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Japan and Korea can be friends

Nov 16,2018
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SEO SEUNG-WOOK
The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Japan.

On Nov. 13, the word “omoni” appeared in a prime-time show on network television in Japan. “Omoni” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Korean word for “mom.” Japanese TBS variety program “The World Unknown to Matsuko,” hosted by cross-dressing TV personality Matsuko Deluxe, featured Korean cooking masters from Shin Okubo Korean Town in Tokyo. The show featured cheese stir-fried spicy chicken, soft tofu soup and assorted pancakes, the most notable Korean dishes in Japan. The highlight was the “Chicken Soup Grandma,” who closed her eatery and returned to Korea three years ago. The program found her in Gangjin, South Jeolla, and the master was invited to the studio with her signature dish.

Host Matsuko has been involved in controversy for belittling K-pop, but that day she was serious. She repeatedly said “it is really tasty” and enjoyed the Korean food. It must have been recorded earlier, but the show was aired at a sensitive time. Popular sentiment in Korea and Japan has been strained by the Supreme Court of Korea’s ruling on forced labor victims by imperial Japan and Japan’s resistance to the ruling, as well as BTS’ “Liberation Day t-shirt” controversy. TBS could have considered cancelling the broadcast, but it was aired as planned.

On the same day, despite the T-shirt controversy, BTS held a concert at Tokyo Dome with 45,000 fans. Japanese fans raved over the band’s performance. Korean people generally assumed that anti-Korean sentiment in Japan would be intense due to various political and cultural issues. However, the success of BTS’ concert and the appearance of Korean cooks on TBS suggest otherwise. Some Japanese may want to crush the Korean Wave, but they don’t represent the entire country.

It would be better to approach civil exchange and communication channels with open minds at this time of political discord. The BTS’ t-shirt controversy initiated by far-right online users spread because of a lack of understanding between the people of the two countries. Koreans lacked understanding of Japanese trauma over atomic bomb, and Japanese did not understand how furious Koreans are at the far-right for spreading anti-Korean sentiment in Japan.

Exchanges between Korea and Japan have peaked recently. Visiting Japan and Japanese restaurants is popular in Korea, and K-pop, Korean cuisine and Korean literature has brought the third Korean Wave to Japan. I hope relations will heal and the two countries will get along soon.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 29