Watch CBSN Live

Japan vs. North Korea

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from Tokyo.

The recent missile firing by North Korea brought into sharp focus the difficult and dangerous relationship between North Korea and Japan. Here's an interview we did that was just plain surprising to us.

"I wish we could use force to stop them," said this man.

Force? From a country that renounced using military force after World War II and now takes pride in its pacifist policies?

Yet, maybe it's understandable. North Korea has forged ahead with shorter range missiles that can easily hit Japan. In fact, this is a blood feud…and it goes back almost a century.

Korea was one of Japan's first conquests as Japan began building its Imperial Empire. Korea became a Japanese colony in 1910. It was a harsh, unforgiving military rule. During World War II, Koreans were turned into slave laborers and brought to Japan to keep factories humming as Japanese men were sent to the front.

The end of hostilities was just the beginning of troubles for Korea, which finally split in half with the North snuggled firmly under the wing of the then Soviet Union.

The Korean War solidified the boundaries between north and south. But while South Korea emerged as a major economic power, the north not only remained reclusive, but started waging a kind of low-level warfare with Japan.

Sometimes, like this incident five years ago when North Korean and Japanese boats traded fire, not so low level at all. But oddly enough, this is NOT what enraged the Japanese most. That would be the cases of the abducted.

North Korean ships slipped agents ashore who kidnapped Japanese people off the streets, some of them children, and took them to North Korea where they were forced to work at jobs like teaching Japanese to Korean agents.

All Japan, it seemed, stopped to watch and celebrate when five of the abducted were allowed to return for a, quote, visit. Of course, they never went back. And Japanese still believe there may be more than 100 abducted people still captive in North Korea.

So Americans may see the images of North Korea's military and find comfort in the thought that the North would never take on the US. The Japanese don't see it that way. They know this is a very long, very old clash of cultures and history that has not brought much pride to either side, but could being disaster to both.
by Barry Petersen