Japan–South Korea relations

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Japan-South Korea relations
Map indicating locations of Japan and South Korea


South Korea
Diplomatic Mission
Japan Embassy, Seoul Korea Embassy, Tokyo
Ambassador Kōrō Bessho Ambassador Yu Heung-su

After the division of Korea, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) had established diplomatic relations in December 1965, under the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, with Japan recognizing South Korea as the only legitimate government of the whole Korean peninsula.[citation needed]

Japan and South Korea are close neighbors, as they are both main allies of the United States in the Northeast Asia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan explains that ROK is 'Japan’s most important neighbor that shares strategic interests with Japan.'[1] In recent years, however, the relationship has greatly deteriorated due to many disputes, including the territorial claims on Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo or Takeshima), Japanese prime ministers' visits to Yasukuni Shrine, and differing views on Imperial Japan's treatment of colonial Korea, as well as Japan's refusal to negotiate Korea's demands that it apologize or pay reparations for mistreatment of World War II comfort women from Korea. These tensions have complicated American efforts to promote a common front against Chinese threats in the region.[2]

According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 13% of Japanese view South Korea's influence positively, with 37% expressing a negative view, while 15% of South Koreans view Japanese influence positively, with 79% expressing negatively, making South Korea, after China, the country with the second most negative perception of Japan in the world.[3]

Country comparison[edit]

Official name  Japan Republic of Korea
Native Name 日本国
Daehan Minguk
Coat of Arms Imperial Seal of Japan.svg Emblem of South Korea.svg
Population 127,590,000 50,924,172
Area 377,873 km2 (145,898 sq mi) 100,210 km2 (38,690 sq mi)
Population Density 337.6/km2 (874/sq mi) 491/km2 (1,270/sq mi)
Time zones 1 (Japan Standard Time) 1 (Korean Standard Time)
Capital Tokyo Seoul
Largest City Tokyo – 13,617,445 Seoul – 10,464,051
Established 11 February 660 BCE (Ascension of Emperor Jimmu)
03 January 1868 (Meiji Restoration)
28 April 1952 (Sovereignty Returned)
01 March 1919 (Independence Declared)
15 August 1945 (Liberation)
15 August 1948 (Republic Proclaimed)
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy Unitary presidential constitutional republic
First Leader Jimmu Rhee Syng-man
Head of State Emperor: Akihito President: Moon Jae-in
Head of Government Prime Minister: Shinzō Abe President: Moon Jae-in
Legislature National Diet National Assembly
Judiciary Supreme Court
Chief Justice: Itsurō Terada
Constitutional Court
President: Kim Yi-su (acting)
Supreme Court
Chief Justice: Kim Myeong-su
National language Japanese Korean
GDP (nominal) US$5.855 trillion US$1.498 trillion ($29,114 per capita)


Embassy of South Korea in Japan

See History of Japan–Korea relations for the pre-1945 history.

In line with the 1965 reconciliation treaties, Japan continued to improve its relations with South Korea. Tokyo extended an additional $200 million credit to Seoul, and Prime Minister Sato attended official functions in July, the first visit of a Japanese premier to postwar Korea. Nevertheless, Seoul objected violently to occasional visits by Japanese politicians to North Korea, to the continuation of Red Cross repatriation of Korean residents in Japan to North Korea, and to the proposal of Tokyo Governor Minobe to permit a pro-North Korean university in Tokyo. The Japanese Foreign Ministry opposed Minobe on this issue in order to prove its loyalty to South Korea. Meanwhile, contacts between Japan and South Korea increased through new air routes, tourism, and trade.

In 1975, South Korean–Japanese relations improved following the July "settlement" of a two-year-old feud that began when South Korean agents abducted Kim Dae-jung, an opposition leader (and future President of South Korea), from a Tokyo hotel. As a result of the settlement, a long-delayed ministerial conference was held in Seoul in September to discuss economic cooperation between the two countries. Japan joined the United States in providing assurances for South Korea's security. In a joint statement by Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Miki and President Ford declared: "The security of the Republic of Korea is ... necessary for peace and security in East Asia, including Japan"

Trade and partnership[edit]

In 1996 FIFA announced that the two countries would jointly host the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The next few years would see leaders of both countries meet to warm relations in preparations for the games.[4] Though citizens of both countries were initially unhappy about having to share the honors with the other, and the Liancourt Rocks controversy flared up again, the event turned out to be very successful.


Liancourt Rocks[edit]

The Liancourt Rocks, called Dokdo (독도, 獨島; "solitary island") in Korean and Takeshima (竹島; "bamboo island") in Japanese, are a group of islets in the 동해(East Sea), Sea of Japan that is occupied by South Korea. There are valuable fishing grounds around the islets and potentially large reserves of methane clathrate.[5]

The territorial dispute is a major source of nationalist tensions between the two nations.[6] Currently, South Korea occupies the island, which has its Korean Coast Guard stationed there, as well as two elderly Korean residents.[7]

Comfort women for Japanese military[edit]

Korea has been demanding official acknowledgement with a sincere apology and compensation for the "sex slaves" or "comfort women" issue, referring to the women and girls who were forced to have sex with Imperial Japanese military soldiers during World War II. According to the World Conference on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery, enlisted to the military stations through force, kidnapping, coercion, and deception, the Korean sex slaves, mostly girls under the age of 18, were forced to have sexual relationships with 30–40 soldiers each day.[8] According to the New York Times, "Most mainstream historians agree that the Imperial Army treated women in conquered territories as spoils of battle, rounding them up to work in a system of military-run brothels known as comfort stations that stretched from China to the South Pacific. Many were deceived with offers of jobs in factories and hospitals and then forced to provide sex for imperial soldiers in the comfort stations. In Southeast Asia, there is evidence that Japanese soldiers simply kidnapped women to work in the brothels. Among the women who have come forward to say they were forced to have sex with soldiers are Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos, as well as Dutch women captured in Indonesia, then a Dutch colony."[9] Japanese media attempts to shift blame for the wartime brothels away from the Japanese military onto others, saying, "Prostitution agents were prevalent due to the poverty and patriarchal family system. For that reason, even if the military was not directly involved, it is said it was possible to gather many women through such methods as work-related scams and human trafficking."[10] As the few surviving female victims continue to strive for official acknowledgment and a sincere apology, the Japanese court system has rejected such claims due to the length of time and claiming that there is no evidence.

In November 1990, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military (한국정신대문제대책협의회; 韓國挺身隊問題對策協議會) was established in South Korea. In 1993, the government of Japan officially acknowledged the presence of wartime brothels. As of 2008, a lump sum payment of 43 million Korean won and a monthly payment of 0.8 million won are given to the survivors.[8][11] The Japanese government has also arranged an organization that gives money and official letters of apology to the victims.[8] Today, many of the surviving female victims are in their 80s. As of 2007, according to South Korean government, there are 109 survivors in South Korea and 218 in North Korea. The survivors in South Korea protest in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea every Wednesday. The protest was held for 1000th time in December, 2011.[12]

In December 2000, The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery sat in Tokyo, Japan. During the proceedings, the judges of the Tribunal heard hours of testimony by 75 survivors, as well as reviewed affidavits and video interviews by countless others. The Tribunal's Judgment found Emperor Hirohito and other Japanese officials guilty of crimes against humanity and held that Japan bore state responsibility and should pay reparations to the victims.

In July 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution that Japan apologize for forcing women into sex slavery during World War II. The resolution was sponsored by Mike Honda (D-CA), a third-generation Japanese-American.[8][13] On December 13, 2007, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that demands the Japanese government to apologize to the survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system. This resolution was passed with 54 ayes out of 57 parliament members present.[14]

On 28 December 2015, Japan and South Korea have agreed to settle the issue of "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II, in their first such deal since 1965. Japan had made apology and will pay 1bn yen ($8.3m, £5.6m) to fund victims. The announcement came after Japan's foreign minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Seoul for discussions with his counterpart Yun Byung-se, following moves to speed up talks.

Cultural exchange[edit]

In spite of the many disputes that are negatively affecting the relations between the two nations, Japan and South Korea enjoy cultural exchanges with each other.

From South Korea to Japan[edit]

In recent years, South Korean pop culture experienced major popularity in Japan, a phenomenon dubbed the "Korean Wave" (韓流) among K-pop fans in Japan. The Korean Wave has sparked a fad for Korean movies, dramas, and pop music in Japan.

A Korean television series entitled Winter Sonata, which first appeared in Japan in April 2003, became a runaway hit in Japan,[15] and has often been identified as a landmark in South Korean-Japanese cultural exchange. The female K-pop artist BoA is one of the most popular singers in Japan with six consecutive albums topping the billboard charts.[16]

In more recent years various K-pop artists, including Super Junior, TVXQ, Choshinsung, Big Bang, Kara, Girls' Generation, and 2PM, have made their debuts in Japan, and these groups have contributed to the rebirth of the Korean Wave in Japan. Kara and Girls' Generation in particular has been topping numerous charts and awards in Japan.[17][18] Numerous other groups, such as F.T. Island, SHINee and BEAST have also entered the Japanese market.

From Japan to South Korea[edit]

After the end of World War II, South Korea banned Japanese cultural imports such as music, film, video games, literature (manga). However, the ban was partially lifted under the Kim Dae-jung administration in 1998.[19][20] In 2004, the ban on imports of Japanese CDs and DVDs was lifted.[21]

Military relations[edit]

In 2012, it was reported that South Korea agreed to sign a military pact with Japan, possibly in response to threats from North Korea and China.[22] The military agreement between South Korea and Japan is a military intelligence-sharing pact.[23]

Both South Korea and Japan are US allies and have their own military alliances with the United States.

Both South Korea and Japan perceive North Korea as a threat.

In 2017, South Korean Foreign Minister stated that South Korea would not enter any trilateral military alliance with the United States and Japan, something that Chinese President Xi Jinping raised concerns about when he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in. South Korea has been wary of Japan’s ambitions, under its prime minister Shinzo Abe, to increase its military profile in the region..[24] Moon stated that "If Japan uses a nuclear-armed North Korea as an excuse for its military expansion, it would not be appropriate for ASEAN nations as well."[25]

Human exchange[edit]

Japan–South Korea tourist comparison 2005-2015

Since Lee Myung-bak's visit to the Liancourt Rocks and demand for the emperor’s apology in 2012, the Japanese public's image of South Korea deteriorated significantly. Japanese tourists to South Korea declined by half from 3.5 million in 2012 to 1.8 million in 2015 while South Korean tourists doubled from 2 million in 2012 to 4 million in 2015.[26][27][28]

Official View[edit]

On March 2, 2015 the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs revised its official view of South Korea from "an important neighboring country that shares basic values with Japan such as freedom, democracy, and a market economy" to simply Japan's "most important neighboring country" reflecting the deteriorated relations. The change was made the day after South Korean President Park Geun-hye's speech that Japan and South Korea, “both upholding values of liberal democracy and a market economy, are important neighbors..."[29] A Japanese government official said “There is distrust in South Korea’s judiciary and society.” In February 2012, the words "sharing of the basic values of basic human rights" had already been removed in the text.[30][31][32][33][34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Section 1. Asia and Oceania - CHAPTER 2". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. 
  2. ^ Alastair Gale, "Enmity Between South Korea, Japan Worries U.S.: Seoul’s demand for new apology over WWII ‘comfort women’ complicates regional security ties", Wall Street Journal," February 17, 2015
  3. ^ "BBC World Service Poll : Views of China and India Slide While UK's Ratings Climb: Global Poll" (PDF). Globalscan.com. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  4. ^ "South Korean leader bids farewell to Japanese emperor". CNN. 1998-10-09. p. 1. Archived from the original on April 20, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-19. 
  5. ^ "Gas exploration off Dokdo". Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  6. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (August 31, 2008). "Desolate Dots in the Sea Stir Deep Emotions as South Korea Resists a Japanese Claim". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ John Pike. "Liancourt Rocks / Takeshima / Dokdo / Tokto". Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  8. ^ a b c d "jmss.info". Jmss.info. Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  9. ^ "Rewriting the War, Japanese Right Attacks a Newspaper". The New York Times. December 2, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Forcibly taken away: Coercion that led to lost freedom existed". Asahi Shimbun. August 22, 2014. 
  11. ^ "일본군 '위안부'". 100.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  13. ^ 12:00 PM ET (2007-07-31). "U.S. Demands Apology for 'Comfort Women'". NPR. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  14. ^ "Comfort Women used as sex slaves during World War II". Religioustolerance.org. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ "BoA Takes Sole Possession of 2nd Place of All Time. Brother and Sister of the Jackson Family Reach the Top 10 Together" (in Japanese). Oricon. March 4, 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2008. 
  17. ^ "KARA draws 12,000 fans for their first Japanese fan meeting". Allkpop.com. 2011-08-07. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  18. ^ "SNSD is certified double platinum in Japan". Allkpop.com. 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  19. ^ Azuma, Yasushi (2001-05-01). "Release of bilingual CD aims to soothe Tokyo-Seoul discord". Kyodo News (The Japan Times). Retrieved 2007-01-19. 
  20. ^ "外務省: ご案内- ご利用のページが見つかりません". Mofa.go.jp. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  21. ^ Ju Brown, John Brown. China, Japan, Korea; Culture and Customs. p.168
  22. ^ "South Korea to Sign Military Pact With Japan". The New York Times. 29 June 2012. 
  23. ^ "Japan ready to sign South Korea military agreement in light of North's aggressions". The Japan Daily Press. 2013-04-17. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  24. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-test-radiation.html
  25. ^ http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2017/11/03/0301000000AEN20171103010200320.html
  26. ^ "Aide's memoir tells why S. Korean president demanded apology from emperor". The Asahi Shimbun. January 6, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Foreign visitors to Japan" (PDF). Japan National Tourism Organization. 
  28. ^ "Press release" (PDF). Japan National Tourism Organization. 
  29. ^ "Did Japan Just Change Its Attitude Toward South Korea?". The Diplomat. March 5, 2015. 
  30. ^ "The Basic data of epublis of Korea". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Archived from the original on February 21, 2012. 
  31. ^ "The Basic data of epublis of Korea". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Archived from the original on January 27, 2012. 
  32. ^ "The Basic data of Republic of Korea" (in Japanese). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. 
  33. ^ "The Basic data of Republic of Korea" (in Japanese). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved March 2, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Foreign Ministry no longer says South Korea shares 'basic values'". The Asahi Shimbun. March 4, 2015.