Go to contents

Scholar Paves Way for Korean Studies

Posted December. 27, 2005 03:02,   


To Korea specialist Masao Okonogi, a professor and dean of Japan’s Keio University Law School, 2005 was meaningful in three aspects.

The year 2005 marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, the 40th anniversary of his study of the Korean peninsula, and his 60th birthday.

“I have continued to study Korea because I am continuously fascinated by Koreans’ distinctive affection toward human beings. As a scholar, it was a great honor to study and to socially contribute to improving Korea-Japan relations at the same time. People say life begins at the age of 60. I would like to humbly continue my work.”

Okonogi was invited to deliver a speech on his last 40 years to a lecture meeting held by the Korea-Japan Society and Culture Forum, consisting of researchers and journalists, and the Korea Okonogi Society, at the Korea Press Center, Jongno-gu, Seoul, on December 26.

In 1972, Okonogi opened his eyes to Korea, and during his doctorate studies, he came to Korea’s Yonsei University as its first exchange student.

At that time, anti-Japanese sentiment ran high in Korea and the Japanese as a whole had no interest in knowing about Korea. After two years of studying abroad, Okonogi went back to Japan and took the initiative in studying issues on the Korean peninsula without any Japanese teacher. Now, however, dozens of students in universities across the country are forming the school of Okonogi.

On the issue of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine where class-A war criminals are buried along with the war dead, he said, “More Japanese are raising their voices that this cannot continue.”

“Junichiro Koizumi might think that all Japan has to do is to care about its relations with the U.S., but an isolated Japan in Asia will do no good in maintaining a firm Japan-U.S. relationship. When Japan does not have leadership in Asia, the U.S. will not consider Japan important. That’s why some American critics have begun to take issue with the prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine.”

Regarding future relations between Korea and Japan, he mentioned, “I would like to recommend an optimistic realism to overcome nationalism and history issues.” The two nations are not foes but competitors, and they have rare relations that share three important aspects: democracy, a market economy and being allies with the U.S.

Young-A Soh sya@donga.com