Over the past few months, tensions have been brewing between South Korea and Japan. This conflict traces back to the tragic history between these two countries during Japan’s colonial era. Indeed, the Korean Supreme Court has recently been trying to claw out recompense from the Japanese government for the victims of Japanese war-crimes against Koreans, especially the notorious Korean “comfort women” during World War II. However, this development has fomented an increasingly anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, and now compels Koreans to confront the question as to whether this sentiment is really appropriate today, 74 years since the end of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.
|[Boycott ad in taxi. Photo Courtesy: Brian Kook]|
During the summer, this anti-Japanese sentiment manifested itself in the form of a nationwide boycott. There have been an increasing number of ads and posters promoting a repudiation of all things Japanese whether it be tourism or goods. These posters can be found in subways, stores, restaurants, and even taxis. According to the New York Times, this “No Japan” attitude persists despite Japan’s 800 billion dollar trade partnership with Korea because the boycott emphasizes the desire to see Japanese remorse for the past treatment of Korean laborers. The memory of the Japanese occupation of Korea evidently still hurts the Korean public today, and the boycott is only one way to show this.
|[Boycott ad in subway train. Photo Courtesy: Brian Kook]|
In addition to the boycott, the media has been a compelling way to show both anti-Japanese sentiment and national pride in Korea. In early August, a documentary about Kim Bok Dong, a former Korean comfort woman, was released in Korea. This documentary not only shared the inspiring story of Ms. Kim and her struggles but also reflected just how much Korea still feels the pain of the past. The newly released movie “The Battle: Roar to Victory” also conveys anti-Japanese rhetoric and stirs up national pride by depicting the heroism of the Korean insurgent fighters against the Japanese forces during the occupation. The film is a huge hit and has attracted about 3 million viewers in Korea according to the Chosun Ilbo. In general, Korean films relating to Japan-related history have resonated with the Korean public as they show the moral fibre of their ancestors and the struggles they overcame to gain national independence.
|[Movie Poster of Kim Bok Dong. Photo Courtesy: Brian Kook]|
|[Movie Poster of “The Battle: Roar to Victory.” Photo Courtesy: Brian Kook]|
The national boycott and Korean media outbursts over the summer of 2019 showed that Korea still holds onto the past and is keen on acknowledging their ancestors who suffered under Japanese rule. However, seeking recompense from Japan for a hurtful history will be a daunting task for Korea. According to Japan Today, Japan is undergoing a nationalistic reform, creating a generation that is becoming less apologetic towards its past behaviors and even willing to deny the very existence of comfort women. With this in mind, Korea faces two tough choices: convince the Japanese government and public to genuinely admit to war crimes or forgive an impenitent and move on. Neither appears likely at this point in history.
Phillips Exeter Academy
Brian Kook firstname.lastname@example.org
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