The frozen relationship between South Korea and Japan seems to be thawing, at least among the general public.
Korean people’s positive sentiment toward Japan bounced back to levels last seen in 2019, before Japan imposed trade sanctions on Korea over historical conflicts and S. Koreans responded with the “No Japan” boycott of anything Japanese.
According to a report jointly released by Korean think tank East Asia Institute and Japan-based Genron NPO on Sept. 1, 30.6 percent of Koreans said they feel favorable toward Japan, the second-highest since the survey was first carried out in 2013. The highest was 31.7 percent recorded in 2019.
The 2022 figure also marked a big jump from 20.5 percent and 12.3 percent tallied in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
The survey was conducted with 2,028 people -- 1,028 Korean nationals and 1,000 Japanese.
Tension between the two countries intensified after Japan placed export curbs on key high-tech materials crucial for Korean tech firms in July 2019. It was widely viewed here as an act of retaliation against the South Korean top court, which ordered the seizure of local assets of a Japanese company after it refused to compensate several victims of forced labor during World War II. Korea was a colony of Japan at that time.
In response, Korean people voluntarily boycotted Japanese brands such as clothing retailer Uniqlo and Tokyo-based brewery Asahi.
Almost three years after the flare-up of tensions, a growing number of people from both countries hope for an improvement in ties, the latest survey also showed.
Those who said the two nations should mend ties accounted for 81.1 percent of Korean nationals, up 10 percentage points from a year earlier. Some 53.4 percent of Japanese respondents wanted a better relationship, up 6.7 percentage points.
Japanese who harbor positive views of Korea also increased to 30.4 percent this year from 25.4 percent last year.
The report referred to diplomatic conflicts that have continued between the neighbors over the past decade, including a suspension of bilateral talks on Korean women who were forced into wartime sexual slavery for the Japanese military and Korea’s decision to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.
Japan still has in place trade restrictions targeting Korea, and the Korean court has not changed its stance on the force labor compensation issue.
“However, public opinion in both countries showed a clear positive pattern this year,” the report said.
Reflecting warming sentiment, Uniqlo, which closed over 50 stores here in the aftermath of the boycott campaign, swung back into the black last year. Asahi also resumed advertisements on social media and YouTube.
Korea has warmer sentiment toward Japan than it does toward China, a separate survey showed.
In a survey of Koreans by Hankook Research on Aug. 21, China was the second least popular country among five major countries: the United States, Japan, North Korea and Russia.