Alexis Dudden: Japan, Korea, Abductions, and a Tangled History

Alexis DuddenAs Alexis Dudden points out in her fascinating article in Japan Focus, 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s takeover of Korea. Dudden, author of Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States, reveals the ways in which this event and the history of the complicated relationship between Japan and Korea continues to play a part in East Asian relations.

Incidents such as Japan’s enslavement of women during World War II, its program to forcibly remove Koreans from Japan from 1959-1984, and continuing resentment toward Korea and Koreans evidenced by the nationalist Zaitokukai movement along with Japan’s school curriculum continue to color relations between the two nations. Japan also sees itself as victimized by the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea. Dudden writes:

This, of course, is the deep divide between Japan and its Asian neighbors that Japan’s political and business leaders have long chosen to ignore in charting the nation’s place in the region. In simplest terms, [Japan’s] abduction story failed to impress Asians because of the still oozing human wounds of empire, war, and decades of official denial. Japan found itself isolated because of its deep and deeply-layered history with stolen bodies, giving it no choice but to take the abduction story to Washington…. Championing Japan’s stance on the abduction matter against North Korea continues of course to necessitate Washington’s ignoring the region’s disinterest in the story, which of course only makes sense to a United States complicit in sustaining Japan’s official silence on pre-1945 history as the deep structure of America’s post-1945 use of Japan, its soil, its people, its wealth.

More recently, Japan’s dispute with Korea over a group of islands (“Takeshima” to the Japanese and “Dokdo” to the Koreans) has led to another spurt of Japanese nationalism one that Dudden suggests the region needs to be wary of:

The extremists’ numbers are small, yet when helmeted police spend public money to protect democratically elected officials who agree with them over a common cause — “Takeshima is Japan’s!” — things are openly out of sorts in Japan today and, arguably, dangerously so.

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