Threat faxed to Koreans heading to Japan
By Kim Rahn
The escalating political and diplomatic dispute between Korea and Japan over Dokdo is likely to negatively affect Koreans traveling to Japan.
As bilateral national sentiment has worsened after President Lee Myung-bak visited the islets over which Japan claims sovereignty, Korean authorities are paying close attention to the safety of Korean tourists visiting Japan.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), its Tokyo office received a fax and a phone call that threatened the safety of Korean travelers.
Sent at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, two days after Lee’s visit to Dokdo, the fax read, “Tourists from Korea will have to be careful.” The sender was unidentified.
The next day, the office received a phone call in which the caller voiced a similar message.
The fax and the call followed an incident on Aug. 11 when a Japanese rightist activist threw a brick at the Korean consulate general in Hiroshima, breaking the glass door. The tension grew after Lee said Japan’s Emperor Akihito should apologize for Japan’s colonial rule if he wishes to visit Korea.
Hundreds of rightwing group members staged rallies to protest Lee’s remarks in front of the Korean Embassy in Tokyo for several days last week.
A Korean man was beaten by several Japanese people on Aug. 15 while staging a one-man rally in front of the war shrine of Yasukuni to call for Japan’s apology for wartime sex slavery.
“Except for the fax and the brick attack, the situation is not that serious yet. The local police asked workers of the KTO office and other Korean agencies’ branches there to take precautions. We are closely monitoring the situation for possibly a graver incident,” an official of the KTO’s headquarters in Seoul said.
“As Japanese’ sentiment toward Korea is not so positive at the moment, the Tokyo office is suspending advertisements about Korean tourism for now,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued an advisory for travelers to Japan.
“Following the dispute over Dokdo, some Japanese rightist groups held protests in front of Korean legations across Japan, and one of the legations was attacked. The safety of Koreans in the country is a concern,” the ministry said on its website posting last Thursday.
“We advise travelers not to visit dangerous places such as rally sites, and to take extra caution not to raise trouble with local people.”
Travel agencies are also watching the situation keenly, as they have enjoyed a rebound of Koreans visiting Japan, after having dropped sharply in March last year following the earthquake and radiation leak.
Those agencies worry the dispute may end the rebound. Recently, officials from Nagasaki Prefecture planned to visit Seoul for tourism promotion but it was cancelled. Dangjin City in South Chungcheong Province also announced that it is suspending exchanges with its sister city of Daisen in Akita Prefecture.
According to the Japanese National Tourism Organization, 189,700 Koreans visited Japan last month, a 35.4-percent rise from 140,000 in July, 2011.
“We are not receiving calls about trip cancellations yet. But we are closely monitoring the situation,” a staffer of Hana Tour said.