I’m Japanese-American; born and raised here, and of course Asians and Asian-Americans in the US tend to stick together — we don’t have very much animosity towards other Asian groups. Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans — we all tend to be pretty friendly towards each other, even if we might tease each other about differences between our cultures.
Regarding Korea there are of course many Japanese who have actually traveled to Korea and know the truth about it: it is a hyper-modern country which has advanced in every way, and for the most part, despite all the tensions that exist between Japanese and Korean governments, Koreans generally speaking (prior to the recent moves by Abe) actually do not hate Japan or Japanese people. In fact tourism from Korea to Japan had been steadily rising, and polling of Korean attitudes towards Japan was steadily going up — until Abe destroyed everything with his ridiculous trade moves. But some Japanese simply know nothing other than rumors and misinformation circulated among right-wing sites, similar to what we have here in the US when it comes to fringe misinformation on social media.
Those of us Asian-Americans who know something about the tensions in Asia itself generally view the conflict with a mix of alarm and derision. In particular as a Japanese-American it is quite embarrassing to me to read comments from right-wing “netouyo” in Japan who write mostly ridiculous comments about Koreans based on a lack of understanding either of Korea and Koreans as they are today, as well as the history of Asia itself. Japan doesn’t teach Japanese much about what Japan did during the war, and Japanese media tend to avoid reporting very even-handedly about things either. It’s amazing that we Asian-Americans tend to be far better informed about these things than many Japanese in Japan. On the other hand, in the US here we have a similar problem with crazy conspiracy theories and misinformation spreading across social media. It seems to be quite the same in Japan itself, with many people there completely misinformed about what is going on.
In ancient times, of course, Japan looked up to China — then for a while Japan looked down on China, and now Japanese attitudes towards China may be improving as China becomes more successful. However, what many Japanese don’t know is that even longer ago Japan looked up to Korea — this is well-known historically for anyone interested in ancient history, but not understood by many Japanese (or Koreans) today. We imported a lot of culture, philosophy, even Buddhist thought from Korea, particularly from the Baekje Kingdom. Even many of our most famous temples were built by Kongo Gumi which is the oldest company in continuous operation in the world — and Kongo Gumi was originally founded by Korean builders who came to Japan from Baekje to help teach us how to build temples.
Today, Korea is a modern country and in some ways has surpassed Japan. Rather than continually antagonizing Korea, Japan should try to bring Korea closer. The two countries would be far stronger together than they are fighting like this.
I’m a Japanese live in Malaysia. I will be able to provide you with some explanation about your question from the point of the Japanese view. I believe almost of average Japanese agree with my answer:
Why does Japan admire China?
Japan doesn’t admire modern China so much because of some political reason. Mainland China is still the most significant communist country and not friendly because they don’t share the basic concept of value. (Democracy, Capitalism, National security, etc.)
The target of Japanese admiration is only ancient China, especially the era of the Three Kingdoms Story. (A Chinese media also pointed it out.) When Japanese natives had lived in the rudimentary environment, Chinese people built the most civilised nation at that moment and disseminated their civilisation to peripheral countries. On the other hands, modern Chinese was reflected to be very uncouth, unsophisticated people to the Japanese eyes. Nowadays, this situation has been slightly changing, but there’s still bad images of Chinese in Japan.
Why does Japan look down on Korea?
For this question, I can replace it like “Why do Japan and Korea look down on each other?“. It would help you to understand why Japan and Korea always dispute each other.
In the case of Japan, the origin is the East Asian situation around the end of the 19th century. Japan is the country which was westernised earliest in East Asia. Japan was disappointing that China and Korea refused to reform their countries. Japan was also worrying about European countries start to colonise East Asian countries. Thus, Japan tried to pull Korea apart from China and make Korea a friend state of Japan, but the attempt failed. By this experience, Japan understood that Korea is an uncontrollable country. Japanese famous thinker Yukichi Fukuzawa wrote his most renowned editorial “脱靶論” (Datsu-A-Ron). In this editorial, he claimed that Japan should stop to consider they are particular countries for Japan and associate with them on equal terms the same as other countries. Following which, Japan occupied Korea because Japan worried about other countries took Korea. It was a serious potential danger for Japan.
After world war II, Japan believed that pacifism and diplomacy based on the United Nations would help them to reconcile with Asian countries, especially China and Korea. Japan officially paid over 5 million USD and lent 3 million USD to Korea. Japan also released a bunch of official apology statements and provided Korea with exclusive cooperation. Then Japan founded additional compensation program the Asian Women’s Fund in 1995 and paid money to the victims of comfort women problem. Also, Japan agreed to “comfort women” agreement with Korea in 2015 and spent 10 million USD to Korea. However, these efforts didn’t help to improve both countries situation, as you know. As a result, Japan is fed up with Korea and became to consider that Korean is rude people who break up important promises easily or would instead just a sort of “Freeloader”.
So, why Korean people look down on Japan on the contrary? I think there are some essential reasons.
First of all, Korean is one of the most stalwart supporters of Confucianism. In the point of Confucianism view, older people or elder brother must be respected. Historically, Chinese civilisation was influenced to Japan via Korea. Therefore, Korea considers that they are the elder brother of Japan. However, Japan didn’t respect Korea so much and occupied, suffered their ancestors for a long time on the contrary. In this meaning, I reckon that Korean would be having potential but strong antipathy even though they say they don’t hate Japan. It would also account for why Korea doesn’t take a hard line on China although China sometimes bullies Korea – since China is the eldest brother of East Asia.
Another important reason is that Korea prefers “justice” than law. In modern Korean history, Korean citizens have radically resolved many political issues by civil revolution. Korean people don’t hesitate to break the current law or apply a new law to past retrospectively to achieve justice. It is very famous that almost all of the successive Korean presidents were arrested, killed, or expelled after their ruling period. There is a word which explains their such attitude in Korea – “국민정서법” (National Emotional law). In this way, Korea considers that Japan is a “backward country” that doesn’t revamp their thinking and sticks to the old agreement. Japan believes that the trust relationship will be built on the pile of the accords, but the Korean way of thinking is different from it.
This difference seems trivial but actually, having a severe impact on both countries’ relationship. Japan and Korea signed a basic treaty in 1965 and decided that Japan provide compensation. In that time, Japan thought that Japanese rule period from 1910 to 1945 was legal but no longer valid. However, Korea thought Japanese rule period was completely illegal from 1910 retrospectively. It means that money from Japan is indeed not compensation but just a token of excuse from the point of the Korean view. This problem has been sealed a long time for the sake of the Cold war environment. However, the Korean supreme court judged that Korean victims didn’t receive any legal compensation last year. It means that every Korean victim still has rights to request recompense to Japan separately in principle. In this means, Korea opened a Pandora’s box. (Indeed, some lawsuits to Japan or Korean governments have begun.)
As seen above, it is complicated and difficult for both of them to build a trust relationship again. I would instead think both countries haven’t had actual trust in each other until now. Japan won’t reach an agreement with Korea alone from now on because Korea will change a “goal”. Japan will become to try to resolve the issues in international stages like the International Court of Justice. Yukichi Fukuzawa’s “Datsu-A-Ron” has been considered just a relic of Imperialism but actually, the prophecy is about to come to reality after 100 years later. Unfortunately, I think that this situation won’t change until more critical alteration comes up in East Asia like that Communist China or North Korea dissolve.
如上所示，双方再次建立信任关系是复杂和困难的。相反，我认为两国直到现在还没有真正信任对方。日本今后不会单独与韩国达成协议，因为韩国将改变一个“目标”。日本将尝试在国际法院等国际阶段解决问题。福泽由吉的“Datsu-A-Ron”被认为只是帝国主义的遗物，但实际上，这个预言将在 100 年后成为现实。不幸的是，我认为这种情况不会改变，除非东亚出现更严重的变化。