Japan vs. Korea Unit


Japanvs. Korea


Japanand Korea are two closely related countries in Asia with uniquesimilarities and differences. The interactions between the twocountries over several centuries have led to cultural, economic andsocial interaction visible to a close observer. However, they haveevolved different in response to varying factors. Currently, the twocountries have treated the world to a series of incidences overfrosty diplomatic relations which often times have spread to thecitizens. Other than that, fierce competition and increasedinvolvement in global trade makes the two countries valuable actorsin global affairs. To understand better how the two countries arealike in some ways and differ in others, I will look at diplomaticrelations, social scene, education, national philosophy and theirhistory.


Japanand Korea’s history goes back several centuries. During the 18thand 19thcenturies, there were three main kingdoms in Asia in modern dayChina, Korean Peninsula and Japan: the Qing Dynasty of China, JoseonEmpire (Korea) and Meiji Empire of Japan. As European countriesengaged in exploration and colonization of Africa and the Americas asexpansion strategies, the Asian kingdoms also sought to expand theirterritories leading to short lived conflicts amongst them. The empireof Japan under Emperor Meiji has been involved in altercations withthe Joseon Empire as early as 1592 when Japan invaded Korea. In thelate 19thcentury, there were several trade and exploratory expeditions byAmerica and Europeans countries to Korea. Japan sought to dominatetrade with Korea through the Treaty of Ganghwa (1976) which allowedKorea to open up her sea ports to Japanese merchants (Jones 2013).

Japanwas not satisfied with the balance of trade with Korea. As such,Japan organized a coup attempt to dethrone emperor of the KoreanJoseon dynasty. The coup was repelled with assistance of the Chinesewhich led them to occupy and dominate Korea in 1885-1894. This cameto be known as the first Sino-Japanese war. In this war, the Japaneseembassy in Korea was destroyed and 40 people killed. Diplomaticrelations were restored through the Japan-Korea treaty (1885). In1895, Japan staged another successful coup in Korea and installed apro-Japanese government that expelled and severed ties with China.Korea would later be turned into a Japanese protectorate and laterannexed as a colony. This would continue until Japan lost the SecondWorld War in 1945 and Korea became a free state (Lam 2009).

Duringthe Second World War, Japan relied heavily on Korea. It is reportedthat Japan drained South Korean resources to support the war.Thousands of South Koreans were forced to work in Japanese factories.Majority of national produce from South Korea was diverted to Japan.In fact, when the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombs were dropped inJapan, about 22 000 South Koreans died. This created a lot ofresentment in South Koreas towards Japan. The country sufferedeconomically and through loss of life and property to a war they hadnothing to do with. With Japan greatly weakened in the war, SouthKorea was invaded by Russian and American forces. The two chose tosplit the country into two with north being aligned to the SovietUnion and the South to the Western forces. The south took the nameRepublic of Korea or South Korea while the north took the nameDemocratic People’s Republic of Korea or simply North Korea (Heo &ampRoehrig 2014).


Korea-Japanrelations have been frosty and marked by tension and the historybetween the two countries being the main issue. The two countrieshave for a long time developed close trade ties as members of theAsian Development Bank alongside their mutual partner China. Failureby Japan to compensate Korea for losses of 2ndWorld War angers the current and past governments. However, Japan hasbeen eager to seek partnership with South Korea despite theirdifficult past to counteract the effect of frosty relations withChina. Historically and also because of the competition over Korea,border dispute, trade competition, Japan-China relations have notbeen very cordial either. Talks to establish bilateral economicagreements in 2004 were not conclusive due to disagreements. Koreahas always been concerned about its trade deficit with Japan hencenot eager to increase Japanese products in its borders. On the otherhand, Korea-China trade has increased and currently doubles that ofKorea-Japan in volume (Sneider 2014).

SouthKorea is caught between two enemies courting her in the name of Chinaand Japan. South Korea and China have for the longest time been waryof Japan’s former militarism and expansionist policies. China iswary of Japan in that the country retains some artifacts of her pastmilitarism such as the Yasukuni Shrine which has caused mistrust inthe region. This is in spite of Japanese government adapting theFukuda doctrine announced in 1977 which declared that Japan wouldnever establish another military state (Lam 2009). The Yasukumishrine was founded in 1869 to commemorate 2.5 million Japanesesoldiers who died at war specifically during the Meiji restoration,the first Sino-Japanese war staged in Korea, Russo-Japanese war andthe First World War. The enmity between Korea’s past and currentgovernment pertains to China’s diplomatic relations with Korea’ssworn enemy, North Korea. By China recognizing the legitimacy ofNorth Korea and cementing her relationship with North Korea throughtrade, China becomes an enemy.

Geopoliticalrelations have also been strained by Korea-Japan border disputes. TheLiancourt Rocks islands located in the Japanese sea are claimed byboth Korea and Japan. Korea currently occupies the islands and hasstationed its navy there. With the islands barely inhabited, theinterest in the islands lies in the expected methane deposits andrich fishing grounds in the area. The dispute has also roped in Chinaand Russia. Russia currently occupies several islets and so doesChina. However, Japan’s lays claim to all the islands. In 2012, theborder dispute row caused tensions after Korean president visited theIslands and Japan protested by recalling her ambassador from Seoul.Japanese government claims to the island is celebrated annuallythrough rallies on every 22ndFebruary (DiFilippo2013).

Recentdevelopments in the global stage have shifted relations further. Therise of China and simultaneous fall of Japan has affected geopoliticsof East Asia. Japan recognizes ROK as the only legitimate governmentin the entire Korean Peninsula thus supporting her call to eliminateNorth Korea. Furthermore, the two countries have existing bilateraland trade relations through the 1965 Treatyon Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Throughthis treaty, the two governments sought to annul previous treatiesrepatriate and settle issues on property (Dent2008).However, a section of the Korean public has demanded compensation fortheir involvement in the Japanese military during Japan colonizationof Korea. Most vocal has been calls for the so called “comfortwomen” who served as sex slaves in Japanese military barracks to beoffered an official apology and compensated (DiFilippo 2013). Japanhas resisted these calls arguing that the 1965 treaty settled allpending issues on a government-to- government basis where it paid 500million to the Korean government.

Thetension between Korea and Japan is a source of concern for othercountries. The US has attempted to play the role of the mediator.Attempts by the Clinton administration to set a war labor fund inGermany to compensate those forced into labor seemed to work in favorof Korea did not go through. The current US regime has even sentAmerican Vice President Joe Bidden to try and resolve the relationsbetween the countries. Although the Japanese administration is keento mend relations, Koreans counterparts insist any summit ornegotiations will only come after Japan pays for the losses of the2ndworld war and apologizes. Claims by Japan that Korea has adapted apro-China policy complicate the issue. The US also has deep relationswith Japan starting from the rebuilding of the country after 2ndworld war which Japan is eager to utilize to her benefit.Nonetheless, both Korea and Japan recognize their importance to theUS in stemming the regional threat of North Korea (Sneider 2014).


EarlyJapanese thought was guided largely by Buddhism. Nara Buddhismemphasized peaceful coexistence and hence the country was largely atpeace with its neighbors. Various forms of Buddhism with a variationin their teachings took root. In early modern Japan, Confucianismtook root (Park, 2013). During the Edo ear, Confucianism wasintroduced in schools. Confucianism called for a family-like order insociety with the elders demanding respect than the youth. In early18thcentury, neo-Confucianism was introduced. Neo-Confucianism gaveweight to ethics and shaped national behavior. The Samurai was viewedas the highest level. The nation took it upon itself to spread ethicsby ruling the world and thus adapted expansionist policies. This wasperpetrated by Ogyū Sorai who is considered as one of the mostinfluential philosophers on Confucianism. It is believed it thisexpansionary national philosophy that led Japan to many invasions onneighboring territories and even led to the World War II. All along,South Korea maintained as peaceful mindset despite also borrowingheavily from Confucianism and Buddhism same as Japan (Ellington,2009).

Duringthe Second World War, Zen Buddhism’s philosophical view ofnationalism took root. It involved an overdramatic belief that thenation was greater than the self. The Japanese people were taughtthey had to protect their nation from western values from the US andEurope to preserve their country by whatever means. I believe thisphilosophy was used by the senior leaders of government to brainwashthe nation into following blindly into war. Kitarō Nishida, one ofthe most credible Zen Buddhist at that time is credited withperpetrating this view through his teachings on “nothingness”which resulted into the now famous kamikaze during World War II. Many students embarked on kamikaze missions which meant sacrificingthemselves and their planes to attack American ships. Remnants ofthis approach to life are seen in the social lifestyles of manyJapanese who tend to be less concerned with material wealth butinstead pursing simplicity (Tamaki 2010).

SouthKorea has one of the most complicated national philosophies n theword. Though the country has interacted with Japan for centuries andshare Buddhism as the most popular religion, they are very differentphilosophically. Japan’s ideology on simplicity is evident in thenational flag while ROK complexity is also evident in the nationalflag as symbols of power and governance (Pye 2009). Japans nationalflag is a simple white rectangular flag with a red dot or sphere atthe center. On the contrary, ROK’s flag comprises of whitebackground and a red and blue yin yang symbol at the centresurrounded by four black trigrams symbols positioned in a manner theycan make an “X”. The yin yang symbol represents the balance ofthe universe. The trigrams on the other hand represent the fourclassical elements in nature equitable to water/liquid, earth/solid,air/gaseous and fire/plasma. The four trigrams also applied indirections, family, meanings virtues, seasons and directions. Socialexperts have identified this national philosophical orientation torepresent oneself in a wholesome a manner as responsible for creatinga sense of perfection among Koreas. This entails from physicalappearance, grooming, workplace adn education which places a lot ofpressure on the people (Ebrey &amp Walthall, 2013).


Inmatters education, South Korea has played second fiddle to Japan forthe last several decades. However, things are different according toa recent ranking by Pearson Education as discussed by Coughlan(2014). This ranking indicates that South Korea performs the bestacademically followed by Japan. The ranking relies on the efficiencyof the academic systems and the performance of students based on aninternational test. Interestingly, Singapore and Hong Kong follow inthe ranking with Finland being the first European nation at fifthposition followed by the UK at sixth. The education system of SouthKorea is very impressive in terms of efficiency. According to 2008data, the US spends $10,995 annually on every student in elementaryand secondary schools, while South Korea spends just $6,723 and Japan$8,301 (OECD 2013).

Bothcountries enjoy both private and public schools. Education iscompulsory in elementary and lower secondary levels in Japan hencepublic schools dominate the scene. In Japan, the systems has sixyears of elementary school, three years of junior high school, threeyears of high school, two to four years of university level(Ellington 2009). The same arrangement exists in RKO only that juniorhigh school is called middle school. To improve global participation,English as language is taught from the third year of elementaryschool while in Japan it starts at 5thgrade. Both countries also categorize high school into academic andvocational. In terms of performance, in Korea its shows muchdependence positive correlation with social economic background whilein Japan there is little correlation (Park, 2013).


Thesocial scene in Korea and Japan is very different from the rest ofOECD countries. Both countries are lagging behind in implementinggender equality. Average paygap in OECD members has been dropping andstands below 20% but in Japan, its 29% and even higher in Korea at39%. The dominance by males is also evident in academicqualifications. The same report indicates that only 20% femalesgraduate from Japanese universities in engineering and sciencesubjects. In Korea, the gap in attainment of tertiary education forworking age people is relatively higher at 38% in males and 28% infemales while in Japan, the difference is minor with both sexesrecording more than 35% in tertiary education levels (OECD, 2013).These figures are also reflected in baby sex preference in bothsocieties. Because of the manner that the Koreans social systemfavors men, Korean parents show preference to baby boys than girls.In fact, many pregnancy terminations are for girls. The situation isclearly different in Japan where parents prefer girls to boys. Girlsare perceived as more obedient than girls though this is a recenttrend that is helping bridge gender gap in the country (Trends Japan2014).

Thehistory of the two nations has greatly affected their relations andtheir views on social issues. The Japanese people totaling about 130million with 3 million residing outside Japan dwarf of ROK which is50 million. Interestingly, the two countries populations aredeclining rapidly forcing governments to encourage more birthsthrough various policies. In both countries, there is high suiciderate which also plays a role in reducing the population. Shintohappens to the only traditional religion in Japan. The others,Buddhism and Confucianism, also common in Korea, were borrowed fromChina (Ebrey &amp Walthall 2013).

TheJapanese have traditional unisex clothing called the kimono whichdistinguishes the country from the rest in the region. It comprisesof one long flowing single dress tied by a decorative belt at thewaist. Given that they have no unique sizes, they appear oversized.There are different types of kimono meant for different people. Formarried women, the kimono is called tomesodewhile for a non-married woman it is called a furisode.In the tomesode,patterns are restricted to below the waistline. The embroidery orfloral prints on the dresses may vary with seasons. In most cases,the kimono is viewed as non formal with formal dress code beingsimilar to western clothing. The clothing’s history can be tracedback to the Chinese. In ROK, there is also traditional clothing thatidentifies the nation called the hanbok. This clothing has its origin from the Joseon period (Ebrey &ampWalthall, 2013).

Japanhas a vibrant social scene than South Korea. Korea works hard tomaintain the traditional family values and a strict moralorientation. On the contrary, Japan is slowly becoming westernized.Today, hip hop is better recognized in Japan than Korea. Japaneserestaurants and cuisine have also made it to the west unlike ROK.Nonetheless, ROK has made better progress in film and TV especiallyon soap operas while Japan dominates the gaming industry.Additionally, a large number of Japanese youths are dying the hairblonde as a reflection of the western influence where blonde hair isassociated with beauty (Trends Japan 2014). Chua (2012) views this asJapan’s growing ability to wield its soft power in the region byclosely associating with US culture more than other member states inthe region.

Anotherkey issue in both countries is plastic surgery. In Korea, improvingone’s appearance is perceived to improve one life. As such, manyhave used their life savings to enhance looks. The craze of plasticsurgery is also fueled by a myth that an up-tuned nose is bad lack.Today, cases of botched operations by unqualified practitioners arevery many posing a danger to the industry (Park 2014). In Japan, thesituation is no different. After years of castigating people whoplastic surgery by nicknaming them derisory terms such as Kewpiedolls” (women) or “cute” (men), today plastic surgery is betterembraced. Today, some parents even encourage children to undergoplastic surgery. Tucking the eyelid to have double lids is the mostcommon procedure which gives patients a western look of bigger eyes(Cosmetic Plastic Surgery in Japan 2014).

Pollutionbeing a huge issue in Asia affects both countries and theirdiplomatic relations. Currently, China is accused of causing crossborder pollution of smoke and fine dust. China also accuses bothJapan and Korea of pollution its waters sources. Japan on the otherhand is still reeling from radiation pollution following the nuclearpower plant destruction at Fukushima. Such high profile pollutioncases have created environmental refugees and have influenced socialtrends in both countries with citizens actively involved inenvironmental conservation. On the other hand, they have alsoresulted to peaceful demonstrations to call for better governmentcontrol on pollution in both countries (Avax 2014).


Inthe discussions above, I have explored the differences between Japanand ROK in various aspects. It must be noted that these areas havebeen explored in a very shallow manner given the limitation of scopeand space. All in all, I have shown that the two countries despitehaving had close relations are very different but at the same timeshare some similarities. However, their political differences need tobe better addressed to avert a larger global crisis and it will alsohelp address veiled animosity between the citizens of the twocountries.


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