The Use and Abuse of History in Japan and Korea
Date: 4:45pm PST February 17 Location: Miller Hall 105
Miller Hall 105
In June of 2019, the Japanese government announced that South Korea would no longer enjoy preferential status in the trade of certain chemicals—most importantly, hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimides, and photoresists. Most citizens may not have known of these chemicals’ importance or existence; nevertheless, this decision became the latest flash point in a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Japan and South Korea, two of Asia’s most economically crucial and vibrant democracies. The backlash from both the South Korean citizenry and its government resulted in a grassroots boycott of Japanese goods, the removal of Japan from key trade statuses, and the cancellation of a shared military intelligence pact, important to the region because of North Korean provocations. Beyond economics, the heart of this dispute lies in a contentious and ever relevant debate over history, reparations, apologies, and public memory.
Kenneth Ruoff is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University. In 2004, he was awarded the Osaragi Jirõ Prize for Commentary, Japan’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, for the Japanese translation of his book The People’s Emperor (Harvard East Asia Monographs, 2001). His book Imperial Japan at its Zenith: The Wartime Celebration of the Empire’s 2600th Anniversary (Cornell University Press, 2010) was awarded the 2012 Frances Fuller Victor Award for Nonfiction. His account of the Heisei Monarchy, Tennõ to Nihonjin (“The Emperor and the Japanese”), quickly gained a wide readership in Japan after its publication by the Asahi Newspaper Company in 2019. The text of his 14-hour debate about the emperor with the commentator Kobayashi Yoshinori, Tennõron ‘Nichibei Gekitotsu’ (“No-Holds-Barred Japanese/American Clash about the Emperor”), was published by Shogakukan in October 2019. His book Japan’s Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019 was published in December 2019 by Harvard University Press.