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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012

Shin-Okubo denizens, fans counsel calm


Staff writer

The rising tensions between Tokyo and Seoul are best eased by level-headed diplomacy for the sake of both nations, people interviewed Tuesday by The Japan Times in Tokyo's Korean-centric Shin-Okubo district said.

News photo
Business as usual: People check out products outside a store selling Korean merchandise in Shin-Okubo, dubbed Tokyo's Korea Town. KAZUAKI NAGATA

Tensions have been escalating over the South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan that are claimed by Japan, which calls them Takeshima, and provocative remarks by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, including that Emperor Akihito should apologize for Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Lee visited the islets, which South Korea calls Dokdo, on Aug. 10, drawing Tokyo's ire.

"As a Japanese, I think the remark that (Lee) made about the Emperor was disrespectful . . . but I think the two countries shouldn't get emotional" and should discuss the issue more calmly, said Ishii, a woman in her 40s from Yokohama who only gave her family name.

Ishii, who was with a friend, said she comes to the area near JR Shin-Okubo Station with friends about once a month to eat Korean food and check out products dealing with Korean celebrities.

The area is widely known for its 100-plus Korean restaurants and shops, which attract fans of many nationalities.

"The territorial issue has nothing to do with cultural exchanges," she said, adding that her interest in South Korean TV dramas remains intact.

Business owners in the district said it was not clear if the diplomatic spat has had an economic impact, but it has made them feel uneasy.

A Japanese man in his 40s who runs a cafe in the district said Lee's actions, including refusing to receive a personal letter from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, have appeared to be provocative, and he hopes Seoul handles the situation more calmly.

Asked if the rising tensions have caused a drop in visitors and business in the district, he said there seems to be fewer people on the streets. However, he added he is not sure this is because of the bilateral row or due to the sweltering heat.

In any case, a deterioration in diplomatic relations doesn't help the Japanese and South Korean workers in the area, he said.

For instance, a group of Japanese held a rally in the Shin-Okubo district and damaged some of the Korean stores, he said.

His store normally makes it a rule not to allow any women to work alone at night, but he added, "I have been especially careful these days."

A 53-year old Korean woman who works at a store that sells goods promoted by Korean celebrities said her store has not been affected by the political conflict.

She said she thinks Takeshima is South Korea's territory but doesn't want to see the tension escalate and hurt the two countries' relations.

"It's really uncomfortable. I'm working here," she said, adding she hopes the two governments somehow find a peaceful solution in the near future.



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