While the sources of contention are deep and enduring, relations between Japan and South Korea have been especially troubled in the last few years. The two countries are grappling with deeply entrenched, emotional legacies that have been inflamed by recent controversies, rendering history both immediate and real. This chapter explores Japan’s perception of and reaction to those events. While it aims to provide an objective assessment of Japanese thinking, it does not purport to be even-handed or balanced. It is an analysis of the Japanese view of the relationship with South Korea.
To be brief and blunt, Japanese are frustrated with and angered by South Koreans. Frustrated because they have been unable to build a future with them that rests on a foundation of shared concerns and values; domestic politics continues to override strategic interests. Angry because Korean complaints deny the many changes that have occurred in Japan since the end of World War II. Japanese do not deny that atrocities took place, but they are offended when they are laid at the feet of current generations. A growing number of Japanese believe that Koreans prefer to occupy the moral high ground over building a mutually beneficial long-term partnership. This belief increasingly colors the way that Korean actions and statements are interpreted.