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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 April 24 - May 7  > Sports can contribute to better Japan-South Korea ties
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2019 April 24 - May 7 [PEACE]

Sports can contribute to better Japan-South Korea ties

April 24, 2019
Akahata ‘current’ column

The Korean word “han” refers to the concept of an emotion which is explained as a mixture of resentment, sorrow, helplessness, and desire to escape from a miserable situation. The feeling of “han” must have filled the heart of Sohn Kee-chung after winning a gold medal in marathon in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Sohn was born and grew up under Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula. This is why he had to compete in the Summer Games as a member of the Japanese delegation. When Japan’s national anthem was played at the medal presentation ceremony, with his head hanging, Sohn covered the “Hinomaru” flag on his uniform with a laurel wreath. “It was an unbearable humiliation,” he later wrote.

On the other hand, in the same Olympic Games, Sohn developed a lifelong friendship with another delegate member, Oshima Kenkichi. Oshima took the side of Sohn and yelled angrily at an athlete serving in the Imperial Japanese military when the athlete insulted Sohn by shouting, “Why do I have to walk behind this Korean (in the opening ceremony march)?” The close friendship between Oshima and Sohn helped promote sports in the two countries after the war.

Sohn said, “What matters in sports is not winning, but developing friendship, trust, and mutual respect,” quoted in a biography of Sohn which was published in Japan in April. His statement indicates that he overcame the sense of “han”.

Currently, relations between Japan and South Korea are becoming worse mainly because of the current state of Japanese politics. What can the sporting world in the two countries do to improve the ties? In this context, the late Sohn would remind the peoples of both nations how Japanese skater Kodaira Nao displayed her friendship with her South Korean rival Lee Sang-hwa after winning a gold medal in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Sohn’s gold medal is still counted as an Olympic medal won by Japan. This is yet another example regarding Japan’s past "mistakes" made during the war.
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