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[Wakamiya`s Review from Tokyo] Thinking of old proverb at sea

[Wakamiya`s Review from Tokyo] Thinking of old proverb at sea

Posted August. 06, 2015 07:19,   


I am writing this column at sea. The ship I am on board is quite noisy as I hear people talking in Korean and Japanese. One-thousand-one-hundred people from all walks of life -- 550 from South Korea and 550 others from Japan -- are enjoying the voyage after getting on board this ship in Busan and Fukuoka. The vessel, which is on a 10-day cruise, touched at Vladivostok, Russia on Wednesday, before heading to Otaru, Hokkaido and Nagasaki, Kyushu, which suffered from atomic bombing.

Operated jointly by non-governmental organizations from the two countries -- Japan`s Peace Boat and South Korea`s Korea Green Foundation, this vessel is named "Peace & Green Boat." This year marks the ship`s eighth voyage, with a record number of passengers on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Notably, many young students and children are on board this ship under corporate sponsorship, instilling life into this voyage. Many guests were invited from the two countries. In fact, I am one of them.

At each place of call, the passengers can choose tour programs that they want. A variety of events are also taking place on the ship. The offerings include lectures on such serious topics as atomic bombing and nuclear power plants as well as a number of entertainment programs such as magic shows and concerts. There are a swimming pool and games to keep the children amused. The snack bar and the pub on the ship are crowded until late night.

In my case, I performed my duties as an invitee, participating on a symposium on the possibility of the creation of an East Asian community, attending a film show and joining a seminar on the cultures of South Korea, China and Japan.

This voyage started 10 years ago. Fascinated by the Peace Boat`s tradition of taking citizens to various places around the world for more than 30 years under the motto of peace, Choi Yul, president of the Korea Green Foundation, offered to turn the voyage into a joint event. Despite the strained ties between the two neighboring countries whose leaders had no summit for years, the trip has continued.

Lee Mi-kyung, secretary-general of the Korean environmentalist group, said in a speech that after South Korea`s Sewol ferry incident last year, she rediscovered the value of this ship, which is stubborn about human lives and safety. Peace Boat Director Yoshioka Tatsuya said, "It is amazing that people can go beyond country barriers and have exchanges on a ship, not in either country."

On-board forums also reveal the true value of this vessel. At a symposium I was partaking in, for example, it was refreshing to see Korean panelists asking typical questions about Japan`s perception of history as well as expressing views that the key to creating an East Asian community lies in environmental issues. This opinion is probably true. There are no borders neither in environmental pollution and radioactive fears nor one`s domestic economic status and economic gaps. In other words, environmental destruction is the human being`s common enemy.

"Owol Dongju (吳越同舟)" is a proverb originating in China. It originally referred to an episode, in which people of two rival countries were sharing a ship. When they were hit by a storm, they desperately cooperated to keep their boat from sinking, finally becoming friends in the process. Then, are Japan and South Korea -- two neighbors in East Asia -- not destined to fight storms together?

Then, what happened during an on-board debate 31 years ago occurred to me. Broadcasting companies of South Korea and Japan came up with a ground-breaking idea of gathering intellectuals from the two countries on a ferry for a debate. However, the discussion turned into a chaos after Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima, who was irritated by arguments that failed to go beyond national barriers, inadvertently said, "Bakayaro (idiot)." This incident, which dramatically showed the difficulties in the bilateral relationship, is still on people`s lips.

Actually, it was Jeon Ok-sook, then CEO of Cinetel who passed away last month, that came up with the idea of the on-board forum. A magnanimous drinker who had broad cultural and political connections, she was the heroine of heroines. She was also a long friend of mine. I have never seen anyone as committed to building Korea-Japan bonds as she was. Although the forum ended up in an unexpected incident, I am still marveled at her foresight of planning the event 30 years ago.

That was then, and this ship carrying more than 1,000 South Korean and Japanese citizens is getting ahead of the idea 30 years ago. What content would Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s statement marking the 70th anniversary of World War II`s end contain? When can the two countries hold a summit? I will disembark from this ship in Otaru. Pushing such national-level concerns aside, the congenial voyage still goes on.

(Written by Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former chief editor of the Asahi Shimbun)