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Learning to Hate -- Revisited
An American's introduction to Korean-Japanese relations
Tony Andriotis (lefkadio)     Print Article 
Published 2006-05-28 10:48 (KST)   
It was June 1997. I was on my first visit to Korea and having a great time. While there, I struck up a conversation with a group of English instructors from the United Kingdom, who were teaching in Korea. Knowing that I was visiting from Japan, they steered the conversation to Korean-Japanese relations.

One of the instructors matter-of-factly pointed out that his high school students were happy upon hearing of the death of over 5,000 people during the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Initially, I was shocked. Later, I rationalized that maybe, just maybe, I was being told a sensational story in order to liven up the beer-imbued conversation. After all, how could children in Korea hate to such a degree that they would get giddy at the thought of 5,000 dead Japanese.

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Furthermore, I reasoned, even if his story was true, I could not judge Korea based on the sentiments of but a handful of hormone-imbalanced teenagers. As I became more familiar with the wonderful traditions, customs, and people of Korea, I convinced myself that this morbid misanthropic sentiment was nothing more than a rare anomaly.

Long story short, I think I may have been wrong.

First, tying this issue in with my own Greek-American background, I remember the shock I felt in 1999 when Turkey had an earthquake of its own. At the time, I was half-expecting a malevolent reaction from Greece to the Turkish tragedy. I was instead not just surprised but actually moved by the near total outpouring of support being shown toward the Turks by their "Greek enemies." (For more, please see "A Natural Disaster Helps Draw Two Enemies Closer.")

I know that the South Korean government extended about US$2 million in aid to Japan after the Kobe disaster, but the outpouring of personal and individual support appeared to be lacking.

Second, I am rather disappointed by the emotional actions and language being utilized by Koreans when referring to the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute; and here, I am not just referring to self-immolation, finger cutting or "bee-dancing" upon flags.

Earlier this month I was having dinner and drinks at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan's East Village with a Korean friend. Upon entering the bathroom, I was surprised to find graffiti scribbled all over the wall in Korean with English translations, screaming, "Dokdo is Korea!" and some other anti-Japanese stuff that I do not care to reproduce here.

I could not help but laugh. I was in a Japanese restaurant in a heavily Japanese area of New York, where many an underage (meaning not of drinking age — 21 in New York) Korean exchange student will frequently drop by for the occasional beer and Yaki-tori mix, and BANG! Right there, for all the world to see, an immature display of anger.

Now, I am not a statistician, but I am willing to bet that no Japanese tourist or exchange student would ever dream of going to a Korean restaurant in New York's Korea Town, and plastering the walls with graffiti declaring that Takeshima is theirs. Furthermore, if these Korean students were so passionate about the Dokdo issue and so thoroughly anti-Japanese, then why in the world were they drinking and eating at a Japanese restaurant!

Third, and sadly, the most significant point that I have to make, deals with my own personal encounter with a "death-wish" toward Japan. Despite my professional title of "lawyer," I have been bitten by the teaching bug as a result of two years of teaching high school in Osaka, Japan. As such, I am fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to teach a couple of hours a week at a small hagwan (Korean for "cram school") in New York City in which all of the students are of Korean descent. I enjoy teaching, and, frankly, I love my students. They are bright, well behaved, and eager to learn.

Recently, I have been teaching a conversation class for high school aged recent immigrants to the United States. Over the past few months I have become accustomed to many a conversation dealing with the evils of Apolo Ohno and Ichiro Suzuki. I have heard almost every "the world (and specifically, America) is out to get us" conspiracy theory being dished out in the Korean blogosphere. (By the way, this is another thing I have found that Korea and Greece have in common. Many a Greek seems to think that President Bush wakes up every morning plotting the best ways to challenge Greece and its proud population of 10 million souls). I actually welcome those conversations. Honestly, they are fun.

However, several of my students recently asked me about how much damage could be inflicted on Japan, if North Korea were to "nuke" it. Rather shocked, I responded, "Lots." To that I heard, "Yeah, but how many people would die." I then told them that the problem with a nuclear bomb is that people can die from it even 50 or 60 years later. I specifically pointed out that there are people dying in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today as a result of the bombing half a century ago. To this, one student responded, "Good."

The very next week, another student again asked about the nightmare scenario of "Japan getting nuked by North Korea." I put my arms up and I said, "What is your problem with Japan? What have they done to you in the last 60 years?" He smiled and said, "Dokdo." And to that, all I can honestly do is pray that with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes peace.

Maybe, just maybe, I am falling pray to the sin of generalization. However, with the spate of nationalistic drivel being poured forth from the Korean blogosphere, and with a government in Seoul which is banking its legitimacy on that very same hate, I have a feeling that my generalization may be more on target than I would have guessed but a mere decade ago.
Tony Andriotis is a lawyer who lives and works in New York City.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Tony Andriotis

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