Sensitive issues between Korea and Japan: Learning through lively discussion
I spent one semester at the Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University, as a CAMPUS Asia student. It turned out to be a valuable experience for me in so many ways, not least among which was what I was able to learn about my own home country, Japan.
I had two objectives in my mind when I decided to apply for the CAMPUS Asia program. My first goal was to examine my own country from different critical perspectives. Only through critical analysis can one truly understand the strengths and weaknesses of any country. I knew that studying abroad in Korea and China would broaden my understanding of Japan. My second goal was to learn about Asia. Although Japan has long studied Western countries, it is now time for Japan to look to Asia as a whole and learn, because without amicable relations with her Asian neighbors, Japan will fail to flourish in the 21st century. In particular, Japan should maintain and improve ties with Korea and China. Having already emerged as a major power, China is a crucial focus of attention for neighboring countries as well for as the international community. The Korean economy is also quite successful these days. Korean companies are active all over the world, and the government has given significant support through its trade policies. Japan can learn from the Korean economy.
I took four courses at the Graduate School of International Studies. I mainly studied Korea-Japan relations and the trade policy of the Korean government.
With regard to Korea-Japan relations, the year 2012 was one of the hardest years for our two countries because of recent territorial disputes. Several friends asked me whether Korea was safe for Japanese people. Seeing the difficulties and challenges in the relationship between our two countries, I began to think about Korea-Japan relations quite seriously. I had opportunities to talk with Korean students about sensitive issues between us, and in our discussions learnt how to communicate both diplomatically and respectfully.
I was able, as well, to hear numerous critical opinions on Japanese society from Korean professors and students. Though I had heard such criticisms in Japan, critical remarks made by foreigners seemed more immediate and engaging, and they provided me with a new perspective with which to examine my country. One of the professors at the graduate school is quite knowledgeable about Japanese society, and he gave me valuable advice for the future of Japan. In one of the classes, I summarized an article about the Japanese political system. According to the article, Japanese ruling party politicians have distributed money to local people in order to be reelected, a practice that still continues despite the fact that it has always proven ineffective. After my presentation, the professor told me that Japanese people dwell excessively on what they perceive to be the glorious days of the past, and that Japanese people must forget those days in order to rebuild Japanese society. I found his arguments very persuasive, and this gave me some insight into what young Japanese people should do for the future of Japan.
By learning about Korea-Japan relations, not only was I able to understand how people in neighboring countries think about Japan, but I was also provided with the chance to look at Japan from different critical perspectives.
Turning now to my studies of the trade policies of the Korean government, at GSIS I was able to take a course conducted by a professor who is a specialist in trade policy. Korean trade policy is characterized by its FTA policy. While The Korean government has concluded several FTAs with major countries, notably the Korea-US FTA and the Korea-EU FTA, the Japanese government has had difficulty concluding free trade agreements with major countries.
FTA issues are also controversial in Korea. Numerous people, especially farmers and NGOs, are opposed to the FTAs. But, at the same time, I learned the importance of exports for the Korean economy. The economy depends on trade, which amounts to around 95% of GDP (2011). The vital importance of foreign trade to the Korean economy is the motivating force behind government efforts to conclude free trade agreements.
Japan was previously an export-oriented country, but it has today lost its world-beating competitive edge. As a result, a number of multinational companies have relocated abroad and closed domestic factories that used to hire large numbers of employees. In order to maintain the employment rate, the Japanese government must raise its competitiveness by improving the business environment of the country. Through the research project that I worked on at GSIS, I have come to realize that Japan has much to learn from Korea.
By learning about Korea-Japan relations and Korean trade policy, I was able to explore the past, the present, and the future of Japan. I would like to make full use of my experience at GSIS in order to contribute not only to the development of Japanese society but also to improvements in Japan’s relationship with East Asian countries.
I have benefited immeasurably from joining the CAMPUS Asia program, which provided me with the opportunity to learn and grow through experience. However, I feel there are also areas where improvements are needed. Firstly, both Korean and Japanese students need the opportunity to talk about political or historical issues with Chinese students in the CAMPUS Asia program. I had numerous opportunities to talk about such issues with Korean students, but I had far fewer opportunities to speak with Chinese students. If there were a course in which students could study and discuss East Asia relations, the CAMPUS Asia program would offer a more comprehensive exchange program.
To students of Seoul National University, Peking University, or the University of Tokyo, I highly recommend joining this program, and I would like to offer two pieces of advice. Firstly, students should make sure they know how they intend to benefit from the CAMPUS Asia program. If you join this program as an exchange student, you can freely choose which courses you take. You should therefore choose your courses in accordance with what you want to achieve through your participation in the CAMPUS Asia program. Secondly, before going to a partner university, you should think out your own ideas of the relationship between your country and the country you will be visiting. Sharing your own ideas with other students is a very helpful way to achieve this. Discussions may be tough and challenging, but you can significantly improve your understanding of the foreign country by engaging in debate.
My time spent in Korea was of immense value to me. I greatly appreciate the efforts of all the professors, students, and staff members involved in this program. Having learned a great deal about Korea and Japan, I would like to contribute to building better relations between Korea and Japan in the future.