Conflict Between South Korea And Japan Within National Identity

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South Korea and Japan has been a cooperative partner in the liberal democracy and the value of market economy, and they have been conflict relations due to the historical problem, which is about colonization. As this situation is happening continuously, it has been a relationship which they discuss cooperation rationally but confront emotionally. Due to the situation, there has been a lot of research regarding to it, but it has not concluded. The biggest problem with Japan and South Korea is the recognition about apologies. Japan are saying that they have apologized all the historical problems, but South Korea kept telling them to apologize. Japan is thinking South Korea as ‘a country which kept asking them to apologize’, which South Korea consider Japan as ‘a country with no apology’. As the recognitions are considered in both countries, it has been difficult for them to understand each other and solve historical problem. Instead of just facing the problem, the writer decided to approach the problem regarding the identity of each countries.

Definition of Identity

It is considered to be hard to find the standardized definition of the term identity. It has been talked about identity in many areas like race, ethnicity, gender, country, and so on, but there has been no clear concept with it. However, when we say identity, we talk about particular attitude, expected actions, and distinctive features socially. When we say national identity, it talks about collective identity with historical territory, common myth, historical memory, pop culture, and legal rights and duties. Moreover, it talks about patriotism between citizens and country, and the content which regulates citizen’s standard and range. To distinguish between citizens in one country and citizens in the other countries, social and psychological bond has been the basis. Moreover, identity has been one of the main factors that has formed the relationships between countries, world order, and one country’s status inside the world order. For example, American exceptionalism which define that America’s own trait or characteristic is different with Europe is deeply related to Americans’ identity and United States (US) foreign policy. Also, before, Soviet Russia reflected to a foreign policy that they are the origin of socialism revolution as identity (Park, 2011).

Identity has strengthened the union power, but if it becomes too exclusive with other countries, there is a possibility to show exclusive nationalism. This form of nationalism has been used to recognize the other countries as enemy when the countries are seen to disrupt national interest or profit, and to promote cohesion in political support. The differences in systems based on Cold War ideologies based on proper values were included as an important element that defined the identity of countries belonging to different camps, and we can find examples of conflicts between different camps (Kim, 2018). Therefore, understanding of national identity can be means to explain the particular country’s relationship, and can be discussed about the relationship between countries based on the national identity.

Japan’s National Identity

Japan has been one of the countries that has been a lot of researches about national identity themselves, and from other countries. There has been a lot of researches about Japan, Japanese, Japan cultures, and those researches are called as ‘Nihonron’, ‘Nihonjinron’, ‘Nihonbungakuron’, and it has become one of the research fields which talks about Japanese identity.

Hiroshi Minami, who was a politician, separated Japan as 5 eras; Meiji, Taisho, Showa, Occupation, and Modern. He talked about Japanese national character in each era. He said that there has been changes when there was a big social change, especially when there was a problem about international problem with foreign countries. Particularly, in Meiji era, there has been there has been Japanese superiority which they pursue for modernization, while overtaking the Western Empire, which was told to be an empire which has been advanced. There also has been Japanese inferiority, which they reflect themselves that they compare themselves with Western countries. In Taisho era, there has been internationalism which they understand themselves objectively. In Showa era, there has been discussions about Japan’s culture and natural characteristics, Fascism Nihonjinron in the middle of World War II, and self-reflection after losing the war, and new national character has been shown. There are a lot of other People who tried to organize the broad Nihonjinron, like Nakane Chie, who tried to analyze Japan’s social structure, and make new theory, Doi Takeo, who tried to understand Japanese psychological structure through Amae, and so on.

Unlike the researches in social and cultural area, which they tried to analyze Japanese, Japanese culture, and Japanese society, Political and diplomatic areas of research were focused on analyzing Status and Roles of Japan. It was focused on researching about forming a frame about international relations and diplomatic strategy. Among them, through researches about the recognition of international order and Pan-Asianism of Japan’s political elites in post-cold war era, Japan was able to analyze Japan politics’ conservatism in various perspectives and formed one discussion.

Richard Samuels explained Japan’s plan of national strategy discussion about post-cold war international structure change by separating Normal Nationalists, Middle-Power Internationalist, Neoautomists, and Pacifist. Normal Nationalists are supporting America-Japan ally, so that Japan will have a great power. Also, they want Japan to be in the same international position with America by stepping the normal steeps. Middle-Power Internationalist, on the other hand, insist that Japan’s international contribution should be in prosperity first, instead of applying military power. People who are Neoautomists insist that they need to have distance with America, and make Japan be able to use their strength or power in all areas. Lastly, Pacifists think that prosperity is the most important value, and pursue status or positions in international society through prosperity.

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There has been the same research in South Korea by Park (2016), Park (2007), and so on. Park (2007) insisted that the argument about the theory of Japan has been divided due to the explanation of prewar days, and opinions toward the Japan’s role according to the rise of the national power. To put in more details, this includes the peaceful and realistic lines according to whether Japan’s national activities are included in its national activities, and the nationalists and internationalist lines due to conflicts of national interests and international contribution. First, normal nationalists insist that Japan should seek for the international contribution in the aspect of growth of national power and military power. Moreover, while rising the international status of Japan, Japan should do international cooperation including human contribution. Also, to make a foundation to act together with other countries while growing the national power, revision of the constitution should be made ultimately. On the other hand, neoautomists insist that Japan has to recover and regain Japan’s pride by getting over the forced rules that America has made. Moreover, they show strong nation-centrism by saying that Japan shows its real image when Japan shows its strength by defensing by Japan itself. Contrary to the idea that emphasize the appearance of the military, internationalists thinks economic means, economic aids and so on important. They focus on international order and international activities through nonmilitary means. Pacifist also prefer peace through nonmilitary means. However, they insist that Japan need to reflect on the activities that they did on prewar days, stand and show the world as ‘small, but shining Japan’ instead of a ‘Big country Japan’, and protect pacific constitution, which is different with internationalists.

South Korea’s National Identity

South Korea formed national identity totally different with Japan. South Korea formed national identity having unification, problem about North Korea, anti-Japanese feeling. There has been a research saying that South Korea’s national identity and ethnic identity has been divided as South Korea and North Korea has divided after living for a long time saying ‘mono-ethnicity’ (Kang, 2011). It happened as they were not able to embody the basic element of nationalism about ‘One ethnic group, one country’ after the division of South and North Korea. Here, ethnic identity refers to both North and South Korea, and national identity talks about political meaning that includes identity difference. As division period has become prolonged, and as there has been different members of society as era changes, South Korea made their own independent identity, which made national identity and ethnic identity collapse or change. Research in South Korea’s identity made in this context are focused on finding the root of national identity according to Korean’s recognition, considering the possibility for the unification of society while distinguishing ‘we’ and ‘they’, changes of South Korea’s national identity through the flow of globalization, and the correlation of democracy. In this process, to measure the social distance, foreigners, immigrant workers, Korean nationals abroad, ethnic Koreans living in China, and resident escaping from North Korea was presented as comparison target. Researches about those were mostly about the expect the social cleavages in the process of unification, but it has also been understood as figuring out the frame and standard to define Korean.

There also has been research about the feeling toward Japan. According to Choi (2014), hostility according to historical experience of East Asia has worsened the feeling toward the opponent country. Moreover, he analyzed that the hostility gives bad effect to area stability, and insisted that the factors affecting Koran’s feeling toward Japan made South Korea be in concern for Japan’s military power, oppose for economic cooperation expansion, strengthen pride and sense of belonging about in-group, and closed identity about hostility about out-group affects the anti-Japanese feeling.

Comparing South Korea’s and Japan’s Identity

With the researches above, the researches about Japan was mostly talking about defeat of the war, economic development, and long-term recession. These makes Japan think roles in international society and making a relationship between countries near Japan are important. There has been a lot of considerations and contemplation about how to form their country, Japan. The researches about South Korea was mostly talking about division of South and North Korea and colonization. South Korea has defined themselves with the basis of divided country and colonization, distinguished themselves as ‘we’ and ‘they’, and unification of ‘we’ and ‘they’. It shows that South Korea and Japan has been concerning different problems even though they are living in the same period, which means that they have different national identity according to historical background. While Japan was concerning about relationships between other countries like Japan-America ally, an economic power, aids to South-east Asia, or national strategy about international society, South Korea was concerning out South and North Korea’s relationship, and ‘relationship inside us’, which happened due to the social change, due to the interior factor called division. Due to the difference of the concept, we can suppose that there has been a difference in recognizing each other. In other words, Japan has been concerning about according to how Japan has been defined or regulated as the role and the position of their country in international society, they were considering about the relationship between South Korea, and had argument about justification or apologies toward the past colonization. On the other hand, South Korea had formed collective identity, which distinguish ‘we’ and ‘they’, and made anti-Japanese feeling due to Japan’s colonization, and formed anticommunism ideology regarding the North and South war.

Researches that are existing provided a wide range of interpretations and analysis, environmental changes and contextual understanding, and provided in-depth insights into the impact of national identity on national relations, the flow of identity research between Korea and Japan, and the impact of national identity on bilateral relations. However, qualitative research based on literature and others has the limitation that if it is biased toward the subjective judgment of the researchers, it may lack objectivity, because of a lack of empirical evidence, the difficulty of eliciting discussion beyond discourse. Moreover, it is hard to deny the possibilities of the gap between the policy makers and ordinary citizens who present policies and implement them, as they are unable to infer and judge their collective identity through the words and attitudes of certain figures, including political elites, and others. In this case, there is a limitation to explain that the impact of public opinion on foreign policy in that does not reflect public opinion. On the other hand, opinion poll based studies reveal the difference in mutual recognition between the two countries, but they do not identify the root cause of this difference.


This paper aims to recognize the both Japan and South Korea’s national identity and find out the difference of recognition about the relationship between South Korea and Japan, and the troubles between them.

This paper was able to find out that the meaning and range of national identity has been formed differently between the two countries. To put it concretely, Japan’s research has been made regarding the relationship between Asian countries, including South Korea, and difference of Pan-Asianism of political elites. For South Korea, there has been researches about the distinguish about ‘we’ and ‘they’ and the range of embracing people as ‘we’. As a result, for Japan, South Korea has been an object or standards to introduce them the positions and roles of their country to international society. For South Korea, Japan has become a standard for distinguishing between ‘I’ and ‘they’, and a range and object to embrace in the process of social unification. Through this paper, the writer was able to know that from the different recognition with two other countries can affect differently about the relationship between two countries, and the conflict between them.

By looking at the research, it looks like it is quite hard to narrow down the recognition difference between South Korea and Japan’s conflict. Therefore, there should be more thoughts to make proper and true cooperation between the two countries. In other words, through continuing the relationship about economy, culture, and personal exchanges, it will be appropriate to expect to make a system that will make both countries to have less conflict. Moreover, when dealing with sensitive conflicts, instead of focusing on solving the problem, it will be better to first talk about how the two countries both recognize the particular conflict, and after that environment about apology and reconciliation should be made.

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Conflict Between South Korea And Japan Within National Identity. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 7, 2022, from
“Conflict Between South Korea And Japan Within National Identity.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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Conflict Between South Korea And Japan Within National Identity [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2022 Aug 7]. Available from:
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