Japan-Korea Relations

Michael YOO
Research Fellow, RIETI

The greatest concern of Korean citizens during President Roh Moo-Hyun's 4-day visit to Japan was the meeting with the Emperor, which took place on the first day of the trip. This meeting was held on June 6th, Korea's Memorial Day to mourn the Korean soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their country. "Why would our president meet the Japanese emperor on such a day?" was the powerful consensus in Korea. Even after the meeting was over, "the reference to the past," remained the focal interest of the Media and those generations who had experienced the past invasion. On the other hand, among the younger generations (those in their teens and twenties), the conversation about the World Cup became the center of attention.

The majority of the citizens of Korea are more used to the term "King of Japan" rather than "Emperor", which is used during formal or diplomatic situations, because to those who lived through the invasion, the Imperial Household is the Royal family, the Crown Prince is the King, and last but not least, the Imperial Palace is the Royal residence. For those who were forced under Japanese rule in the past, it is still difficult to accept the deification of the Emperor. While in Japan, the Emperor has become a symbol of peace during special occasions, for those Koreans who were not even permitted to raise their head for over 60 years, he remains a great fear.

Despite the truth of history, time is still widening the gap between the past and the present; President Roh Moo-Hyun, who was born in 1946, one year after the end of World War II, has no experience of the colonial period, and stands at a distance from the bitter experience. In addition, the announcement by the Emperor on his 68th birthday (December 23rd, 2001), wherein he proved his blood relation to the Korean Peninsula, brought the two nations closer. This announcement was given the full treatment in Korea, and at the same time, was accepted by many Koreans, especially among the younger generation. Those who have no bitter experiences of the past invasion feel intimacy with Japan.

"Like many of the Korean citizens, I was very much impressed by the announcement," said President Roh Moo-Hyun to the emperor, only describing the view of post-war, post-imperial rule generations. During the World Cup in 2002, the younger generations even created an atmosphere to welcome the Emperor on his proposed visit to Korea, because in their eyes, Japan appeared as their partner in sponsoring the World Cup, not as their enemy. Even though the Emperor's visit did not happen, the young Korean generations believe that, "against the will of the emperor, pressure from the conservatives interrupted his will to return to the homeland."

For President Roh Moo-Hyun, inviting the Emperor to Korea after former President Kim Dae-Jung has become an historical matter. The Emperor is no longer a person standing in old black and white photos; many Koreans are now accepting Japan as a neighbor, with whom they have a long historical relationship. It is all up to the Japanese government to make the final decision of letting the historical event of, "the Emperor's visit," come true. Just like the 20th anniversary of Sino-Japanese relations in 1992, the Emperor's visit to Korea could become a reality on the 40th anniversary of Japan-Korea relations in 2005, marking the start of a new relationship.

>> Original text in Japanese

* The article was reprinted from The Asahi Shimbun on June 12, 2003. No reproduction or republication without written permission of the author and The Asahi Shimbun.

June 12, 2003 The Asahi Shimbun

June 17, 2003

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