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2017-11-03 17:48
By Choe Chong-dae

 

The relationship between Korea and Japan is quite complicated because it is always affected by historical and territorial issues. Although political ties between the two countries are going through a turbulent time, their cultural relations remain firm. Spanning over 1,500 years, Korea and Japan’s exchanges have resulted in trade, war and political engagements, all of which underlie their relations to this day.

On October 23, a unique diplomatic reception was held on board the “JS Kashima,” a training ship of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, at the 2nd Fleet of Command of the Korean Navy, Pyeongtaek, to commemorate the ship’s first visit to Korea. 

Yasumasa Nagamine, the Japanese Ambassador to Korea, and Rear Admiral Koji Manabe, the Commander of the Japan Training Squadron, hosted the reception that allowed Koreans and Japanese to experience Japanese naval traditions while enjoying friendly exchanges with each other.

I was deeply touched by recent news that Japanese Emperor Akihito paid his first tribute at the Koma Shrine in Hidaka, Saitama Prefecture, on September 20. According to historical records, Ko Yak-gwang, the son of the last king of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo in Korea, and about 2,000 people migrated to Japan and settled in the region of Saitama Prefecture around 1,300 years ago.  In 716, the Koma shrine was built to honor Ko Yak-gwang and other Goguryeo migrants.

According to an urban myth in Japan, he who pays tribute at the Koma shrine has his wishes granted. Many Japanese politicians, including prosecutors, visit the shrine frequently as they believe that their visits will lead to a promotion or career success. Interestingly, six Japanese politicians, including Makoto Saito, became prime minister after visiting the shrine.

Surprisingly, on the occasion of his 68th birthday, Emperor Akihito revealed at a press conference on Dec. 12, 2001, that he felt a personal attachment to Korea because of the blood ties of his ancestors.  The close kinship with Korea is recorded in the Shoku Nihongi, or the Chronicles of Japan, compiled in 797, that the mother of Emperor Kammu (reign 781-806) had come from the family of Baekche, an ancient kingdom of Korea and she was a descendant of its King Muryong (reign 501- 523).

Although he was describing a fact documented in historical records, it was the first time that the Emperor had publicly lauded Korean blood in the imperial line.

The Emperor’s sense of strong attachment to the ancient relationship between Korea and Japan recently prompted him to pay tribute to the Koma Shrine.

Due to old age and health concerns, the Emperor is likely to abdicate at the end of March 2019 and Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to take the throne.

Recently, Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon proposed that Emperor Akihito consider making a landmark visit to Korea before he abdicates. Although the Emperor wished to visit Korea several times over the decades, it was difficult because it could agitate both countries. However, if he resigns from the throne, his dream to visit Korea will come true soon. His affection for Korea would pave the way for mutual understanding between the two countries, setting aside historical tensions.

To surmount various difficulties between the two countries, what we need most is to be ready to talk about any issue without prejudice and without excessive emotion.  Open dialogue will enable us to understand each other’s ancient culture. We should endeavor to uncover more truths from history and rediscover our shared values.


Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times. He is President of Dae-kwang International Co., and Director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at choecd@naver.com.


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