In the middle of March, when the Dokdo issue clouded over Korea-Japan relations, my Japanese friend K. Toru sent me a letter by e-mail. As a scholar of African American literature including Richard Wright and Toni Morrison, his primary concern has been the social injustice that black people have undergone in the history of racist America. In person, he is a mania for Korea; he often visits Insa-dong to collect Chosun dynasty white porcelain and enjoys Korean-style Gook-Bap (rice soup). His wife also has been in the grip of Yonsama fever. Toru‘s letter was full of sorrow and what he thinks of the Dokdo issue. Toru wrote:
"I'm very sorry for the Takeshima Day Bill being passed, but what I am really worried about is an escalated emotional reaction from Japan and Korea. Most Japanese people including me do not think the Bill will be effective nor have a dramatic impact on the overall relationship between our two countries. Of course, the political stance of our government might be different from what we think. If so, it should be verified, otherwise it will be severely criticized. I can assure you that being fully aware of our historical mistakes, we will no longer repeat them. Dokdo, therefore, will be taught as a territory of Korea. I hope relations between Korea and Japan will not worsen because of the Dokdo issue nor our friendship be estranged by it."
Unfortunately, contrary to Toru‘s assurance and heartfelt wishes, some Japanese textbooks have again claimed Japan's sovereignty over Dokdo. With its principle of not regulating the writers' historical point of view, the Japanese government seems to be approving their claim to Dokdo. Although I was worried about the Korean people's excessive response on the issue, the dubious stance of the Japanese government has made me wonder if the common critical evaluation of the Japanese people is right after all. Maybe they are warlike people ambitious to expand their territory.
However, as history shows, our national interests are influenced by intricate diplomatic relations. Considering this, it is time for us to take a more cautious and balanced approach to the Dokdo issue. We should not let our overheated emotional response blind us to the geopolitical state of the region. Furthermore, we need to remember that there are conscientious persons like K. Toru in Japan who speak out against many historical distortions in the new Japanese textbooks. Although their voices might not be heard above the shrill sloganeering of right wing Japanese nationalists, they could implore their fellow Japanese not to repeat the mistakes of history and to wisely resolve the Dokdo issue through cooperation with Korea.
Kim Aeju firstname.lastname@example.org
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