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Optimism, lingering fear heard from residents of Japan's 'Koreatowns'

Shinokubo, Tokyo's "Koreatown," is seen on Dec. 28, 2015. (Mainichi)

Following the Dec. 28 agreement between the Japanese and South Korean governments over the "comfort women" issue, residents in Japan's "Koreatowns" Shinokubo in Tokyo and Osaka's Ikuno Ward expressed both optimism for the future of relations between the two countries, as well as lingering concern about anti-Korean hate speech.

    In Shinokubo, Japan's largest Koreatown, Kim Tok-jin, the 35-year-old manager of a Korean restaurant, says, "I think that from now on the two sides will slowly come to understand each other and draw closer."

    Kim has been in Japan for 10 years. Many of his customers are young people, and he has made Japanese friends. Regarding the comfort women issue, he used to think that it would be insufficient for Japan to "just pay money," but he says, "If Japan feels remorse for its actions and a fund for the former comfort women is established, then the agreement is a good thing."

    A 19-year-old university student from Morioka who had come to a Korean pop culture shop said, "Young people of the two countries think about things differently than the politicians, but both Japan and South Korea were dissatisfied with how things were (in the standoff over the comfort women issue.) I hope the two countries can maintain a harmonious relationship."

    However, not everyone in the area welcomed the agreement. At a Korean grocer, while the employees heartily called out to customers, the shop owner refused to talk, saying, "I don't talk about politics." Many other ethnic Koreans were also on their guard, refusing to comment or be interviewed.

    A woman in her 40s managing a South Korean cosmetics store said, "I can't forget the fear of having (anti-Korean) hate speech yelled in front of me almost every day." She added, "Among the South Koreans here are people who have married Japanese or whose children were born in Japan. We think of Japan as our second home, and we don't want to be hurt anymore."

    In Ikuno Ward, a 45-year-old man who is a third-generation ethnic Korean in Japan and has managed a guesthouse for the past six years says, "With the two countries long having chilled relations, I think there was a political motivation at work to bring this issue to an end." Born in Ikuno Ward, the man graduated from a private university in Kobe. He says, "As an ethnic Korean, it is important to know" about the historical disputes between Japan and South Korea. While he takes the agreement between the two countries as a "forward-thinking agreement," he also says, "The comfort women issue is complex, with many ways of looking at it. It would be best for the two countries to share the same view of the subject, but the agreement left this part of the issue ambiguous."

    Hideo Ohara, 90, a second-generation ethnic Korean who manages a South Korean grocer, says, "We are neighbors, so we have to get along as we develop our countries." A Japanese woman in her 60s who manages a liquor store says, "Japanese and ethnic Koreans here are living together well without regard to nationality. Business comes first."

    A 55-year-old woman with a South Korean father and a Japanese mother says she has been harassed by a stranger before. "I hope hate speech goes away," she says.

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