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Revisionist Japanese Textbook Stirs Anger in Korea

by Ahn Mi-Young

Japan's New History Texts Called Revisionist
(IPS) SEOUL -- Kim Sung-Chull had been looking forward to April, when he expected his electronics shop to be full of shoppers.

After all, a major marketing blitz promoting Japanese-made audio and video home electronics was supposed to be held this month, and businessmen like Kim planned to be among the beneficiaries of the campaign.

But Kim's store is attracting few customers these days, and he knows that the economic slump is not the only problem. Indeed, instead of a buy-Japan drive, many South Koreans are now into an anti-Japan campaign that can only spell trouble for purveyors of Japanese goods like Kim.

Considering the troubled history between Korea and Japan, this should not have been much a surprise. But South Korea under the administration of President Kim Dae Jung had, in the last few years, seemed amenable to mending relations with Japan.

Then came news this month that one of Japan's newly released textbooks had once again omitted the atrocities that its Imperial Army had committed in World War II against its neighbors, including Korea.

For many Koreans, this only showed that Japan remained as arrogant as ever -- and as deserving of their scorn.

The seeming indifference of Japan over the anger felt anew by South Koreans has made many people furious here. According to South Korean papers, Tokyo claims it is legally prohibited from forcing the private publisher of the textbook to make any revisions.

Yet even some Koreans living in Japan are perplexed over the strong reaction here. Says one Korean housewife living near Tokyo: "Why such a fuss over what is nothing to students in Japan? My son has his eyes and ears on the Internet, TV and cartoons, and is seldom interested in what the textbook says."

Long the source of festering hurt not only in Korea but in other nations in Asia
Some South Koreans here also dismiss the significance of the current uproar.

"This is the sort of thing that we should expect to happen regularly, as we had periodically experienced," comments a marketing manager of a local distributor of Sony products. "This time again, (the trouble) will just fade away."

In truth, many South Koreans actually think the Japanese are of two minds about Koreans and the Korean peninsula. Young Japanese reportedly see South Korea's pop culture as the new epitome of "cool" and therefore perceive the country in a very positive light. But South Koreans think the older Japanese still have a tendency to look down on anything Korean and are "culturally arrogant."

Many South Koreans thus say it is time to set these older Japanese straight, especially on an issue that has long been the source of festering hurt not only in this country, but in other nations in Asia.

Famous Seoul-based novelist Cho Jung-Rae also insists that South Korea has changed since the 1970s and the 1980s, when some of those in power had been collaborators with the Japanese during the war.

"Japan can no longer ignore the fury of Korea," says the writer, whose works include a novel about the anti-Japan patriots who fought against those who sided with the invaders.

"Today," says Cho, "we South Koreans have a new source of power to change the picture -- the young generation of Koreans who once called for democracy in the 1980s and are back again to fight against Japan's arrogance."

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists have already taken to the streets carrying placards emblazoned with demands such as "Japan, apologize!" and "History is alive, don't distort it," along with more cryptic sayings, like "History is a living creature who eats only the truth."

Observers say that the intensity of emotions here have even forced the Blue House to abandon its initial prudence and take a stronger stand on the issue.

Seoul's mild expression of regret over the contents of the Japanese textbook in question, however, contrasted with that of Pyongyang's reaction. Local newspapers quote North Korea's central news agency as saying, "We bet that Tokyo will have to pay a dear price for its distortion of history."

Opposition lawmaker Suh Chong-Won said recently that it is actually the government's lukewarm response to the issue "that makes angry South Koreans more angry."

Still, the reality is that Seoul has few choices when it comes to dealing with perceived slights from Japan, which is South Korea's second largest trading partner after the United States.

South Korea also needs Japan, as well as the United States, to be in its "team" as a way of helping ensure stability in the peninsula.

But indications are Japan will only continue to anger South Koreans over what took place in World War II, if only because the Japanese think they have already paid enough for past sins.

Wrote a Japanese broadcasting director in his contribution to the Hankyerhe weekly: "Most Japanese think that they have made enough compensation to Korea when the South Korean government got the compensation money from Tokyo in 1965."

He added: "South Korean fury would only benefit a minority of Japanese NGOs (working on the World War II issue) who must be happy about getting the limelight."

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Albion Monitor May 7, 2001 (

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