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S. Korea Lifts Travel Ban on Japanese Journalist Charged with Defaming President

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

South Korea announced that it has lifted the travel ban on Tatsuya Kato, a Japanese journalist charged with defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Reuters reports.

On Tuesday, South Korean prosecutors said that the lifting of the ban was made on “humanitarian consideration” to allow Kato to see his family. Kato’s mother is reportedly in poor health, and he has been apart from his family for eight months.

Kato, the 48-year-old former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, was indicted back in October for publishing an article in August that speculated on President Park’s whereabouts during the Sewol ferry sinking, which killed more than 300 people. The article supposedly contained details from a Chosun Ilbo column and rumors from Korea’s financial industry that said Park’s absence during the maritime disaster was due to her meeting an unidentified man in an alleged secret meeting.

The presidential office denied the claim, while Seoul prosecutors said Kato’s article was based on “false information.” Although Kato was not placed under arrest, he was barred him from leaving the country. The indictment has since led to fierce criticism of South Korea’s press freedom and concern over bilateral relations from Japanese officials.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, responded saying the case was “irrelevant to ROK-Japan relations” and “not appropriate to make the issue into a diplomatic problem.”

The Sankei Shimbun welcomed the lifting of the travel ban but continued to demand that South Korea drops its charges against Kato.

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Featured image via Kyodo

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Seoul to Strengthen Education on ‘Comfort Women’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The South Korean government announced on Wednesday that it will make efforts to further educate its elementary school students about Japans’s sexual enslavement of thousands of women during World War II.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s education and gender equality ministries will distribute supplementary textbooks that teach elementary and secondary school students about the victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery, who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.” In addition to these new textbooks, the ministries plan to distribute teaching aids, including videos and PowerPoint files, to 193 education offices and 800 public libraries starting this month.

The announcement follows Japan’s approval of updated textbooks that downplay the country’s wartime aggression and strengthen its claims to the disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.

Existing Korean public school textbooks only briefly mention the victims of wartime sex slavery, sometimes in as little as a single paragraph. According to a survey conducted by a team of school teachers and researchers tasked with penning the supplementary textbooks, about 49 percent of the 152 elementary schoolchildren surveyed said they knew nothing about the subject. Meanwhile, about 24 percent said they were familiar with the topic and only a little over 19 percent said they were knowledgeable.

The supplementary text is expected to be 40 pages long and will be distributed to fifth graders and older after it is approved by the education ministry. All new materials for both teachers and students will then become public to browse or download online.

Although teachers will be encouraged by the government to use the new materials, it is not mandatory for them to discuss the contents of the new textbooks with their students, according to the Korea Herald.

Nam Sang-gu, a Northeast Asian Foundation researcher and one of the writers for the supplementary textbooks, said the new materials not only details the plight of comfort women but also emphasizes the importance of “peacebuilding and overcoming the aftermath of military conflicts.”

“While our goal is to educate our children about what happened and what we should remember so such tragedy does not repeat in the future, we also don’t want them to form a negative sentiment against Japan as a whole,” Nam told the Korea Herald. “In the material we also talk about how there are people in Japan who empathize with the victims and have worked for their rights and compensation.”

Earlier this week, a U.S. congressman told Korean reporters that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s wartime sex slavery during his trip to Washington later this month.

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Featured image via AFP

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Abe Expected to Mention Japan’s Wartime Sex Slavery During U.S. Trip: U.S. Congressman

Pictured above: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. The meeting was in Tokyo, Japan on April 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Tokyo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

According to a U.S. congressman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to mention the issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II when he visits Washington later this month, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) told Korean correspondents in Washington on Monday, “We did not discuss that with the prime minister [Abe], but I have every reason to believe that one way or the other, it’s going to be mentioned during this trip to the United States.”

The congressman added that he is confident that the “issue cannot be ignored” if Abe is questioned about Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement.

Sex slavery has been an ongoing issue in the frayed relationship between Japan and South Korea. For decades, South Korea has called on Japan to acknowledge and apologize to the elderly Korean victims of sex slavery, or “comfort women” as they were euphemistically called, for forcing them to work in military brothels during World War II. However, Japan has refused to take responsibility.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Abe referred to comfort women as victims of “human trafficking” without specifying the perpetrator. Seoul expressed concerns over the term “human trafficking,” accusing Abe of denying Japan’s involvement in the forced prostitution of thousands of women.

Last week, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Abe to address the “comfort women” issue. In addition, U.S. war veterans sent a letter to Congress last month, arguing that Abe should only be allowed to deliver a congressional speech when he acknowledges Japan’s wartime conduct.

Abe is set to address a joint session of Congress on April 29 and will be the first Japanese prime minister to do so.

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Nancy Pelosi Urges Abe to Apologize for Japan’s Wartime Sex Slavery

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday to acknowledge and apologize for the sexual slavery committed by Japan during World War II, reports Yonhap News Agency.

When asked about her thoughts on Abe’s upcoming congressional speech in Washington, Pelosi told reporters, “We have been clear about what we’d like to hear about comfort women. I hope that a statement will be made to free [Japanese] people from this burden of the issue of comfort women.”

Pelosi met with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Thursday and discussed issues regarding North Korea as well as the relationship between South Korea and Japan. She also met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who expressed the urgency of the “comfort women” issue as the victims are in their late 80s, according to Park’s office.

Although Pelosi said it is not necessary for Abe to apologize before Congress, she expressed hope that the prime minister “apologizes in some format.”

“I would imagine if the prime minister is going to make a statement, he [would] probably do that in his own country rather than somebody else’s country,” Pelosi said, according to Yonhap.

For decades, South Korea has repeatedly urged Japan to take responsibility for forcing Korean and other Asian women to work in military brothels during World War II. There is still no sign of resolution between the two countries.

In 1993, former Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono offered an official apology to the victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery. However, since Abe came to power, his government has been attempting to revise previous statements, like Kono’s apology, making an all-out effort to deny Japan’s involvement in forced prostitution.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Abe described wartime “comfort women” as victims of “human trafficking” without specifying the perpetrator, angering Koreans and activists.

Last month, a group of U.S. veterans wrote a letter to Congress, arguing that Abe should only be invited to address Congress if he clearly acknowledges Japan’s wartime conduct. Korean American civic groups also took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding that Abe should apologize to the elderly comfort women before his congressional speech.

Abe is expected to speak before a joint session of Congress on April 29 and will become the first Japanese prime minister to accomplish this feat.

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Shinzo Abe Invited to Address Joint U.S. Congress Session

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will speak before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on April 29, reports Yonhap News Agency. House Speaker John Boehner officially announced the invitation on Thursday.

“As the United States continues to strengthen our ties with Japan, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe to the United States Capitol. His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities,” Boehner said in a statement.

“That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade,” he added. “Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, and we are proud to host this historic event.”

Abe was poised to make a trip to the United States this spring in late April to early March before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August. He is expected to meet with President Barack Obama over discussions on security and trade agreements. His speech before Congress is expected to mark the partnership the two countries have enjoyed and the peaceful path Japan has taken since the end of the war.

There is intense speculation in Tokyo and other Asian countries about how he will mark the anniversary. Abe has stirred fierce controversy over signs that his government was looking to reexamine and revise previous statements and apologies from former Japanese leaders.

In response to speculation over Abe’s visit, a number of Korean American activists and U.S. veterans groups called on Abe earlier this month to issue a clear apology for Japan’s war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed during World War II. U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.

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Shinzo Abe Urged to Clearly Apologize for Sexual Slavery, War Crimes Before U.S. Trip

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

As all signs point to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making a trip to the United States later this spring, several activists in the U.S. have called for him to issue a clear apology for war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed by Japan during World War II before he is expected to appear before a joint session of Congress.

Yesterday, Korean American civic groups, including the Korean American Forum (KAF) and Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) took out an advertisement in The Hill, an American political newspaper, demanding, “Mr. Abe must apologize to the victims of military sexual slavery by imperial Japan during WWII … before seeking a speech to a joint session of U.S. Congress.”

KAF Ad

The ad also includes the photos of former “comfort women” Jan Ruff O’Herne and Yong-soo Lee, who both testified before Congress in 2007. Another photo shows Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in 2013, an act that infuriated Koreans and Chinese, as the shrine honors a number of Japanese soldiers who were tried as war criminals.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who has previously spoken on behalf of sexual slavery victims, also issued a statement that said Abe fully “acknowledges the systematic kidnapping of girls and women during the 1930s and 1940s during the second world war, that they were responsible for, that he apologizes on behalf of the government, that the apology be unambiguous, and that he accepts the historical responsibility.”

Honda added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.

A U.S. veterans group, which includes former American prisoners-of-war and their relatives, sent a letter to lawmakers in Congress, saying Abe should only be invited to give a speech if he admits Japan’s wartime conduct. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society called the speech a “unique opportunity” for him to deliver the apology.

Tokyo and Washington were in final preparations a month ago for Abe to address Congress during a visit to the U.S. in the spring. Although the invite hasn’t been confirmed, it would be the first time a Japanese prime minister has spoken before a joint session of Congress, as well as the first time a Japanese prime minister has addressed Congress since 1961, according to the Japan Times.

Abe will travel to the States during the Golden Week holidays from late April through early May. His speech is expected to touch on Japan’s peaceful path since the end of World War II and strengthening Japan-U.S. ties for the future, particularly on the economic front through completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

This all comes before the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in August. The Washington Post notes that there is intense speculation in Tokyo—and in other Asian countries—about how he will mark the anniversary.

A Japanese government study in 1993 led to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to issue the “Kono Statement,” which officially acknowledged that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced “comfort women” to work in military brothels during WWII. The statement’s wording was negotiated with the South Korean government, then led by President Kim Young-sam.

On the 50th anniversary, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said that Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, “caused tremendous damage to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in the spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.”

Abe’s government has drawn outrage for signs in the last few years that they were looking into reexamining and revising previous statements, including the ones listed above. This hasn’t helped thaw relations with South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s government, and the two leaders never met face-to-face until President Barack Obama held a joint meeting with them last year and Abe told the Japanese parliament that he would not revise the 1993 apology.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) organization. We have also clarified that Prime Minister Abe has not been officially confirmed to appear before Congress, but that he is expected to during his trip to the U.S. in late April. We sincerely regret the error. 

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South Korean and Japanese Students Talk About English-Language Education

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

On this side of the Pacific, we often hear about our friends and peers heading over to Asia to teach English. But we rarely hear from the student perspective.

South Korea and Japan spend billions of dollars each year on private tutors and academies in addition to what is taught in school curriculums just for that extra edge in English. However, according to the folks at YouTube channel Asian Boss, majority of South Korean and Japanese students have trouble communicating in English even at the most basic level. Asian Boss took to the streets of Sydney to ask a few young men and women, likely international students, about their own experiences—and struggles—learning and conversing in English.

All of the interviewees reveal that they began studying English at a young age—one commented that children begin to learn English as early as kindergarten in Korea. But for some, English isn’t just difficult. They loathe it.

“I just hate English,” one young male student commented. “Whenever I hear English or meet foreigners, I get dizzy and I start sweating. … That’s how bad it is.”

Most students expressed that learning English felt like picking up another subject, like math—an assessment tool to measure academic performance, as one student put it. Their experiences were limited to memorizing vocabulary terms and grammar rules without properly applying that they had learned. After their exams were done, they would forget everything.

Besides opportunities for conversations, one Korean student said there’s an aspect of shame Koreans run into. They’re afraid to make any mistakes, he said, and they miss out on speaking because they worry about trying to sound perfect.

Overall, the interviewees agreed that learning English should be more fun and cultivated at an early age as an important communication skill instead of a mandatory subject. The education system needs to go away from treating English as “a problem to be solved, like a math problem.”

Take a look at what else the young Japanese and South Koreans had to say below.

Reader Grace Lung pointed out that Asian Boss, an Australia-based channel, interviewed their subjects in Sydney in an area where many international students hang out. Thank you for the heads up, and we apologize for our error.

(H/T to RocketNews24)

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3 Things to Know Before South Korea Enters Asian Cup Semifinals

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

It has been a bumpy ride, but the South Korean men’s national soccer team is entering the semifinals of the 2015 Asian Cup on a four-game win streak, during which it hasn’t conceded a single goal.

Korea scored just one goal in each of its three games in the group stages, but scraped through with 1-0 wins every time thanks to a combination of luck, desperate defending and goalkeeping heroics from Kim Jin-hyeon. Beating Oman and Kuwait were more difficult than expected, and although the gritty win over hosts Australia was plausible, the Koreans endured a lengthy spell of domination from their rivals. In the quarterfinals, Korea needed extra time to edge past Uzbekistan, a team it hasn’t lost to since 1994.

Aiming to win its first continental title in 55 years, Korea is set to face Iraq in the semifinals on Monday in Sydney. The winning team will then play against either Austrailia or UAE in the final match, which airs on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. PT.

Here are three things you should know about the Taegeuk Warriors as they prepare for the semifinals game.

1. Korea is playing without two of its key players.

Korea’s German head coach Uli Stielike has long made it clear that he considers five players on the current team as its nucleus–Son Heung-min, Ki Sung-yueng, Park Joo-ho, Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol. Unfortunately for Stielike, he will now have to lead Korea without two of those five players for the remainder of the tournament.

Right winger Lee has been ruled out after sustaining a hairline fracture in his right leg from a vicious tackle made by an Omani player during Korea’s first match. In addition, attacking midfielder Koo tore a ligament in his elbow after falling and landing on his arm in a game against Australia.

Players Nam Tae-hee and Han Kyo-won, will most likely have to step up to fill the void of Lee, the two-time World Cup veteran, and Koo, who captained Korea’s bronze medal team at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

2. With rivals Japan and Iran eliminated, the stars are now aligned for Korea.

Two weeks ago in a preview story about the Asian Cup, I mentioned that Korea would have to overcome Japan and Iran to complete its mission of winning the continental title for the first time since 1960. Things have just gotten a lot easier for Korea as both Japan and Iran were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Iraq and UAE, respectively.

After failing to beat Japan in nearly five years and Iran in four years, Korea is now left with Iraq in the semifinals, which seems to look favorable for the Korean team. If Korea manages to win the semifinals, then it will either face Australia, a team it has previously beaten, or UAE, which has only secured two wins against Korea in the last 19 head-to-head matchups.

3. As expected, Cha Du-ri is the difference maker.

I also predicted in the aforementioned preview article that the 34-year-old fullback Cha Du-ri may just be the X-factor if Korea finally wins the Asian title. Set to retire from international soccer after the Asian Cup, Cha’s speed on the right flank has lifted Korea in decisive moments.

Against Kuwait, Cha dribbled past two defenders from the right wing and picked out a perfect cross for Nam Tae-hee’s goal, clinching Korea’s berth in the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals game versus Uzbekistan, Cha’s furious 60-yard run sparked a counterattack that Son Heung-min finished off to seal Korea’s 2-0 win.

Since the Uzbekistan game, a video of Bae Sung-jae, the play-by-play announcer for South Korean TV network SBS famously saying, “Why in the world did a player like this work as a broadcaster during the World Cup?” went viral among Korean soccer fans. Cha had worked alongside Bae in the broadcast booth as a color commentator during the 2014 World Cup after he was controversially dropped from Korea’s final roster. Bae’s viral comment sparked further criticism on former head coach Hong Myung-bo for excluding Cha from last summer’s roster.

South Korea will play against Iraq in the semifinals on Monday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. PT.

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Featured photo courtesy of ESPNFC.com

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