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東京大学公共政策大学院 | GraSPP / Graduate School of Public Policy | The university of Tokyo

Student Reports

Student Reports

CAMPUS Asia Report: Cooperation under Everlasting Conflicts

Jae Hyeok Lee

Unlike my expectations, relations between Korea and Japan was under their worse status while I was spending a double degree program in Tokyo. Historical debates, Japan’s economic sanctions toward Korea, and Korea’s diplomatic retributions over GSOMIA were going back and forth, and social emotions against each other were expressed via boycotts or protests.

While the quarrels between neighbors should be refrained and discouraged, of course, I myself, as an international relations major, observed these symptoms with great appreciations as well as academic interests. Living in Japan during this time of period was a great opportunity to witness how political tensions between two countries are perceived and reflected in public level. Such experience gave me a new impression on Japan and Japanese people and guided me to have new academic viewpoint dealing with Korea-Japan relations.

The very first astonishment that I observed on Japanese society and people was that they were quite indifferent, or almost careless, to historical and political issues regarding Korea. Despite continuous news about Korean affairs from Japanese TV channels, people I met outside of campus (or sometimes even within campus) had neither affection nor hatred against Korea. It was quite alarming for me as a Korean national who was born and raised under social atmosphere that stresses the history of early 20th century, and it was rather natural to express antagonistic emotions against Japan in general conversations in Korea. By this moment, I realized that even I, who had been claiming my academic perspective is quite balanced and emotion-free, was not free from having ambiguous selfishness on regarding issues, vaguely converging emotional connotations into my logical analysis.

The second surprise I witnessed in Japan, which is quite related to the first one, was that the impact of Korean culture was way much bigger than I thought. It was very natural to hear Korean music in the street of Shibuya or any other crowded landmarks, and some people even tried to talk to me in Korean, saying that they are learning Korean via K-dramas. They all unanimously said that they love Korea and Korean culture, and diplomatic tensions between the two states does not affect their good feelings. Comparing such comments with what was going on in Korea during the conflict, where people voluntarily boycotted Japanese products, it was again very alarming to observe how Japan managed to keep both love, via consuming Korean cultures, and hate, in political aspect, toward Korea in the same moment.

While I was amazed to see the true aspect of Japanese society just by living in Tokyo, the academic environment that the CAMPUS Asia program provided gave us a great opportunity to discuss, debate and share our thoughts into acceptable common ground. It was my third and last surprise to listen to young Japanese’s minds within the program, and to realize that there is a high possibility of potential that we will be able to soothe down the everlasting conflicts and promote constructive mutual friendship. Under Korean media, Japan is merely a demonic state that does not regret historical misdeeds and ignores Korea as a legitimate regional partner; whereas Japanese media also seems to strive to disparage Korean polity, focusing on scandals and negative news. Such narratives were never to be found among our discussions: Both sides were open for accepting general public opinions of counterparts, mutually yearned for wider speculations that combines both Korean and Japanese points of view, and tried to come up with common ground where all of us would appreciate.

The most valuable lesson that I learned in Japan was the notion that ‘I could be wrong’. While I trained myself to forge my own viewpoints with concrete supporting logics, I also learned the importance of listening from others and the significance of self-suspicion that what I have known as a balanced perspective could be limited, emotional, or even polarized. Life in Japan broke my arrogance into humility, and the friendship I made here guided me to be a better person with more balanced attitude than before. I thank the CAMPUS Asia program and its faculties as well as staff members for giving me such a great opportunity, people I met in Tokyo for letting me take off my glasses of prejudice and open my eyes, and friends I made through the program for valuable intellectual minds and priceless friendships.