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It’s Time to be Upfront with South Korea




The Japanese edition of the book Anti-Japan Tribalism — the Source of the Japan-South Korea Crisis came out in mid-November. It has left its own strong impression in a year made unforgettable by an imperial succession ending the Heisei Era and a massive typhoon that wreaked havoc through floods and landslides in the first year of Reiwa.


The book, published by Bunegei Shunju (November 2019), has sold more than 100,000 copies in South Korea, but its sales in Japan have surpassed that number. It took two weeks to receive the book after I placed my order on Amazon.


This book has left an impact on Japanese readers. Its prologue, titled “People That Tell Lies,” begins with, “The South Korean culture of dishonesty is widely known around the globe.” 



The subtitles of the prologue continue with “Politics That Lie,” “Studies That Lie,” and “Courts That Lie.” Here, the co-authors do not escape into emotional descriptions. Rather, they specify that, since 2014 in South Korea, 1,400 people have been prosecuted for perjury, 172 times more than in Japan over the same period.


What is interesting about this book is the reason behind why so many South Korean readers have been drawn to a book written by economic historians that have labeled their own country and people as “liars.”


The phenomenon of this best seller has to do with the current state of South Korean society and politics. The Moon Jae In administration has pursued a “pro-Japanese eradication” policy, but its extreme portrayal of Japan based on lies has gotten out of hand, exposing its police abuse and contradictions.


Now, South Korea has to pay the price for unilaterally forcing a crisis in economic, diplomatic, and security relations, based on what the author calls “politics of falsehood.” With that in mind, the book’s bestseller status is most likely driven by those who want to know the fundamental cause of the current crisis in South Korea.




Attacking the Messengers


The book is a print version of what the co-authors have said previously on a video sharing website. Among the viewers are many South Koreans who supported the Moon administration right after its establishment.


In response to the publication, President Moon’s right hand, former minister of justice Cho Kuk, has personally argued against one of the authors, Lee Yong-hoon, stating: “I don’t know how else to describe him, except as an anti-ethnic, pro-Japan traitor.” Supportive powers, including the administration and left-wing media, have completely repudiated the book.


Above and beyond being battered by the full force of state power, some of the six co-authors were also the victims of criminal trespass and assault. Its publication risked the lives of all those involved.



The Hankyoreh, a left-wing South Korean daily newspaper, criticized the book ahead of the publication of its Japanese version with the accusation, “This will just deepen the wrong Japanese view of history and proliferate skewed historical views throughout the Japanese society.” But their counter-arguments lack persuasive power. South Korea’s criticism against Japan is hypothetical, not evidentiary.



Straight Talk is Needed


Japan, as the host country for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, must give significant thought to how to deal with South Korea. In particular, the Olympics “boycott movement” that has arisen on the South Korean side could develop into a situation that impedes the success of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


Recently in Japan, there have been calls to come up with ways to improve South Korea’s understanding of Japan. On this point, a discussion published in the October 2019 issue of Bungeishunju is truly remarkable. It was written by Hisashi Michigami, former secretary general of the China-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS) and former consul general of Busan, in South Korea.



According to Michigami, on the one hand, a good number of South Koreans recognize that “Japanese people love South Korea.” On the other hand, they strongly believe that Japanese consider comfort women and wartime laborer issues as minor matters.


Michigami sees this dichotomy as the root of misunderstanding that has widened the divide in Japan-South Korea relations. He believes, it is important to eliminate the “off-target optimism” of South Koreans that “all Japanese citizens love South Korea.”


Among the book’s authors are those who have fought against the South Korean government, prosecutors, and civic organizations, and who hold precisely the same views as Michigami. 


When topics such as the “war time laborers” come up in a conversation with South Korean people, whether you are a businessman, student, or a tourist, it is not okay to just react with a smile. 



Tell South Koreans upfront how Japanese people are truly disappointed by present-day South Korea. Then, finally, the South Korean side will begin to understand Japan for the first time.


(Click here to read the article in its original Japanese.)



Author: Tatsuya Kato, The Sankei Shimbun

Tatsuya Kato is the former Seoul Bureau Chief of The Sankei Shimbun.