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Crossing a bridge of no return

Oct 16,2019
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SEO SEUNG-WOOK
The author is Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

When Japan was gearing up for a typhoon on October 12, I saw a debate on social media. A photo showed an empty Japanese supermarket after people had stocked up on food, with only Korean instant noodles left behind. People wrote that even when a typhoon hit the country, Japanese people wouldn’t buy Korean products, and that Koreans should do the same.

Others argued that Japanese people are not used to spicy food and wouldn’t want spicy Korean noodles for emergencies. Personally, I am most impressed by a reply, “Would you buy spicy chicken noodles for emergencies when you don’t even know if the water will be shut off?”

I do not know why only Korean noodles were left or if it was really the case. Regardless of right or wrong, I find it regrettable that it is the reality of Korea-Japan relations and that such an uncivilized debate could happen on social media while a neighboring country is fighting a super typhoon.

Of course, anti-Korean public opinion on Japanese social media has also reached an alarming level. Just as news related to Justice Minister Cho Kuk is explosively popular in Korea, so is news titled “No Moon Jae-in!” in Japan. Why would a Japanese subsidiary of Naver sell an emoticon deriding President Moon?

Discussing anti-Korean sentiment in Japanese society in an interview with Asahi Shimbun, a famous non-fiction writer went so far as to say it was similar to the flow of emotions in the late 1930s to early 40s, when Japanese people wanted to “get rid of China” and “get rid of the United States that is backing China.”

In both countries, the media encourages confrontation and instigation on social media. Pathetic media reports which poking at vulnerable spots — such as the division in Korea over Cho Kuk and radiation-contaminated water from Fukushima — are being distributed under the guise of it being the people’s right to know.

A friend who is knowledgeable about Korea-Japan relations said, “The biggest problem is not the fight between politicians but the antagonism between people of the two countries crossing the bridge of no return.”

At this rate, even after the Moon Jae-in administration and Abe government are finished, the grudge between the people won’t be resolved.
Experts in the two countries point out that the political leaders in Seoul and Tokyo are engrossed in integrating their supporters and political benefits while not displaying any creative leadership to break the stalemate. While leaders are hesitating, the discrepancy of emotions between people of the two countries is growing like a monster.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 15, Page 28