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[Diplomatic News] “I Will Continue to Promote My Husband’s Country”

[Diplomatic News] “I Will Continue to Promote My Husband’s Country”

Posted August. 05, 2005 04:58,   


“I feel that the times have changed when I see the “Korean Wave” or Hallyu creating huge enthusiasm among Japanese to travel to Korea. But tourism is more than just promoting a nation’s movies, actors and actress. Tourism in real sense is introducing the unique culture of Korea.”

Haruko Ito (70) offers her advice on tourism and has been committed to promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of Korea and Japan since the 1960s. She has served as counsel to the planning and promotion division of the Tokyo office of the Korea National Tourism Organization (KNTO) over the past two decades and was honored by the President in 2003 for her dedication to advancing the Korean tourism industry.

In the 1970s, when she lived in Seoul, she hosted a program called, “Learn Japanese with Haruko” on KBS international broadcasting networks. She also introduced Korean cuisine and stories of traveling around Korea by writing columns for Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, on a regular basis.

Her relationship with Korea began when she tied the knot with Lee Geon, a Korean-Japanese and the former vice chairman of the Korea-Japan friendship promotion committee, who passed away last year. Lee, an economics graduate of Tokyo University, had worked for a long time as the president of Seoul branch office of JAS (which merged with JAL in 2004), an airline. He had also made great contributions to cooperation between the two countries by writing various books and articles for Bungei Shunju and newspapers.

They first met as students at UCLA in the U.S. They faced strong opposition from both their families when they decided to get married because Koreans and Japanese didn’t feel comfortable with Korean-Japanese marriages at that time.

“I am almost Korean. I think half of me is Korean. I cheer for the stronger team at a Korea-Japan soccer match,” she said.

Outspoken, Ito doesn’t hesitate to criticize both countries in recent days.

“Young Koreans and Japanese often talk about patriotism, but they don’t seem to have built up their identity. I don’t find that desirable.”

She raised her voice over the Korean government’s demolition of the former Japanese Governor`s Office Building, asking, “Why did Korea demolish it? The building is a testament to the cultural underdevelopment of Japan.” She was referring to the Japanese government’s insensible policy of building the office within the Palace where the Korean king resided.

She even called Shintaro Ishihara, the Tokyo governor, “dumb” for making remarks dismissing the French language. Her belief is that no one has right to put a value on other countries’ cultures, religions and customs.

“True friendship between Korea and Japan begins with understanding the cultural differences of each other.”

After retiring as counsel at Tokyo office of the KNTO last year, she now teaches English to Japanese people in Tokyo. She plans to teach Korean and Korean cuisine next year because many Japanese ask the expert on Korea to do so. She also plans to learn computer skills to use e-mail and publish a book on her travel experiences in Korea.

Hun-Joo Cho hanscho@donga.com