Japanese, Japanese timing and Japanese media
Last summer I joined a mountain-hiking club where about 10 Japanese residents and other foreign nationals in Seoul appear regularly. In the club I have cultivated a personal and cozy friendship with them. Our amateurish multi-national mountain-hikers meet on a monthly basis to climb mountains in and near the Seoul area. The Japanese men and women with whom I mountain-hike together are kind, amicable, and gentle.
Our group, led by a Japanese "honorary" female boss in her mid 50s, really enjoys hiking. This group has made Japanese the official language of communication. I am profoundly confident that we are good friends, and we have never discussed sensitive issues like Dokdo, comfort women, or Japanese textbooks.
In mid-March, I moved to the Northeast Asian History Foundation (NAHF), a new workplace for me. This organization has the mission of academically coping with the unfounded territorial claims of the Japanese over Dokdo Islets, refuting their claims that they are not responsible for mobilizing Korean comfort women, and demanding corrections in their textbooks that wrongly insist that Dokdo belongs to them.
After I began my work for this institution, I have been preparing response measures to the Japanese "provocations" on several occasions. First, I established plans for NAHF's responses to Japanese government's approval of social studies textbooks for high school students. Korean news media carried lots of critical stories dispatched from Tokyo saying that more and more government-approved Japanese textbooks will wrongly describe that the islands belong to them. Historically, these islands belong to Koreans, beyond controversy.
While I prepared measures to cope with the approval of Japanese textbooks, I began to have a weird feeling that their "timing" of announcement of the textbook approval results was very "artificially" scheduled. The Japanese government timed the announcement at 4:00 pm on March 27. This date was the second day of the Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul, and Korean news media and those of the world gathered in Seoul could not afford to report on this sufficiently. On March 28, the foundation held a press gathering to refute the textbooks' erroneous territorial claims over Dokdo by presenting several newly-discovered old Japanese maps (late 19th century) that eloquently showed that Japanese mapmakers clearly described that the islands did not belong to them by different colors on the maps. (Read Korea's morning newspapers dated March 29.)
In the meantime, I was told that the Japanese government had planned to make the announcement on March 30 or 31. Why did they change this date to March 27? My conjecture is that the Japanese intentionally rescheduled the date with the wish that Korean news media did not give much space for criticism to their textbook approval results.
Curiously, this kind of "sophisticated" scheduling by Japanese continued. For a second time, I could see their thinly-camouflaged timing again. I heard intelligence reports that the Japanese Foreign Ministry is going to release its "Diplomatic Blue Book" on April 6. This date falls on Friday. As a former newspaper journalist myself for over 25 years, the intention for scheduling for Friday was transparent to me. Friday is a “slow news day" and there is not much space to run critical stories for Korean media.
What makes my suspicions of Japanese "timing" firmer and firmer is that they (of course part of them, who are rightwing radicals) are going to have "Takeshima Day" on April 11. For the first time, people from Shimane Prefecture and their sympathizers will shout in the streets of Tokyo that the Dokdo Islets are theirs. Alas, on this day, Koreans will hold a general election, a "life-or-death fight" for politicians. News media in Korea may not afford to cover their Takeshima Day demonstrations fully.
The more deeply I thought about the timing of these events, the more confident I became that the Japanese are really "ingenious" people. When I browsed through the Japanese news media online about the textbook approval results on March 28, I discovered that not a single mainstream Japanese media carried the story, to the best of my knowledge, while many Korean media reported on this issue. My guess is that the reason why more and more Japanese textbooks include groundless territorial claims over Dokdo is that their news media clam up on the problems of their false Dokdo description. As long as Japanese media connive at problematic textbooks, the wrongs committed by Japanese textbooks will continue, even when a lone conscientious Asahi Shimbun journalist Wakamiya Yoshibumi denounced the Japanese government about the comfort women issue (See Asahi Shimbun March 26, p. 2 and DongA Ilbo, April 05, p. 30).
Seo Ui-dong, Tokyo correspondent of the Kyunghyang Daily News, wrote a column on March 24 (p. 12), which introduced a Japanese book criticizing deeply rooted problems in mainstream Japanese news media. According to his column, a recently-published book entitled Government-Media Complex by Kodansha laid bare structural problems in Japanese media. This book written by Makino Yoh, a former journalist of Nihon Geizai Shinbun, criticized that Japanese news media simply follow the policy lines presented by their government. This book appears to be a self-flagellation by a former experienced journalist.
While seeing these events, images of several Japanese personal traits overlapped in my head. My purely amicable and unsophisticated Japanese hiker friends contrasted with those guileful, calculating and tenacious Japanese government officials and politicians, and those conniving media people. Who represents the true Japanese? I will have to meet more diverse Japanese before I jump to a conclusion.
The writer is director of public relations and education at the Northeast Asian History Foundation in Seoul. He has a Ph.D. in mass communication.