Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan and South Korea: The Strength of Grassroots International Exchange
MENJU Toshihiro / Managing Director, Japan Center for International Exchange

October 24, 2019
The worsening of Japan-South Korea relations is making daily headlines in the media. The situation is fraught with uncertainty, what with the South Korean Supreme Court’s decision on former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and South Korea’s vehement reaction to the Japanese government’s decision to remove South Korea from the so-called “white list”, i.e. the list of trusted trade partners under its export control regime.
What is worrisome is how all this may affect the citizen-to-citizen exchanges between Japan and South Korea. Already some municipalities are beginning to suspend exchange events scheduled for this year. But can we just sit back and let the situation turn for the worse?
In grassroots exchange, 19 Japanese prefectures and 143 Japanese municipalities have sister prefecture/city arrangements with their South Korean counterparts as of August 2019. The first sister city arrangement was entered into between Hagi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Ulsan City in 1968. For more than half a century since then, such exchanges have evolved continuously.

Given the geographical proximity, there have been active sport exchanges between Japan and South Korea. In my own estimate, several hundreds of thousands of youths have probably taken part in such exchanges.
In sister city exchanges, it has often been the case that municipalities and their inhabitants as a whole engage in exchanges with their counterparts, for example, through arranging home stays, thus building relations that are akin to extended families.
These ties are firmly rooted in the localities concerned and have the resilience that cannot be swept away by diplomatic conflicts.
There are a number of problems to be tackled in Japan-South Korea relations, such as the visit to Yasukuni Shrine by the Prime Minister and others, Takeshima, and the comfort women. Each time a major challenge was encountered, grassroots exchanges managed to overcome it and keep going. This was largely thanks to the efforts of numerous people across generations.
Citizen-to-citizen exchanges tend to take place quietly and without fanfare, but play a crucial role in providing the foundation for bilateral relations between countries.
As the surge of anti-Japanese or anti-Korean sentiments tends to dominate the public in South Korea or Japan, we should remind ourselves that there are hundreds of thousands of people in either country who, with friends they can trust in the other country, understand and talk about the importance of grassroots exchanges on the basis of their own experiences.
It is highly signify that these people can think about the Japan-South Korea relations from a balanced and thoughtful perspective. Diplomacy is prone to be affected by the prevailing tide of the time, but it can have resilience thanks to the mutual understanding and trust garnered at these grassroots levels.
Confronted with adverse circumstances today, some people and municipalities who have been involved in grassroots exchanges may think twice and make the painful decision to suspend such exchanges. However, mutual trust garnered through grassroots exchanged do not collapse easily.

What is important is never to extinguish the flame of exchanges. It is also important to demonstrate objectively to those who might be easily swayed by emotions the fruits borne through Japan-South Korea exchanges to seek their understanding. Thus we should make a dispassionate appeal to our societies on how valuable and beneficial these exchanges are.
We would like our government to re-emphasize that non-governmental exchanges, with a value of their own as distinguished from diplomacy, play an even more important role at times like this. Such a gesture will greatly encourage those people who have supported grassroots exchanges not just in Japan but also in South Korea, and will be highly significant as we try to assess objectively the multiple aspects of the Japan-South Korea relationship and think about its future.

Toshihiro Menju is Managing , Japan Center for International Exchange. This article appeared in the September 10 edition of Yomiuri Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

日韓 強固な「草の根」国際交流
毛受 敏浩 / 日本国際交流センター執行理事

2019年 10月 24日













一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan and South Korea: The Strength of Grassroots International Exchange