On Sept 25, the influential Korean-language daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo ran an op-ed in its "Reflections of Nature" column titled "The desecration of national flags." Its author was senior editorial writer Park He-Hyon.
The article, which appeared in Japanese and Chinese translations on the Chosun Ilbo's website, was accompanied by a cartoon of a man wearing a "hachimaki" (head band) emblazoned with characters that mean "Il Guk U" (Japan's extreme right), stomping on a representation of South Korea's "Taegukgi" (national flag), in which the black trigrams are made to appear as bugs.
Park was inspired to write the piece following anti-Korean demonstrations in June and July by rightists in Japan, who stomped on South Korea's "Taegukgi" (national flag). At a demonstration last November, rightists gave similar treatment to a Russian flag outside the Russian embassy in Azabu.
The op-ed notes that some countries, such as Denmark, have laws making it a crime to burn or deface national flags (although not its own flag) so as to avoid "worsening of foreign relations."
"Japan has a similar law, but for a long time extreme rightist groups have defied it, openly defacing foreign flags," Park writes.
Internet newspaper J-Cast News (Sept 27) took objection with wording of the Chosun Ilbo piece, which among other things alleged that the Japanese rightists had described the four sets of black trigrams on the corners of Korea's flag -- which stand for justice, fruition, wisdom, and vitality -- as "resembling cockroaches" and suggested the rightists regard Korean people with the contempt normally reserved for such bugs.
The rightists also were also alleged to have described the red and blue "taeguk" (yin-yang) symbol at the flag's center as being the "Pepsi-Cola logo" (which it resembles slightly), and proceeded to stomp it underfoot.
"This behavior," wrote Park, "evokes images from Shusaku Endo's novel 'Silence,' in which Japanese Christians in the 17th century were persecuted by being made to tread on an image of Jesus Christ, called a "fumi-e." Christian samurai who refused to stamp on the fumi-e were executed on the spot.
"I wonder," wrote Park, "if this instinctive sadism in which pleasure is derived from such actions, still flows in the genes of some Japanese. Even when countries engage in disputes, the presence or lack of values that call for treating an adversary with decency represent the final thread that should definitely be maintained."
Park then closes by writing: "From the past the Japanese culture has had many 'ryoki-teki' (bizarre or perverse) and 'kaiki-teki' (grotesque) elements, but at present the whole Japanese archipelago seems to be metamorphosing further into some sort of enormous insect."
Needless to say, J-Cast News is not amused.
"Rather than a first-class newspaper representing South Korea on the Internet," J-Cast counters, "this is the kind of contents that even third-class gossip rags don't run. Our sense of having been struck dumb over this continues to grow."
On Sept 24, the same Chosun Ilbo had reported that some 200 Japanese rightists had held an anti-Korean demonstration in Ginza, at which time they had shouted "We won't stand for Korean demands that the Emperor apologize," "Kill Koreans" and other inflammatory slogans.
Despite the Chosun Ilbo's position, a large number of photos and videos showing demonstrating Koreans who behave in a similar fashion have been posted on the Internet, following which numerous posters comment about the irony of Japan being criticized when desecration of national flags appears to be "one of Korea's special techniques."
In response to Park's column, readers have posted such comments on the site as "Aren't you [Koreans] actually referring to yourselves?"; "Substitute 'Korea' for 'Japan' in the text, and you've described the whole thing perfectly"; and "The real source of infection is that you feel no shame over what you've written."
A final footnote: While the original Korean editorial was translated into both Japanese and Chinese, readers of Chosun Ilbo's English site appear to have been spared a translation.© Japan Today