Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

Korean drama and tourist tours, in other words, a Korean boom is seen in Japan these days since about 2 years ago. As a result, the number of places teaching Hankul has increased as well as Korean food and goods, in such a way that the economic effects have climbed to several billion yen, according to the latest statistics.
Mass media often reports on such a boom, but how do Koreans in Japan consider it? I am curious about this and whenever there is an opportunity I ask those conducting ethnic Korean education and the staff members of local activist organizations for their understanding of such a boom.
There are certainly Korean groups sympathetic to this boom, but many others feel doubts about the whole matter. Although I cannot base my opinion on any statistics, I can affirm that, at least, Korean local activists give warnings to the boom.
Their main concern is, that since there are no efforts for a deep understanding and because the dramas shown only offer a superficial vision of the issues involved, a real relationship of friendship between Koreans and Japanese is not taking place.
One can certainly understand this by reflecting on issues that show the actual frictions going on between Japan and Korea. Discussions continue on the territorial disputes concerning Takeshima, on the postwar reparation issues and the official Treaty signed by both countries in relation to the indemnification to be done to the comfort military women; the compensation to the Korean Hamsen disease patients during the Japanese military occupation of Korea, as well as the public demands for the official improvement of ethnic education in Japan, like the Keguli Olini Association, continue to be unresolved issues.
The staff of the Korean ethnic education group running the Seiwa Center in the district of Ikuno (Osaka) for almost 30 years considers the actual Korean boom a golden opportunity to stress quiet grassroots action at local levels.
We should not forget that, well entering into the 90s, only 35% of the Japanese people felt some kind of familiarity with South Korea, according to a research done by the Office of the Prime Minister. In the past, every time Korean ethnic and cultural events took place a number of disturbances and harassment occurred from the Japanese side. Reflecting on those events, one cannot rejoice at the actual boom and it seems necessary to be on guard. Certainly, one can understand the reasons not to show uncritical joy at the present trends, Koreans in Japan had to bear a long history of suffering from lack of recognition of their rights and even, at present, there is no assurance that bullying and vexations have disappeared.
From the point of view of those persons that have been deeply involved for 10 or 20 years and desire to review their involvement, this Korean boom seems not to have substantially changed attitudes. This questions the essence of ethnic identity and the actions taken to fill the ditch that stands up in front of the historical relationships between Japan and South Korea.
The ill feelings between Koreans and Japanese did not fade away. The causes for the mutual frictions have not been eradicated. Moreover, I got the feeling that, precisely because of the present boom, it is very important not to let it go but to try to deepen the understanding between both countries.

Info: During the Japanese military occupation Korean and Taiwanese patients of Hansen disease were forcefully isolated and were left without compensation at the post war reparations Treaty. There is a trial (Solokto Island trial) going on in court with requests for signatures. Detailed information can be obtained from
Ms. Kim Kang-Ja (FAX:0745-52-0402)
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