"Will there really be a new era in Japan-Korea relations?"

The schizophrenic Japanese media is currently doing an interesting about-face in terms of approach to South Korea. The headlines this week are full of gushing reports of the friendly good will between Fukuda and new South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak. A “new era” proclaims the Yomiuri while the Asahi Shimbun shows Fukuda and Lee shaking hands with beaming smiles. This was preceded last week by a notable lack of reporting on the right-wing groups who could be observed around Japan on February 22 proclaiming sovereignty of the island of Takeshima (Dokdo in Korea) and generally bad-mouthing their neighbor via megaphones. Instead, we were fed reports on the possibility of building a tunnel between the two countries which most publications and government spokespersons admit is a highly unlikely eventuality. Nonetheless, the symbolism of the idea is lost on few.

To be fair, the mainstream newspapers have never been as bad as TV stations or unofficial websites, but in the past, South Korea has often been portrayed by the press either as a source of unpleasant criminality, shoddy workmanship or simply as a childlike version of Japan, not quite living up to its maturer rival’s standards. Even the liberal Asahi Shimbun’s recent coverage of the new president includes some patronizing remarks about the immaturity of South Korean democracy. NHK documentaries on crime are even more critical, particularly in their unrelenting focus on Japanese criminals of Korean origin. Futhermore, one Japanese unofficial website collates stories documenting crimes committed by ethnic Koreans; among its posts are stories from the Yomiuri, Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun (http://hon-ga-suki.at.webry.info/200710/article_1.html).

Without wishing to be cynical, I wonder how long before the media dispense with its current sunshine policy and gets back to Korea bashing.

By Peter Harris

Anna Kitanaka is away


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