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Editorial: UNESCO-registered Edo period records hold diplomatic lessons for today

Diplomatic records on visits by Korean envoys to Japan during the Edo Period and three ancient stone monuments in Gunma Prefecture called, "Kozuke Sanpi," have been added to UNESCO's Memory of the World register.

The "Kozuke Sanpi" monuments record the footsteps of people from China and Korea who brought Chinese kanji characters and Buddhism to ancient Japan. Since the diplomatic documents and stone stelas record exchanges between Japan and the continent, their addition to the Memory of the World register is welcome.

The Memory of the World is a project aimed at preserving historically important materials and handing them down to future generations. Not only states but also private organizations can apply for registration of historical materials. A UNESCO panel screened an application for registration of documents on the wartime "comfort women" issue, but decided not to register the materials this time.

Japanese and South Korean private organizations jointly filed an application for the registration of the diplomatic records on Korean envoys to Japan. The organizations began preparations for the application five years ago, and cooperated closely in their efforts even when relations between the two countries were strained over the comfort women and other issues. The achievement of their common goal through joint, equal efforts can be a model for bilateral cooperation between Japan and South Korea.

Korean envoys came to Japan during the Edo period to reestablish bilateral diplomatic relations, which had been severed by Japan's invasion of Korea in the late 16th century ordered by feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Initially, the envoys were dispatched to Japan to bring prisoners of war back to Korea. However, Korea later sent envoys on important occasions such as the shogunal succession. Such delegations had visited Japan on 12 occasions by the end of Tokugawa rule in the 1860s.

The more than 300 items registered by UNESCO include poems written by Korean envoys and messages exchanged between the envoys and Japanese people. Visits by Korean envoys to Japan were important opportunities for Japanese people to get exposure to foreign culture during the Edo period.

People look back on history to learn lessons from the past and think about the future. Numerous lessons can be learned from Korean envoys' activities, which were instrumental in restoring mutual trust damaged by Japan's invasion of Korea.

Edo period Confucian adviser Amenomori Hoshu (1668-1755), who worked for the Tsushima domain that served as a contact point between Japan and Korea during the Edo Period, entertained Korean envoys in a sincere manner. He underscored the importance of interacting with each other honestly without betrayals or fighting.

At the same time, however, he cautioned that goodwill alone would lead to nothing but frivolous idealism. Rather, dealing with another country while also learning much about the country can lead to smooth bilateral ties.

Such fundamental principles of diplomacy remain unchanged. Countries must respect each other while keeping in mind differences between themselves in history, customs and ways of thinking. These principles are particularly important for relations between neighboring countries in which friction can easily be generated.

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