The conflict’s rough edges

TW: racism, Japanese imperialism

The slow boil of tensions in East Asia, primarily between Japan and countries it has occupied or continues to, shouldn’t surprise anyone. The most recent trading of insults was prompted by the use of the Rising Sun flag by Japanese people in celebrating a victory over Korea in a sports match. One Korean comedian responded in kind to the use of what’s seen as the emblem of Japanese imperialism and occupation by making jokes about radioactive contamination of foods from the areas surrounding Fukushima.


(Kwak Beom responding to Japanese officials somewhat apologetic statements with the “gift” of cherries from the Fukushima area, from here.)

It’s fairly easy to read these conflicts in a certain way – as countries essentially trash talking each other, and a bit of cruelty that wasn’t meant to harm anyone. Looking at how the increasing prominence of the Rising Sun flag in Japan has been part of a years-long effort by extremist nationalists to become more public and more accepted in spite of their appeals to violence, however, shatters that presentation common in English media. For instance, here’s the daughter of one of the leaders of the Japanese Zaitokukai, one of the largest ultranationalist organizations, calling for people of Korean descent to leave the country or be killed:

This image of these sorts of conflicts as existing between neatly segregated populations is inaccurate. Rather, the growing use of the original Japanese flag has played a role in decades of anti-Korean violent organization, including campaigns to fingerprint people of Korean descent en masse. As many people of Korean descent have not accepted Japanese citizenship (which comes with expectations of assimilation) and have neither citizenship to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or the Republic of Korea, since their ancestors immigrated or were forced to relocate to Japan prior to either of those states’ existence, they are essentially a stateless population who are vulnerable to the recent increase in racially-imbued nationalism in Japan.

In shot, these long-standing tensions are not mutual aggression from afar but complicated by the at times overwhelmingly complex entangling of Japanese and Korean populations.

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