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Do South Korea and Japan get along?


South Korea and Japan share a complex relationship that is shaped by historical, political, economic, and cultural factors. While the two countries are close geographically and have many similarities, they also have deep-rooted animosity that stems from Japan’s colonization of Korea in the early 20th century and other historical grievances. In this article, we will explore the current state of relations between South Korea and Japan, analyze the factors that influence their interactions, and discuss the prospects for future cooperation or conflict.

Historical Background

The history of South Korea-Japan relations is marked by a series of conflicts and controversies that continue to affect their interactions today. Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910 sparked a long period of oppression and exploitation that lasted until the end of World War II, when Korea gained independence. However, Japan’s legacy of imperialism and war crimes still haunts the bilateral relationship, as South Korea demands apologies, reparations, and recognition of its victims’ rights from Japan.

Political Tensions

The political landscape in East Asia is increasingly complex and precarious, with tensions between major powers like China and the United States fueling regional rivalries and instability. South Korea and Japan are both allies of the United States but have different priorities and strategies for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat, China’s rise, and other security challenges. Moreover, domestic politics in both countries often complicate their foreign policy decisions, as nationalist sentiments and populism can inflame public opinion.

Economic Interdependence

Despite the political tensions, South Korea and Japan are deeply intertwined economically, as they are major trade partners and investors in each other’s economies. South Korean companies like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK have a significant presence in Japan, while Japanese firms such as Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba are also active in South Korea. However, trade disputes and protectionist measures have strained the economic ties between the two countries in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of unfair practices.

Cultural Exchanges

Cultural exchanges between South Korea and Japan are also a significant aspect of their relationship, as they share many common traditions and modern trends. K-pop and J-pop music, anime and manga, fashion and beauty, food and tourism all reflect the influence of Korean and Japanese cultures on each other. However, cultural differences and sensitivities can also create misunderstandings or conflicts, as seen in controversies over territorial disputes, historical revisionism, or pop culture plagiarism.

Public Opinion

Public opinion polls in South Korea and Japan show that their citizens have mixed feelings about each other, with some expressing positive attitudes and others negative sentiments. Many Koreans harbor deep resentment toward Japan for its past injustices and lack of contrition, while some Japanese feel unfairly criticized by Koreans and resentful of their demands. However, there are also voices of moderation and reconciliation that call for dialogue and cooperation to overcome the historical animosity.

Diplomatic Initiatives

Despite the challenges, there have been several diplomatic initiatives aimed at improving South Korea-Japan relations in recent years. In 2015, the two countries reached a landmark agreement on “comfort women”, a euphemism for Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. The deal included an apology from Japan and a compensation fund for the victims, but it faced criticism from some Koreans who felt it was inadequate or insufficiently sincere. Other efforts to promote dialogue and exchanges include cultural festivals, academic exchanges, and business forums.

Security Cooperation

Security cooperation between South Korea and Japan is crucial for regional stability and deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear threat. However, their military ties are limited by legal and political constraints, as South Korea’s constitution prohibits the deployment of Japanese troops on its soil and Japan’s pacifist principles restrict its military role overseas. Nevertheless, both countries participate in joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and diplomatic efforts to resolve security issues.

North Korea Factor

North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have heightened tensions in the region and posed a serious challenge to South Korea and Japan’s security. While both countries share the goal of denuclearizing North Korea and maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula, they have different approaches and priorities. South Korea favors engagement and dialogue with North Korea, while Japan emphasizes sanctions and pressure. The divergent strategies have sometimes led to friction between the two allies, as seen in their reactions to North Korea’s recent diplomatic overtures.

Trade Disputes

Trade disputes between South Korea and Japan have escalated in recent years, with both sides accusing each other of violating trade rules and imposing retaliatory measures. The most contentious issue is Japan’s export restrictions on key materials used in South Korea’s semiconductor industry, which Seoul sees as a political move to punish it for the wartime history disagreements. The dispute has prompted boycotts of Japanese products in South Korea and strained bilateral ties further.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of international relations, including South Korea-Japan relations. While the two countries have cooperated in sharing medical supplies and information, the pandemic has also exposed their vulnerabilities and disparities. Moreover, it has added a new dimension of uncertainty and risk to regional security, as COVID-19 could potentially destabilize North Korea or trigger new conflicts.


In conclusion, the relationship between South Korea and Japan is complex and multifaceted, influenced by historical grievances, political tensions, economic interdependence, cultural exchanges, public opinion, and other factors. While the two countries face many challenges and differences, they also have shared interests and benefits that could promote cooperation and reconciliation. The future of South Korea-Japan relations depends on how they manage their disputes and build trust and understanding through dialogue and engagement.

Is there conflict between Korea and Japan?

Although there is significant economic collaboration between Japan and North Korea, persistent territorial and historical conflicts remain unresolved. Normalization of relations between the two countries has not yet been achieved, and there are ongoing issues related to history, politics, and nuclear capabilities that continue to divide them.

Who is South Korea’s closest ally?

The United States and South Korea have been allies since the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty, which has allowed for a continuous presence of U.S. military personnel on the Korean peninsula.

Did Japan ever apologize to Korea?

On June 22, 1965, Minister of Foreign Affairs Shiina Etsusaburo apologized to the people of South Korea, acknowledging the unfortunate moments in the long history of both countries as they signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea.

Which country is friendly with South Korea?

South Korea-ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) FTA. South Korea-Australia FTA. South Korea-Canada CKFTA FTA. South Korea Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama) FTA.

How did Japan treat Korea?

The Empire of Japan launched a comprehensive attack on Korean culture in order to exert its authority over its new protectorate. This included outlawing the use of the Korean language in schools and universities, instead promoting manual labor and loyalty to the Emperor. Public spaces were also forced to adopt Japanese language, and a mandate was issued that films be made in Japanese.

Why does Japan not recognize North Korea?

There have been several confrontations between the two nations over North Korean clandestine activity in Japan besides the abductions including drug smuggling, marine poaching, and spying. North Korean missile tests are a concern for Japan because the missiles sometimes travel through Japanese airspace and territory.

Future Prospects

The future of South Korea-Japan relations is uncertain, as the two countries continue to grapple with their historical and contemporary issues. However, there are some positive signs that suggest a potential for improvement. For instance, the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has expressed a willingness to engage with Japan and seek a resolution to their disputes. Similarly, Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has signaled a desire to improve relations with South Korea.

Role of the United States

The United States plays a crucial role in shaping the dynamics of South Korea-Japan relations, as it has security alliances with both countries and is involved in regional diplomacy. The Biden administration has emphasized the importance of trilateral cooperation among the US, South Korea, and Japan to address common challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s assertiveness. However, the US also faces challenges in balancing its relationships with these two allies and managing their divergent interests and perspectives.

Importance of Historical Reconciliation

Historical reconciliation remains an important issue for South Korea-Japan relations, as it affects not only bilateral ties but also regional stability and global norms. The lack of closure on past injustices creates mistrust and resentment that can spill over into other areas of cooperation or exacerbate conflicts. Therefore, efforts to resolve historical grievances through dialogue, apology, compensation, and education could help build a foundation for future cooperation and trust.

Need for Cultural Understanding

Cultural understanding is also essential for improving South Korea-Japan relations, as it promotes empathy, respect, and appreciation for each other’s values and traditions. Cultural exchanges can foster mutual understanding and create opportunities for collaboration in various fields such as tourism, arts, sports, and education. Moreover, cultural diplomacy can help mitigate political tensions and enhance people-to-people connections that transcend national boundaries.


In conclusion, South Korea and Japan face many challenges and opportunities in their bilateral relationship that require a multifaceted approach. Historical reconciliation, political cooperation, economic interdependence, cultural understanding, public opinion, and diplomatic initiatives are all important factors that can shape the future of their relations. While the path to reconciliation may be long and difficult, it is necessary for building a stable and prosperous future for both countries and the region as a whole.

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