The victim mentality drilled into Korean students during their history lessons is such that any perceived slant against the nation, no matter how slight, can turn into a serious issue that has the whole country boiling with rage. Anger is further magnified should the insult come from Korea’s one-time colonial masters, the Japanese – witness the case of the waters east of the Korean mainland, generally known across the world as the “Sea of Japan”. Koreans insist that this name is a symbol of Japan’s imperial past, and youth hostel wall-maps around the world have had the name crossed out by gimchi-chomping Korean travellers and replaced with “East Sea”. Korean diplomats raised enough of a stink to take the issue to the United Nations, which tentatively sided with the Japanese, but left the topic open for further discussion. Although both terms have been used for centuries, neither is strictly correct – Korea controls a large portion of the waters, yet the sea lies plainly to Japan’s west – so while this storm in a teacup continues to rage on, feel free to send your own suggestions of compromise to the UN: “Sea of Peaceful Diplomatic Negotiations”, perhaps?
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