History of Japan–Korea relations

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For over 15 centuries, the relationship between Japan and Korea was characterized by cultural exchanges, economic trade, political contact and military confrontations, all of which underlie their relations even today. During the ancient era, exchanges of cultures and ideas between Japan and mainland Asia were common through migration via the Korean Peninsula and/or diplomatic contact and trade between the two. Buddhism, Chinese-influenced cuisine, Han characters and other technology came to Japan via Korea and/or the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

There was a period when our nation brought to bear great sufferings upon the people of the Korean Peninsula. The deep sorrow that I feel over this will never be forgotten. ~ Akihito


  • Starting in the 1890s, Imperial Japan fought a series of limited wars to entrench itself in continental Asia. It annexed Korea and went to extravagant lengths to eradicate Korean nationhood. Bad blood continues to poison Korean attitudes toward Japan to this day despite the island state’s radical transformation. Indeed, to all appearances, Japan—not North Korea—stokes the most passion in South Korea today. That’s tough for outsiders like yours to truly fathom. Japan has been a good international citizen for seventy years now, ever since U.S. forces ousted its militarist rulers in favor of a liberal republic displaying a strong pacifist streak. And for all the talk of Japanese rearmament, Tokyo spends a mere 1 percent of GDP on the armed forces. You can’t buy that much bang for so few bucks—certainly not enough to send forth conquering hordes across the Tsushima Strait... America is a close ally of South Korea. It’s a close ally of Japan. But seldom if ever do the two allies work together independently of the United States. That makes the U.S. Pacific Command the hub in a hub-and-spoke arrangement within the U.S. alliance system. This is starkly suboptimal. Alliances thrive on mutual goals and strategy, and underperform when allies see one another—not external threats—as the problem. Adding a spoke connecting Seoul with Tokyo would do a world of good—but it would demand that they transcend the longstanding era of bad feelings... Japan's record of mayhem stretches all the way back to the sixteenth century while spanning the military and, after 1868, imperial regimes... The last seventy years represents the calm before the next storm. Liberal rule today, militarist rule tomorrow?
  • In a society that employs a strong sense of ethnic and cultural unity, ethnic prejudice and discrimination typically prevent minority members from participating in main stream society. Both Japan and Korea are good examples of such a rigid society. Traditionally, the Korean government has been imposing various legal measures to prevent foreigners immigrating into Korea. However, Japanese minorities have been living in Korea, though small in number, for almost half a century. Most Japanese living in Korea today are elderly women with their Korean husbands, many of them now widowed.
  • While Koreans show no apparent disapproval or hatred to foreigners in general, they have negative attitudes toward Japanese. Because of harsh memories of Japanese occupation period, a strong anti-Japanese sentiment has been prevailing throughout Korean society, especially stronger in the post-World War II era.
  • As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, et cetera, were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, et cetera. Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
  • North Koreans feel more anger toward Japan. The Korean War lasted for three years, but Korea was annexed by Japan for 35 years, which is a lot longer than the Korean War. More evidence and historical archives about the ruthless Japanese imperialism exist than those about Korean War. Hence, despite the fact that North Korea works so hard to make its people hate America, young North Koreans feel more anger and resentment towards Japan and what they did to Koreans during the annexation and World War II. In this sense, the North Korean historical education system has been successful.
  • I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me, and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.