Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Battle of Tsushima

Korean Mother went on a two day trip to the Japanese island of Tsushima – which is called Daemado in Korea. You shouldn't read too much into the different naming – it doesn't necessarily make it another Dokdo/Takeshima/Liancourt Rocks situation.

However... in March 2005 the local council in Korean city of Masan designated June 19 as Daemado Day, claiming that this was the date in 1419 the island was annexed by the Korean Joseon Dynasty. Therefore, Daemado is Korean territory. But this isn't necessarily just some Tea Party-style fringe movement; in 2008 50 members of the Korean parliament stated their support for the territorial claim over Tsushima, and an opinion poll at the time showed 50.6% support amongst Koreans for the claim. Read on for a little more plot thickening.

So Korean Mother went to Tsushima – or Daemado - and it was meant as a short holiday, not the advanced recon party for a future invasion. Apparently Korean trips to Tsushima are quite popular. I once read that back in the 1980s the best slogan the Korean tourist authorities could come up with for a Japanese campaign was the rather weak but technically correct “Korea – the closest country to Japan” - which is practically apologetic in its lacking of ideas regarding what was attractive about Korea at the time. Now the roles are reversed, because – to paraphrase - Tsushima is the closest part of Japan to Korea.

Unfortunately Tsushima rather projects the image of being the Japanese version of Namhae. Rural and, what the tourism brochures might describe as 'contemplative'. Perhaps Tsushima isn't like that, but if not, the official Korean tour did little to sell it. The tour itinerary included – and I'm not making this up – a primary school and two banks, in addition to two very small temples. At least the latter is more fitting with a trip to another country, I'm not so sure what a 'cultural visit' to a bank really gives the tourist.

Then there's the Japanese hotel experience. It had no toilet paper or anything else which couldn't be screwed down (to be fair I've stayed in a Japanese hotel and it wasn't like this – but then I wasn't on Tsushima). And the meals were apparently minimalistic – even by the minimalist standards of the Japanese. Hunger became the Koreans' constant travelling companion. It made me wonder whether, given the festering animosity the Korean territorial claims have created on Tsushima, these two facts were entirely disconnected.

So when Korean Mother got back, the first place she and her friends visited was a Korean restaurant near the ferry terminal. The manager saw the terrible hunger writ large across their faces and said “You've just come back from Daemado haven't you?”

Oh, and that plot thickening I promised? While they were being shown around Tsushima the Korean tour guide told the assembled visitors... “Daemado was Korean territory you know, but now Japan claims it is theirs, so we have to get it back...”

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