Institute of East and West Studies • Yonsei University

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Article about Japan wriiten by Lee ho-chul
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  • 2019-09-16 09:22:33

“Do not forget about your peace with Japan” / Lee Ho Chul

“Please, do not forget your peace with Japan”

It was a word Shin Sook-ju left to King Seongjong. After the Japanese invasion (임진왜란), he wrote ‘Jingbirok’ in a sense that we need to prepare for any possible troubles from our past mistakes. In the first chapter of this book said that an envoy was sent to Japan but he returned back from Tsushima Island with a disease. Since then, sending an envoy to Japan had been forgotten. About 100 years later, Japan invaded our country. This is the Japanese Invasion called Imjin War of 1592.


This book mentioning the diplomatic methods towards Japan, including general information about Japanese geography, history and manners, had been utilized as a basic textbook for a long time. After the invasion, Chosun started to send out an envoy. The envoys tried to pass on the essence of Neo-Confucianism, however Japan had not requested for the messengers any longer since 1811. Why did the exchange with Japan stop? Maybe Japan had had a reason, but we had a problem as well.

At that moment, Chosun had a strong pride in Neo-Confucianism. Due to this aspect, they were not able to see the fast development/change on Japanese commerce and industry and military power. They only saw the things from the perspective of Neo-Confucianism. When Japan wanted the exchange of new cultural value, we merely talked about Neo-Confucianism, which led not to meet the needs of that times.

Japan had the Meiji Restoration in 1868. They thought the relationship between Korea and Japan also needed to change into Westernized diplomacy. So, the new government of Japan sent an official document to renew the relationship between Chosun and Japan. However, Chosun declined the request as it was just different from what they have been done.
In the end, the Unyo, the small Japanese warship, reached Gangwha Island and employed a gunboat diplomacy to make Korea sign off the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876. King Gojong sent a messenger to Japan, however the messenger was still stuck in a rut.

Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876


According to the record written by the messenger, Japan advised to conduct the military reform, adopt new machines and benchmark a good system of Japan. Also, they wished that Chosun became a strong and rich country sooner so that two countries relied on each other in order to defense foreign intrusion. However, the messenger wrote, “This person has a very narrow perspective of view…”, and kindly declined the offer with the reason that this is not a duty of messenger. This unfortunate relationship between Korea and Japan had been repeated, at the end.

Since Korea-Japan Agreement in 1965, there have been a lot of changes on the relationship between two countries. Currently, the exchange of human/material resources are very active between the two countries, meaning that private exchange overwhelmed diplomacy. Now we need to find future-oriented ways to activate more private exchanges. For example, stability and peace in Northeast Asian region, respect on the value of free market economy or prosperity on sustainable economy would be a matter of common interest.

It would be better to utilize the power of the private sector rather than the government dealing with the unresolved colonial past.
It is better to use the power of the private sector than the government. There are always diverse opinions in Japan where decentralized tradition is superior over Korea. In terms of Dok-do and Comfort women issues, Korean friendly party and non-Korean friendly party are co-existing in Japanese society. It would be wiser to show that the understanding and cooperation between the two countries will be the common interest for both when it comes to diplomatic moves. Let’s be open-minded to each other’s tradition and situation. It is still valid the word of Shin Sook-ju, do not forget the peace with your neighbor, Japan.


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