overshadowed) by Japan and China must be frustrating as well.

  32. Saying that Korean's lost their country to the Japanese when they colonised the country is the weakest point of the arguments put forward in this essay.

    Large parts of Europe, including parts of the UK, were lost to Germans during their occupations. However Europeans do not hold that against Germans today. All of Europe has put its past behind them and are now close allies of Germany sharing free borders and currency.

    Korean's must learn to overcome the past as Europeans have and understand it was a different age with different mindsets from today.

    1. It's a very, very late reply, but I wanted to add that the EU needed Germany ( and vice versa) for economical reasons as a counter-measurement against the booming importance of the US ( said my very European, very Belgian history teacher), loads of WOII survivors holds ( or held to there death) grudges against Germany. Also, most European countries or rather inhabitants of European nations do not feel European but have nationalistic or even regional feelings. They do not feel united at all. Not all countries in Europe belong to EU. Since the foundations of EU ( 27 countries are members of it), the EU do not have a European Constitution which means that most of the members do not want and cannot abide under the same laws and rights, follow the same economical guidelines and have an unitair foreign policy. Neither does the EU have a real president, a government and court ( but various councils and parlements with lesser power) In fact national courts of various European countries have trouble deciding whether they should favour one's national laws above the European guidelines or vice versa in case they clash with one and other. Follow the news about Euro, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, to name a few and you should see how much divided Europe really is. I haven't even talked about the bloody history between East-European countries ( nor will I since I'm not well educated or well informed about its topic). Let's not also forget that before the two world wars, West-Europe already had to coexist with each other for economical reasons and strenghten their alliances by political marriages; it's not that they didn't know about the advantages of such cooperations ( in fact world war started because the dominating European countries in Europe wanted to be THE dominating factor) and they certainly did not forget the many pro's of alliances with each other when the US and Russia rose up as two super powers. The EU knew they needed Germany in order to have a strong position in the world. With other words, EU had the knowledge, means and a motive to forget WOII and Germany. It's not like that EU is more forgiving than any other supranational institution or superior ideals, merely out of necessity to build up their countries as good and fast as they could without interference and dependency of US or worse, Russia. I say this as a person who lived her whole life in Europe ( and still does) and I honestly believed that Europe was the most civilized, most enlightend place on Earth until I read about the brutal colonisations of South- America and Africa, the East Indian Company, the unfair, harsh treaties European countries forced down on Japan and China, the Jarkarta converence, ( about finally, finally understanding the bitterness that my Chinese parents held for the US), the countless rapes of women and girls during the world wars etc and just following the news in general. I've come to believe that people are people, politics are politics and nations are nations and they will do whatever it takes to survive. Whether it's 'wrong', 'right', 'smart' or 'dumb', is for history to tell. That's pretty much my ( incomplete, imperfect) take on Darwin anyway ;). P.S, sorry for any grammatical or spelling mistakes, Englsh is not my mothertongue as you have guessed >.<

  33. Large parts of Europe, including parts of the UK, were lost to Germans during their occupations. However Europeans do not hold that against Germans today. All of Europe has put its past behind them and are now close allies of Germany sharing free borders and currency.

    If Japan did what Germany did after WWII, Korea would have put the past behind also.

  34. Nice article.

    As a Korean myself, I wanted to point out that a primary topic of education (which is unified with unified text books in elementary / middle school) is the evolution of Korea the country, starting from legend that starts 5000 years ago in a cave, to multiple iterations including separation into parts and reunifications. I believe the Joson unified dynasty is touted as a scientific enlightenment age, where the language was invented by a convention of scientists under a great king, etc.

    Hey, with a glorified history like that, you want to preserve it. It becomes your pride.

    Not to mention that you're going to spend 3 years of your life as your father did defending the country. Everybody had to give up part of their life for this country.

    How do you replicate it? Start with a stories of the nation's birth. Tout all accomplishments in the academics or the arts. Make everyone give up an equal part of themselves for a common cause. Unify the school curriculum. Be objective about history while highlighting accomplishments. Tell a struggle. Name the revolutions and explain how freedom was won by the people.


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