Yuji Hosaka, born in Japan, harbored good feelings toward Korea from childhood when he was charmed by its singers, sports stars and the friends of his father, who ran a plastic lens factory in Tokyo.
The fond curiosity developed into academic enthusiasm during his college years after he was struck by the 1895 assassination by the Japanese Empress Myeongseong, the wife of the Joseon era’s last king, Gojong.
What Hosaka found disturbing was not only the incident itself, but the fact that he never learned it from schools, textbooks or elsewhere in Japan. After 10 years of working at his father’s company, he flew to Seoul and became naturalized as a Korean citizen in 2003.
Now 56, Hosaka is a distinguished expert on the issue of Dokdo. He heads the Dokdo Research Institute at Sejong University in Seoul and has written a number of books and papers on the islets and Korea-Japan relations.
He has unveiled old maps and records that helped refute Japan’s claim to the islets, earning him much flak from his homeland.
“Many people, even my family and Koreans, were opposed to me becoming naturalized, saying I’d better keep my citizenship given Japan’s political and economic edge and my personal future,” Hosaka said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
“As time goes by, their views toward Japan, me and my work have changed. It also helped that I belong to the academic circle whose members have generally broader perspectives.”
Hosaka singled out three “decisive” reasons behind his support for Seoul’s sovereignty over Dokdo.
First, Japan issued three official documents describing the islets as Korean territory. Second, Tokyo argues that it incorporated Dokdo in 1905, but Seoul had already been stripped of its right to refute because of the Korea-Japan Treaty a year before. Third, though the final version of the San Francisco Peace Treaty did not name Dokdo as Korean territory unlike its draft, few countries aside from the U.S. backed Japan’s claim during negotiations.
“Even the U.S. apologized to Korea for dropping a bomb over Dokdo during military exercises after the treaty. If it were Japanese land, the U.S. never would have said sorry,” Hosaka said.
Instead of nationalism and anger, the professor stresses the need for precise understanding of the issue and to develop logic according to international norms.
Japan’s argument may sound reasonable to some extent because it distorted many facts, he said.
“People tend to respond emotionally when they can’t overcome logically,” Hosaka said.
“There have been cases in which Korea, say, strangled itself due to its emotional reaction and lack of logical background, helping make Dokdo a dispute area.”
To better counter Tokyo’s claim without hurting diplomatic ties, Hosaka calls for independent, consistent policy not to “get entangled in Japan’s strategy,” coupled with efforts to carry on economic and personnel exchanges.
“A summit would only result in wrangling and thus a diplomatic disaster given irreconcilable differences between the two countries especially since (Japanese Prime Minister) Shinzo Abe took office,” he said.
“But they should boost people-to-people exchanges and continue working-level and ministerial talks. … For now, it’s not about whether to have a summit, but about how to manage the relationship.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com