Last night Lindsay and I ate sushi. I mean real sushi. The kind that might still swim if you threw it back in the ocean. It was incredible. We really haven’t been able to get our hands on authentic sushi since we got here. Incredible. We live almost a day’s swim away from Japan and sushi is hard to find. I blame it on Korea’s disdain for the Japanese. Let me explain.
From about 1910 to 1945 imperial Japan ruled over Korea in barbaric fashion. Japanese raped, murdered, jailed and perfomed medical experiments on Koreans. Korean girls were kidnapped and used as sex slaves. The Korean language was banned. Japan was attempting to turn Korea into an arm of Japan full of Japanese. As you can imagine many Koreans still think of Japan with this history in mind.
Today, Korea still argues with Japan over a small island in the sea (what the Koreans call the East Sea what the Japanese call the Sea of Japan found that out from an irate co-teacher when I used a map that said ‘Sea of Japan’) between the two countries. The total area of the islets is about 187,450 square meters, with their highest point at 169 meters in the western islet. The western islet is about 88,640 square meters in area; the eastern islet about 73,300 square meters.
In 1905 Dokdo was claimed by the Japanese after a fisherman came upon it. He wanted it, the Korean government rejected the claim, but Japan took it anyways claiming it belonged to no one. In 1945, after World War II, the Allies returned the island to the Koreans because it was their’s to begin with. The two countries have been disputing ever since. As recently as a couple of weeks ago tensions rose after the Japanese government approved textbooks for middle school students which taught that Dokdo is Japan’s island.
In response Korea temporarily pulled its Korean Ambassador to Japan, Japanese condom ads were pulled from the subways and the Korean people freaked. The Korean Ambassador, Kwon Chul-hyun met with Japanese Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mitoji Yabunaka before leaving. According to the Korea Times, Kwon said, “What the Japanese government has done goes against the Korean government’s effort to move forward to the future in Korea-Japan relations and break away from the past. It is very regrettable.” The Japanese ambassador was called by the Korean government and thoroughly chastised.
To us the dispute seems kind of funny, but I am learning it is no joke. Yesterday, when we met with our vice principal about renewing our contract our conversation turned to vacation. Intrigued that we are traveling around South Korea, she wanted to know where we had been and where we planned to go. “Are you going to Dokdo?” she asked through interpreters. “We would like to,” we said “we will be close by.” Then she said something else in Korean. “She wants you to know,” the interpreter said, “that Dokdo is a Korean island.” Lindsay and I chuckled slightly as we find the dispute between Korea and Japan over a tiny, tiny island between the two as humorous. The vice principal continued to look at us stone faced. I wiped the smile over the statement quickly (and forever) from my face.