VOX POPULI: Japan, S. Korea exchanges need not be limited only to leaders




During the Genpei War (1180-1185) between the Taira and Minamoto clans, Kiso Yoshinaka (1154-1184), a samurai lord of the Minamoto clan, launched a surprise attack against the Taira in what is remembered as the Battle of the Kurikara Pass.

“When the Taira turned to look behind, they saw the white standard of the Minamoto raised like a white cloud,” goes “The Tale of the Heike,” an epic account of the struggle between the two clans.

In Japan, white and red have always been the team colors in any two-team competition–a tradition that was already in place in the 12th century, by the above account.

I was interested to learn that in neighboring South Korea, the colors are white and blue. On school sports days, for example, children would be rooting for either the “white team” or the “blue team.”

But that doesn’t mean South Koreans have an entirely different sense of color from us.

The Japanese expression “makka na uso,” which translates literally as “a bright red lie” and denotes an outright lie, has its exact counterpart in South Korea, according to “Kankoku Gengo Fukei” (Scenery of South Korean language) by Kilyong Watanabe.

The relationship between Japan and South Korea may be described as that of two partners who are alike but different, and vice versa.

Perhaps this complexity had an adverse effect, and the bilateral diplomatic relations in recent years were even considered the worst since the end of World War II.

But a long-awaited change has come at long last. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol arrived in Tokyo on March 16 for his summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The handshake Kishida offered made me feel as if spring had arrived all of a sudden.


The thorny issue of compensation for wartime Korean laborers in Japan has been resolved to some extent, but opposition is said to be strong in South Korea. I believe the rising regional security risks, posed by China and North Korea, was one of the reasons why Tokyo and Seoul resorted to a political settlement.

The winds are not calm, so to speak. But for now, I want to wait for progress.

Tokyo and Seoul also agreed to revive their shuttle diplomacy. But now that Japan’s doors are open to foreign visitors again after the COVID-19 isolation, South Korean tourists have started returning to Tokyo’s Ginza district already. In fact, South Koreans led the list of foreign visitors to Japan in February.

The Japanese idiom of “onaji kama no meshi wo kuu,” which translates literally as “eat rice from the same pot” and means living under the same roof, is also said to have its equivalent in South Korea.

Everyone can proceed with exchanges of their own choosing, which may be as good as, or even better than, the official shuttle diplomacy.

–The Asahi Shimbun, March 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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