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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
July 15, 2002

Japanese Student Opinion About Korea: England-Ireland Comparison

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

This article originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum" ( on July 11, 2002: posted here with the author's permission.

I recently conducted a questionnaire to assess Japanese student opinion about Japan-Korea relations and the World Cup.* The first question on the survey was:

What do you think about Korea?

The responses to this were so varied that it was not possible to tabulate them. Students wrote about everything ranging from Korean cosmetic surgery and skin care treatment to traditional culture and foods. Apart from a few students, most did not seem to have a firm image of Korea. The comments of the following student capture the sentiments of quite a few students:

Before the World Cup, I did not think about Korea. Korea, China, they were like the same place to me. Now (since the World Cup), I know Korea is there.

Why do Japanese university students appear to know so little about Korea?

Considering the terrible suffering of the Korean people under Japanese colonial rule, you would expect Japanese students to know something of Korea, or would you?

To explore this question, a brief comparison between England and Ireland is enlightening as there are a great many parallels between the Japan-Korea relationship. For example, England was a harsh colonial master. Like Japan, England has never apologized for the tremendous suffering it inflicted on the Irish people. Just like Korea, Ireland is split into two separate entities and the scars of the colonial period still run deep in society. Most English school textbooks make no mention of the atrocities England committed during and after its colonial rule. In fact, it was only in 1998 that England set up an inquiry into why its troops killed thirteen unarmed Irish civilians during a civil rights march on Sunday 30 January 1972 in Londonderry. This incident is referred to as the Bloody Sunday massacre.**

Terrorist attacks carried out in England over the last thirty years have kept Ireland in the English newspapers. Despite the current peace process in Northern Ireland, terrorist bombing by IRA splinter groups still continue. For example, last summer a massive car bomb destroyed a large section of our local high street in Ealing, London. The force of the blast was unimaginable, destroying several buildings.***

Despite all of this, surveys show that the majority of English people know very little about English colonial rule in Ireland. Speaking from my own experience of teaching at English universities, I would say that if you ask the average English university student to name the Irish prime minister, most could not. If you ask them about the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, most would know nothing.

In short, you would find a general lack of understanding about English colonial rule in Ireland. Some attribute this to the fact that it is not mentioned in most English school textbooks, but it probably has more to do with the fact that people in general have little knowledge of historical events outside their own country.

Over the last sixteen years, I have taught at universities in the UK, Sweden, Taiwan and Japan. The students in each country have been different, but the teaching experience has been positive in every case. I have yet to encounter a country where the average university student is the master of regional politics and history. Can anyone inform of a country where university students are so enlightened?

In an ideal world young people should be aware of the historical misdeeds of their country, but the world is not yet like that. While acknowledgement of past wrongs is a process that must be encouraged by all educators, Japanese students are not alone in their ignorance of their own national past.

Maybe in a bygone age, most university students were knowledgeable about geopolitics and history. However, in the era of mass higher education, that time has passed and it is unfair to expect Japanese students to meet a standard that presently does not exist in any other country.


* NBR'S JAPAN FORUM (SOC) World Cup and Japanese society: Survey Results II, J. Sean Curtin, Thursday 27 Jun 2002

** Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Links and Analysis

*** In pictures: Ealing blast, BBC WORLD, Friday, 3 August 2001

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