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FOCUS September 2005 Volume 41

Dialogue Among Citizens: Japan and Korea

Park Koonae*

* Park Koonae is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

HURIGHTS OSAKA co-organized a study tour to South Korea (mainly in Seoul) with Osaka-based Korea NGO Center from 11-16 August 2005 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan (which also coincides with the 60th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II) and to deepen a desirable relationship between the Japanese and Koreans including Koreans residing in Japan.

There were 22 participants from Japan consisting of university students, lawyers, university professors, high school teachers, NGO activists, and ordinary citizens. A big number of Japanese visit South Korea nowadays. But exchanges among the citizens of the 2 countries in the area of human rights have not been very active except for some strong solidarity activities in Japan in the 1980s that supported Korean movements against the Korean military dictatorship. On the other hand, in recent years, disagreements relating to the Dokdo/Takeshima Island issue and the interpretation of historical events between Korea and Japan suddenly became serious. In this context, building friendship and reconciliation through dialogues at the citizens' level becomes even more important.

The main program of the study tour was the open forum entitled "Citizens' Forum for Promoting Exchange and Collaboration in the Civil Society in Korea and Japan", co-hosted by HURIGHTS OSAKA, the Korea NGO Center, and the Peace Center of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD). The forum, attended by more than 60 participants including the study tour participants, opened with remarks from Prof. Hatsuse Ryuhei, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of HURIGHTS OSAKA, and Prof. Park Soonsun, Director of the Peace Center of PSPD. The first part of the forum focused on "Militarization in Northeast Asia and the relationship between Korea and Japan." Prof. Lee Gyongjoo, a member of the Peace Center and teaching in Inha University, and Mr. Chung Kapsu, Chairperson of the Planning Committee of One Korea Festival gave presentations. For the second part of the forum, focusing on the "Clarification of the history between Korea and Japan and the common understanding of history", Mr. Masao Niwa,a Japanese lawyer from Osaka, and Ms. Kang Hyejon, a member of Solidarity for Peace and History Education in Asia, gave presentations. There was limited time to raise questions and express ideas and opinions. But it was surely a frank face-to-face discussion at the citizens' level. Some Japanese participants were surprised to know that Korean participants know Japan's modern history and political situation so much, and learned how the war-renouncing provision in the Japanese Constitution (Article 9) is appraised in Korea.

The study tour group visited the House of Sharing where former Korean comfort women (those forced to become sex-slaves during WWII) are residing. The group learned about their harsh experience and their appeals to the Japanese government and society. The group also participated in the Liberation Day celebration on 15 August 2005 where a North Korean delegation jointly celebrated with members of the South Korean civil society and delegations of Korean organizations from abroad (including one group from Japan) at Jangchoong Gymnasium in Seoul.

Participants from Japan learned much about citizens' struggle for freedom and democracy by visiting Korean historical museums and understanding the Korean civil movements. It is often said that Korea is a distant country even though it is near. Not a few participants felt that the Korean Peninsula has been moving more powerfully toward making peace and unification than expected in Japan. We should provide the space for more positive meetings, sharing of ideas and seeking ways of resolving conflict among Asian friends, instead of avoiding listening to their different opinions.

For further information please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.