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Japan Needs Research Body to End History Wars with South Korea, China

South Korea funded a foundation to promote its anti-Japan historical perspective, and Japan should counter this with its own research institute.

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Historically, Japanese sea lion hunts did take place on Takeshima, Shimane Prefecture, along with fisheries in nearby waters.

On February 4, I was invited to speak at a joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, the Working Team to Study Policy Toward Korea, and the Special Committee on Territories held at the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters.

After returning home, I suffered from what appeared to be acute gastritis and was urgently hospitalized at Tokai University Hachioji Hospital on February 6. I underwent surgery and was discharged on February 14. This is the reason why I took a leave of absence from my column, "Takeshima wo Kangaeru" (Thinking About Takeshima).

South Koreans demand more compensation for already settled wartime claims in face of South Korean district court decion that denied their claims under international law.

The Never-Ending Historical Debates

On my hospital bed, I had an opportunity to rethink the content of my speech at the LDP headquarters. 

At this hospital, my medical condition was accurately assessed, and appropriate measures were taken. That promptness is also required in the ongoing disputes with South Korea. 

This is because the process of diagnosing the medical condition for emergency surgery is similar to identifying the points of contention that South Korea asserts. The historical documents and literature, which will be needed to address assertions, must be anticipated, and then those documents and literature used to refute them.

To my surprise, many nurses in their early twenties always smiled at the patients, even in difficult situations. They worked in this way to reduce the patients' mental and emotional burdens. This is something that can only be done with discipline and organizational maturity.

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Unfortunately, however, while the historical debate between Japan and South Korea continues, there is no similar disciplined research organization within the Japanese government.

This is not unrelated to the fact that Japan continues to suffer derision by the historical perceptions spread by South Korea. Starting with the Takeshima dispute in the 1950s, the history textbook dispute in the 1980s, the comfort women dispute in the 1990s, and more recently the wartime labor dispute, the Gunkanjima dispute, and the World Heritage nomination dispute of the Sado gold mine. The list goes on. 

When the history textbook issue arose, Japan was accused of having the word “invasion” rewritten as “advance” in the textbook screening process. Although it was later discovered that the Japanese government never had rewritten the word in the first place, the Japanese government stipulated a “Neighboring Countries Clause,” which states that when compiling history textbooks, consideration should be given to neighboring countries. 

The clause led to Japan allowing South Korea and China to intervene whenever it compiled textbooks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who issued the 1993 comfort women statement.

The same is true of the comfort women issue. The Kono Statement, which was released by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono in 1993 based on the results of a governmental study on comfort women, stated that there was involvement by the Japanese military, and it has been used as a pretext by South Korea ever since. In the subsequent historical disputes, South Korea has always emphasized the existence of forced labor as an issue, based on the premise of Japan’s reflection on its past colonial rule.

Regarding this issue, it is meaningless for Japan to discuss the existence or non-existence of the forced labor of Korean people. What South Korea is concerned about is the confirmation of Japan’s sincere regret for its past. For South Korea, persuading Japan to do so is the way to “settle the past.” 

However, South Korea's perception of history is rooted in its desire to change what is already established, or "correcting the past," which can be said to be a traditional approach on the Korean peninsula. Thus, while it could be a pretext, it is not a historical fact.

Korean Foundations: Hotbed of Fabrication

This fact is also evident in the Sea of Japan naming dispute, as I mentioned in my column, "Thinking about Takeshima," on November 19, 2011. In 1992, the South Korean government insisted at the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names that the name “Sea of Japan” should be changed to “East Sea.”

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The Name is ‘Sea of Japan’ and No Other

The argument ー or the historical recognition at that time ーwas that South Korea had been under Japanese colonial rule when the International Hydrographic Bureau compiled "Boundaries of Oceans and Seas" (guidelines on sea names) in 1929. Therefore, according to South Korea, it could not participate in the international activity and argue for the name East Sea, which it says it had used for 2000 years, because it was under Japanese colonial rule. 

In response, the Japanese government conducted a research of old maps at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the United States Library of Congress, the British Library, and the Cambridge University Library to demonstrate that Sea of Japan is the only globally recognized name, and found that many old maps marked the marine body as Sea of Japan.

However, the study did not have the evidentiary capacity to debunk the historical perception of South Korea that the Sea of Japan had been referred to as the East Sea for 2,000 years. Therefore, South Korea demanded that the Sea of Japan and the East Sea be written side by side on maps, and in 2014, the Virginia State Legislature in the United States passed a legislation to use both "Sea of Japan" and "East Sea" in school textbooks. 

Congressman John Miller, foreground, opposed the Virginia State Legislature bill requiring State textbooks to refer to the Sea of Japan also as the East Sea.

However, in November 2020, the International Hydrographic Organization decided to use the name Sea of Japan alone. 

The organization asked Japan and South Korea to resolve the Sea of Japan designation issue. 

Therefore, I suggested to Diet member Mr. Yoshitaka Shindo, a member of Liberal Democratic Party, that my research manuscript could be used as a diplomatic bargaining chip. In my research, I proved that Korea started to call the Sea of Japan "East Sea" after 1946, and that the argument based on colonial rule and the name usage from 2,000 years ago was a complete lie. 

When the Shimane Prefectural Assembly enacted the "Takeshima Day'' ordinance, the South Korean government launched the Northeast Asian History Foundation, a policy advocacy organization. 

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The South Korean foundation has a historian with ministerial-level authority as its president to sustain its purpose of studying the Takeshima issue on a continual basis. It also has about 60 historical researchers. In recent years, Japan and South Korea have had an endless stream of historical disputes because of the fabrication of false history at the organization.

I believe Japan also needs a sustainable historical research institute in order to end the historical wars with South Korea and China. 

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(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Masao Shimojo, visiting professor at Tokai University and Shimane Prefectural University

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