Major Korea-Japan cultural festival returns as bilateral ties heat up

SEOUL — Featuring cosplay, pop music and dance performances, an event aimed at strengthening the friendship between South Korea and Japan will be held physically in Seoul for the first time in three years.

The Korea-Japan Festival, held online during the Covid-19 pandemic and amid frayed bilateral relations, is expected to attract Koreans and foreigners eager to experience the cultures of the two countries on Sunday.

Mr. Kazuo Chujo, Director (Minister) of the Public Information and Culture Center at the Japanese Embassy in South Korea, which is organizing the event, said that this year’s theme is aptly titled Joy of Reunion because it will finally allow Japanese and Korean participants to interact face to face and enjoy each other’s culture.

“We hope Koreans who wanted to travel to Japan, but couldn’t due to the pandemic, will come to the festival to experience Japan and Japan-Korea exchange programs,” he said. he told the Straits Times.

The festival’s return is the latest in a series of signs that point to a warming of bilateral relations which had hit rock bottom due to various disputes over their history.

An annual survey released earlier this month showed South Korean favor towards Japanese people rose to 30.6% – from 20.5% last year – while Japanese favor towards Koreans fell from 25.4 to 30.4% last year.

Jointly conducted by the East Asia Institute in South Korea and Genron NPO in Japan, the survey also showed an increase in the number of people in both countries who think their bilateral relationship is important and who believe that efforts are needed. to improve relationships.

Among the top three reasons given for a favorable view of the Japanese, South Korean respondents said it is ‘because the Japanese are kind and hardworking’, ‘it is a developed country with a high standard of living’ and “it is also a Liberal Democracy”.

The most frequently cited reasons by Japanese respondents were ‘I’m interested in Korean pop culture’, ‘the appeal of Korean food and shopping culture’ and ‘exchanging with Koreans’.

However, the two neighbors have struggled for years to resolve a territorial dispute over an island, compensation and an apology for wartime forced labor and sex slavery, a trade dispute and a military information-sharing pact. to the point of death.

At worst in 2019, protesters called for a boycott of all things Japanese.

Fast forward to 2022, once-shunned Japanese beer has returned to supermarket shelves, while boycott-ridden Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo has managed to rebound sales in South Korea l ‘last year.

Japanese Pokemon animation sparked a craze in South Korea in March, with 4.7 million packs of a newly launched loaf printed with Pokemon characters flying off the shelves in less than a month.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has actively sought reconciliation with Japan and took the first step by having a short meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in New York earlier this week.

Dr. Lee Myon-woo of the Sejong Institute think tank said, “President Yoon seems to think he must have good relations with Japan, and I hope he can continue to make efforts in this direction.”

But he noted that the Japanese side remains cautious about reconciliation and is waiting to see what tangible solutions Mr. Yoon and his administration can come up with to address the issue of forced labor compensation.

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