Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Observations on the Views of Koreans Regarding Japan

Lee Myoung Bak is the president of Korea.  I've gotten the impression that most of the people from Gwangju adamantly dislike him, and his policies.  My students, especially my 6th graders, are particularly vocal in their distaste.  In order to get a pulse on how the people of Gwangju feel about him, I assigned the essay topic, "Do you like Lee Myoung Bak?  Why or why not?"  The political views of most sixth graders are merely a reflection of their parents, so I knew that these essays would provide insight on the views of many of the citizens of Gwangju.

The students wrote well, and unabashedly displayed their sentiments.  I assigned the topic to two of my upper level sixth grade classes, and every essay, with one exception, began with this statement (There was slight variation in wording.), "I dislike Lee Myoung Bak for many reasons.  The first reason I don't like him is because he is from Osaka, Japan."  

For those of you who are unaware of Korean history, the Japanese occupied Korea for several years prior to World War II.  Koreans were treated horribly, and many of the atrocities were unspeakable, so naturally, Koreans have a strong hatred towards Japan.  A question on a writing test for my fourth graders was, "What place would you not like to visit, and Why?"  

Around half of the answers were some some form of, "I don't want to visit Japan, because I hate Japan.  And I hate Japanese people."  Many of my Korean friends, in casual conversation, have told me that they hate all things Japan.  I get the impression that this view is fairly widespread throughout Korea, so the accusation from Koreans of their own president being Japanese is a fairly strong insult.

Korea is now a thriving economy, much like Japan.  Korea has Hyundai, and Kia.  Japan has Toyota, Honda, and Nissan.  Korea has Samsung (Did you know Samsung manufactures cars?), and LG.  Japan has Sony, and Panasonic.  The rivalry is fairly evident.  Soccer matches between the two nations receive high television ratings.  The most replayed sporting event here in Korea seems to be Korea's victory over Japan in baseball to win the Gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.  I've seen that game numerous times.

I sence sort of an inferiority complex from Koreans towards Japan. Nowhere is that more evident than in the dispute between Korea and Japan over Dokdo, a small Island off of the coast of Korea.  Both Japan and Korea claim the island is theirs.  Koreans hold fast to their sovereignty over Dokdo, not because it's an island of abundant natural resources, but because they absolutely refuse to give in once more to their Asian rivals.  One of my sixth graders said in her essay, and I paraphrase, "Lee Myoung Bak is from Japan, and he became president to give Dokdo to them."  Sovereignty over Dokdo is a major issue for Koreans that fuels their hatred towards Japan.  I've yet to meet a Korean who has taken the stance that Dokdo should be under Japanese sovereignty.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan cooled Korean sentiments slightly, and I emphasize the word, "slightly."  Make no mistake about it, many Koreans possess an inherent hatred towards Japan.  It's both sad and fascinating.  America is one of the most multicultural societies in the world.  As an American, I, along with most others, don't have an inherent hatred towards a particular nation.  Different ethnic groups may dislike, and maybe even hate each other, as racism does exist.  And many Americans possess a slight allegiance towards the nation of their ancestry, in addition to their allegiance to the USA.  Korea, on the other hand, is the other extreme.  It's one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, and obviously the pain and embarrassment stemming from Japanese occupation of Korea has transcended generations, because the feelings are obviously strong even in the children.  

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