South Korea, Japan hope to wipe slate clean in visit
When South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan visits Japan this September, he will be officially addressed by his own name. This may not sound like much, but it is an important step forward by Japan in placating deep-seated Korean resentment at past Japanese mistreatment.
During Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the Japanese insisted the Koreans take Japanese names - a great indignity. The insult was kept alive after World War II by Japan's practice of ''Japanizing'' the pronunciation of Korean names.
Hence, Chun Doo Hwan was ''Zen To Kan'' until the Foreign Ministry recently ended the practice.
Because of the past, the Japanese government is walking on eggshells over President Chun's visit.
''History, more than geography, divides our two countries,'' observes diplomatic analyst Hiroshi Yamaguchi. ''Alienation is deep. To many Japanese, South Korea is close, but far away psychologically. For many Koreans, the 36 years of Japanese rule remain a memory of shame and pain.''
When Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe visited Seoul earlier this year, Chun told him: ''Rather than being obsessed by the past, the Korean people desire cooperation in the future.''
It has been made abundantly clear to the Japanese government that an official apology is expected when Chun arrives.
This is considered important because no South Korean leader has visited Japan since South Korea gained independence in 1948.
In fact, bitterness against the Japanese occupation was so keen that the two countries did not establish diplomatic relations until 1965.
When Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone visited Seoul in January last year, he said in a banquet speech that ''it is - and I say this with deep regret - a fact that the history of our relations has had its unhappy pages....''
But South Korea wants something more. It wants an expression of regret from the man who symbolized colonial servitude - Emperor Hirohito.
It is a sore point with Koreans that he has not spoken out on the Japanese occupation, although in the past decade he has made carefully worded expressions of regret to the United States, Western Europe, and China for past events.
Korean Christian groups, with combined membership of 800,000, recently issued a statement bitterly opposing Chun's visit as a ''national sellout.'' They accused the Japanese Emperor of being a war criminal. They said that Japan's ruling classes had never made a serious apology for atrocities against Korea and that their ''imperialistic and aggressive nature remains fundamentally unchanged.''
Foreign Minister Abe told the Diet (parliament) that Chun's visit ''should be made the starting point for stable relations between the two neighboring countries by looking back to the past and making self-examination (by Japan).''
But it remains a ticklish point as to what the Emperor should say. Considerable thought is going into choosing words that will satisfy Koreans and yet avert a domestic political row.
Chun's visit has also prompted preparation of the most intense security for any visiting head of state.