South Korean attitudes toward Japan
have worsened dramatically, annual survey finds

October 19, 2020

By Yasushi Kudo | President, The Genron NPO

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South Korean impressions of Japan, and their recognition of bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo have comprehensively and rapidly deteriorated during the past year, according to the results of the latest joint opinion survey conducted by The Genron NPO and South Korea's East Asia Institute (EAI) think tank.

While perceptions of South Korea by Japanese respondents remain severe, no substantial change has been observed, and even more, the deterioration of South Korean impressions of Japan is singularly noticeable. The worsening of both nationals' impressions of each other is having serious repercussions on actual exchanges between the two countries and the understanding of Japan by South Koreans.

The opinion poll in Japan was conducted between September 12 and October 4 nationwide using the in-home self-administered questionnaire method, resulting in a collection of 1,000 valid responses. In South Korea, the face-to-face interview method was used to collect 1,008 valid responses between September 11 and September 25.

In what follows, based on the poll's findings, I hope to shed light on what lies behind the rapid worsening of South Korean impressions of Japan and the likelihood of improving the deplorable situation.


Complete and rapid deterioration of South Korean perceptions of Japan

In retrospect, South Korean impressions of Japan have improved for the fourth consecutive year since 2015 while Japanese impressions of South Korea have continued to be unfavorable with little sign of improvement. However, this make-up of public opinion in Japan and South Korea has totally collapsed during the past year. To my astonishment, as many as 71.6 percent of South Korean respondents said they had either a "bad" or "relatively bad" impression of Japan, up by a large 21.5 percentage points from the previous survey. Eventually, the percentage of those who had a "good" or "relatively good" impression of Japan dipped from 31.7 percent to a meager 12.3 percent in the same comparison, down by a large 19.4 percentage points. Furthermore, nearly 90 percent (88.4 percent) of South Korean respondents perceived the current state of Japan-South Korean relations as being either "relatively bad" or "extremely bad," as compared to 66.1 percent in the previous poll.

This figure was the worst in the past eight years since The Genron NPO commenced the annual joint opinion poll with the South Korean think tank, meaning almost all South Korean nationals view the current state of bilateral relations as being bad. In particular, the percentage of those who said the bilateral relationship was "extremely bad" almost tripled from 16.8 percent last year to 47.1 percent this year.

Meanwhile, 54.7 percent of Japanese respondents consider the present state of Japan-South Korea relations either "relatively bad" or "extremely bad" - an improvement from 63.5 percent last year, resulting in a marked change for the worse among South Koreans.

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