How hatred and sympathy towards Japanese coexist in modern Korean society, why Korean soldiers study Japanese and what does it have to do with TV series.
Many young South Koreans are fond of Japanese TV dramas and music, lots of them study Japanese language. Nevertheless, Koreans don’t like Japanese. In order to explain how it is even possible for the sympathy and hatred towards Japanese to coexist in modern Korean society I will quote my talk with Seoul Tech University 25-year-old students:
– What do you think about Japanese people?
– Well, they are pretty cute! I’ve got lots of Japanese friends. I love Japanese TV dramas. I love them so much, I even learned Japanese while being in the army.
– You learned it because of your love for dramas?
My friend answers positively and does not understand why the image of a young man liking tearful series (which are the absolute majority among Japanese TV dramas) leaves me astonished. I then ask his female groupmate:
– Do you like dramas as well?
– No, I don’t watch them at all! But Japanese people are cute. I like spending time with them.
“But how?”, I’m thinking to myself, “Koreans can’t stand Japanese, I’ve read about that so much! And read about the precise reasons for that such as the murder of the Empress Min Myonseong, the horrors of the colonial period, the Japanese pirates ruining medieval Korea, the Imjin War… And here we go, “Japanese people are cute”?..”
I then ask, confusedly:
– So the fact that Koreans hate Japanese – it’s a stereotype, a lie?
– Well, not completely. When we hang out with our Japanese friends, we have fun and we have nothing against them. Yes, they’re Japanese, but who cares? But it's different when we see news reports that the Japanese government, for example, refuses to admit to the crimes of the colonial Japanese administration in Korea and that’s when we hate Japan as a whole, – says the student and then adds, – personally I’m furious at those times and really hate the Japanese.
So South Korean youngsters hate Japanese politicians and their attitude towards history rather than common people. That is actually quite understandable, as the Japanese, for example, refuse to admit to the existence of “comfort women” during the WWII (they were the women living in the occupied areas who were forced to work as prostitutes). Moreover, some Japanese who are considered war criminals all over the world are like “saints” in Japan: the nameboards with their names are placed in the Shinto Shrine Yasukuni (“shrine of country peace”) located in Tokyo. This shrine commemorates those who died for the country and the Emperor.
It means, Koreans have nothing against Japanese people, but they can’t forgive the country just yet. Sometimes this can be noticed during their conversations with their eastern neighbors.
Once I had a pleasure to attend a Russian language class for a group of 9 Koreans and 1 Japanese. The topic was “holidays”. The teacher started to ask students about national holidays in their countries. Almost at once there was a mention of March, 1 – Independence Movement Day in Korea. The teacher obviously was not an expert in East Asia, so she tried to clarify:
– Independence? From who?
– From Japan! – Koreans answered cheerfully and maliciously looked at the only Japanese in the classroom.