South Korea, Japan, and a fraught anniversary.Aug 17, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 46 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
A visit to the Dokdo Museum in downtown Seoul must be a strange experience for those unfamiliar with the delicate intricacies of Korea-Japan relations. Dokdo is a pair of islands—rocks, really—boasting no natural resources, save a few fish and, presumably, a surfeit of guano. Yet the museum, with beautiful to-scale dioramas and “4D” movie theater that simulates a visit to the islands, is designed to make the case emphatically that Dokdo—which is also claimed by the Japanese, who call it “Takeshima”—is Korean territory.
The museum, replete with historical maps and legal documents, convincingly demonstrates that Dokdo has been part of Korea for its entire recorded history. (The islands, known in English as the Liancourt Rocks, are 46 miles from the Korean mainland and about 100 from Japan.) But what it doesn’t explain to outsiders is why the status of the uninhabited volcanic outcrops is so important to so many Koreans.
Korean angst over Dokdo is a genuinely widespread, grassroots phenomenon. In 2005, a Japanese prefecture passed a resolution proclaiming Dokdo Japanese territory and establishing an annual “Takeshima Day.” The provocation came on the heels of the Japanese ambassador to Korea making a public statement that “Takeshima” was part of Japan. In response, businesses across Korea put up signs proclaiming Dokdo “our land.” Mass protests followed. A friend of mine in Seoul had theretofore been a dedicated smoker of Japan’s Mild Seven cigarettes; in the wake of the incident, he switched to a domestic brand.
So why the hullabaloo? While Japan’s claims to the islands are plainly illegitimate, Dokdo serves as a synecdoche for far deeper concerns. To many Koreans, the Japanese stance on Dokdo indicates that, though it largely became a “normal” country after World War II, Japan still refuses to accept the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors. (Korea, of course, was a brutally administered Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945.) Tokyo’s intransigence over Dokdo also raises uncomfortable questions about how sincere the country’s professed “remorse” over its behavior in the first half of the twentieth century really is. Those questions will come to the fore this month, when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, a strident nationalist, marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia with a highly anticipated address. Koreans are keenly interested to see how Prime Minister Abe will handle the occasion.
Since at least the 1950s, Japanese prime ministers have periodically issued ritualistic expressions of “remorse” for their country’s brutal pre-1945 behavior. Yet, as one Korean academic put it to me, there’s an established pattern of the Japanese professing regret and then turning around and reneging. Consider the Yasukuni Shrine. Junichiro Koizumi—prime minister from 2001 to 2006 noted for his resemblance to Richard Gere and affinity for the music of Elvis Presley—was one of the many premiers who expressed his country’s “deep remorse” for the suffering it caused during World War II. Yet Koizumi also made annual pilgrimages to Yasukuni, which honors 14 class-A war criminals (along with 2.5 million Japanese war dead) and features a “historical” museum that makes Japan out to be the victim in World War II. (It blames the Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S. oil embargo against Japan, for example.) Prime Minister Abe and his wife have also made widely condemned visits to Yasukuni, raising hackles across Asia. (It should be noted that a not insignificant number of Japanese protest these visits as well.)
Faulkner’s adage about the past not being past has become a cliché. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, especially in Asia. More than the Yasukuni provocations, the issue of “comfort women”—young women and girls from occupied territories who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army—is still an acutely painful one for many Koreans. In 1993, after decades of denials, the Japanese government finally admitted that it had forced tens of thousands of women into military-run brothels. In 1995, the Japanese government set up a private fund to pay compensation to some of the women, though the state itself did not contribute. Prime Minister Abe, meanwhile, is an on-the-record denier; in 2007, he claimed that “there is no evidence to prove there was coercion,” parroting a slander that the comfort women had elected to work as prostitutes. Abe later apologized, and he has said he has no intention of altering the 1993 apology.
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
That the North Korean regime has taken another American tourist hostage—this time it’s one Jeffrey Edward Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was seized in May after a Bible was reportedly discovered in his hotel room—is hardly surprising. North Korea is ferociously repressive, and, as Paul Marshall notes elsewhere in this issue, it targets Christians. What is odd is that the United States continues to allow Americans to travel to North Korea without any restrictions.
Ethan Epstein, cold caller.Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
A purportedly funny photo ricocheting around the Internet popped into my inbox last week, apparently courtesy of the right-wing blog RedState. The Photoshopped image is a play on the famous Dos Equis beer campaign built around the bearded, debonair “Most Interesting Man in the World,” who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” The “joke” version features a picture of said interesting man, only this time he says, “I don’t always talk to Obama voters, but when I do, I ask for large fries.”
Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook neglected to follow its usual practice last week and had a look at the reader comments under an online New York Times article. The Times piece covered the growing popularity of so-called electronic cigarettes (which Ethan Epstein chronicled in these pages a few weeks back), noting that people are increasingly using the devices in public places like restaurants and bars. Unlike real cigarettes, e-cigs don’t contain tobacco and don’t emit carcinogenic smoke—they only expel water vapor—so they don’t cause any harm to nonusers.
Hosted by Michael Graham.11:50 AM, Apr 16, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with Ethan Epstein on his piece, Dateline Pyongyang, and why the Associated Press bureau in North Korea is problematic.
The AP's problematic North Korea bureauApr 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 30 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
In February, North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test since 2006. The test, performed in defiance of scores of United Nations sanctions, outraged the international community. Within weeks, the U.N. had leveled more sanctions on the rogue regime, beefing up inspections of North Korean cargo, banning luxury exports to the impoverished nation’s appallingly self-indulgent ruling coterie, requiring countries to freeze all financial transactions that might somehow aid the North Korean nuclear program, and barring the transport of bulk cash into the country.
The micro-apartment craze.Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has always been interested in real estate. The billionaire media tycoon owns—as The Weekly Standard goes to press—11 homes, including his primary residence, a 12,500-square-foot townhouse on East 79th Street. (He’s the only New York mayor who’s completely shunned the city’s official residence, Gracie Mansion, where mayors have lived since 1942.)
Why Japan's most popular novelist is so popular.Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
In the popular imagination, Japan is a tech-obsessed cyber utopia awash in neon lights, “bleeding-edge” electronics, and, of course, robots. While there is some accuracy in the clichés, it’s also true that Japan remains a nation of serious writers and readers, and not just of comic books: Its publishing industry is one of the world’s most robust, generating $22.5 billion in 2011. (In the same period, with three times the population, American publishers grossed $27 billion.) On the Tokyo subway, one often finds more commuters engrossed in novels than in smartphones.
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