On Wednesday morning, a 69-year-old Korean man threw a bag of feces at the Japanese embassy in Seoul. According to Jiji press, the man had been shouting “Dokdo belongs to Korea!” as he threw the bag.
The man was a former ward assemblyman for the Gangdong District of Seoul. Apparently he had prepared three bags of crap, but only had time to throw one before being detained by police. The one bag he threw did not manage to make it into the grounds of the embassy.
He allegedly said he did it as a warning to Japan. He wanted Japan to know that both the Liancourt Rocks and Tsushima are Korean territory. The man also demanded further Japanese apologies for Korean comfort women.
Police released the man after he paid a fine.
This is not the first time that Koreans have thrown feces at the Japanese embassy. Another man did the same thing last year, around the same time. Every February 22nd Shimane prefecture holds a “Takeshima Day” ceremony to remind people that South Korea forcibly occupied the Liancourt Rocks 1954, and that Japan still claims the rocks as territory. The small ceremony cause a lot of rage among Korean ultra-nationalists.
[Translation Note: The Japanese media has used the word "obutsu," which literally means "filth," but is usually used to refer to feces. ]
The Korean media has posted photos of American politician Tony Avella (Democrat – 11th New York Senate district) attending a press conference wearing a rather odd t-shirt.
The t-shirt says, “Yes! East Sea No! Sea of Japan,” referencing Korean ultra-nationalists’ campaign to make the entire world change their maps to reflect the Korean language name for the body of water between Japan and Korea.
Avella represents the Queens neighborhood of Bayside, an area with a large Korean population. His t-shirt show is an obvious act of pandering to Korean-American voters who support the anti-Japanese agenda of South Korean nationalists.
Last week, lawmakers in New Jersey and New York introduced bills aimed at adding “East Sea” to textbooks in their states. The move comes shortly after the state of Virginia passed a similar plan.
An article on NJ.com mentions the arguments in favor of the plan:
“We non-Asian Americans have very little knowledge of this body of water,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors, said. “When I spoke to the different Korean-American groups, they felt this should be a way to educate the non-Asian Americans as to what the history is, and maybe stimulate them to look into the history.”
For decades, the name of the sea — fraught with history — has been a delicate issue for South Korea and Japan.
South Koreans, who favor “East Sea”, say that calling it the Sea of Japan is “colonialist” and harks back to Japan’s brutal past rule of the Korean peninsula. They claim the name only came into popular use during that period.
Koreans have a right to feel resentment over the fact that their country was annexed by a foreign empire. The historical record shows that many Korean people suffered human rights abuses under Japanese rule. However, the historical record does not show that the usage of the name “Sea of Japan” on American maps was a product of Japanese imperialism.
By the first half of the 19th century, almost all maps printed in Western countries used the name “Sea of Japan.” Japan was closed off to the outside world until the 1850’s and did not start to become an Imperialist power until the late 1870’s. Foreign countries had already decided on their name for the sea prior to Japanese rule of Korea.
Claiming that “the name only came into popular use” during the period of Japanese Imperialism is simply untrue. It doesn’t reflect historical reality. Instead, it reflects modern day anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea. Some Korean nationalists dislike Japan so much that they cannot stand the idea of English language maps referring to the body of water as the “Sea of Japan.” A few, perhaps, absurdly believe that the name implies some kind of ownership of the sea, or somehow strengthens Japan’s arguments over the ownership of Liancourt Rocks. Korean nationalists want English-speakers, and the whole world, to use the term “East Sea” instead. After all, it’s directly east of Korea, so the name makes sense to them.
When liberal-minded Americans hear about countries that were once placed under the rule of foreign Imperialist powers, we tend to sympathize with the victim, and tend to assume that they are telling the truth. When a former Imperialist power tries to defend its past actions, we tend to take a negative view of such defensive behavior, especially when that former Imperialist power is Japan, a former enemy of American democratic values. In this case, Korean nationalists are taking advantage of the sympathy of well-intentioned but historically ignorant Americans.
American voters should not allow groups backed by foreign countries to re-write American school textbooks to reflect their nationalist grudges. Unfortunately, almost no lawmakers or voters in New York and New Jersery are going to care enough to do their homework about this issue, so the bills will probably pass, and politicians like Tony Avella will continue to champion the cause of ugly nationalism.
It was basically a rolling advertisement for Korea’s territorial claim to the Liancourt Rocks.
Do you know?
DOKDO BELONGS TO KOREA
Political statements are banned at the Olympics, and this is clearly a political statement. However, since his expression of anti-Japanese nationalism was on a suitcase at the airport, as opposed to the actual ice rink, the authorities don’t seem to care much about it. There aren’t any English language media reports about the suitcase, and the story only seems to have appeared on a few Japanese internet news sites and blogs.
Is it fair to call this anti-Japanese? Yes. It is a statement made in the context of directly challenging Japan’s claim that Korea has illegally occupied the rocks. Merely believing that the rocks belong to Korea is one thing, but turning your luggage into a loud proclamation of Korea’s ownership of the islands is another matter. In the context of the ongoing dispute over the rocks, it cannot be seen something that is not anti-Japanese.
(For readers who are unfamiliar with the dispute: Japan has maintained a single position since the 1950’s – it believes the islands are Japanese territory, and it seeks third-party arbitration of the dispute through the International Court of Justice. It is not an aggressive or militaristic position. It is a peaceful position based on the idea that disputes can be settled through peaceful discussion. Some Koreans who defend their government’s decision to not agree to abitration make the ridiculous claim, without evidence, that the International Court of Justice is a corrupt body that would side with Japan even if Korea had a better case. )
At a protest held on February 12th in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korean ultra-nationalists threw chocolate bars at photos of Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Ito Hirobumi.
It turns out that February 14th is the anniversary of the 1910 Japanese court decision to sentence An Jung-geun(Ahn Jung-geun) to death. An Jung-geun assassinated Ito Hirobumi in 1909, an accomplishment that made him a national hero in postwar Korea.
Because he killed one of modern Japan’s founding fathers, An Jung-geun is often considered a “terrorist” in Japan. An’s image is often paraded around when Koreans want to display their anti-Japanese nationalism. For example, at a 2013 soccer match between Japan and Korea, Korean fans unveiled a gigantic An banner to taunt the Japanese (Korea lost the match anyway).
South Korean ultra-nationalists see Valentine’s Day as a holiday that was imported from Japan, and they want it replaced with a national day of remembrance for their country’s most famous assassin.