NATIONAL

‘No Japan’ flags in Seoul streets taken down in face of public outrage

By Choi Ji-won
  • Published : Aug 6, 2019 - 15:31
  • Updated : Aug 7, 2019 - 09:39

The Jung-gu district office in Seoul took down its “No Japan” flags from the streets following a firestorm of public criticism on the internet.

The move came after the embattled office on Tuesday had pushed ahead with putting up the placards on streets in the crowded downtown district, ignoring the widespread condemnation and ridicule from South Koreans.


The Jung-gu district office’s controversial “No Japan” placard has been taken down in the central district of Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In announcing a reversal of the decision, Seo Yang-ho, head of the Jung-gu office, said on social media, “We intended to fight together with ordinary citizens against the Japanese economic retaliation, and we are very sorry for causing confusion.”

Apart from the public outcry, a phone call from Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Tuesday appears to have forced Seo to withdraw his controversial plan, according to local media reports.

“We accept the criticism that the ‘No Japan’ banners could bring about unwanted misunderstandings by identifying the Japanese people with their government,” Seo added.

On Monday, the district office said it would set up 1,100 banners reading “No Japan” on lampposts along 22 streets ahead of the Aug. 15 National Liberation Day. Korea was freed from Japanese colonization on Aug. 15, 1945.

The office claimed its move was designed to protest against Japan amid the rising diplomatic and economic tensions between the two countries.

“Jung-gu is in the heart of Seoul and is an area frequently visited by foreign tourists, and (with the banners) we will be able to portray our strong will to fight against Japan’s unreasonableness” Seo had said.


The Jung-gu district office’s controversial “No Japan” placard is placed along with the Korean national flag in the central district of Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Many locals denounced Seo, who hurriedly carried out the move without collecting opinions from merchants doing business in the popular tourist district. Koreans pointed out that it was inappropriate for a governmental agency to directly step into the boycott campaign against Japanese goods. Many worried that such an action taken by the district office would only send wrong signals to anti-Korean activists in Japan and make the situation worse for the Korean government.

The office’s website was flooded with requests to bring down the flags. The website was inaccessible, as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, due to explosive traffic.

An online petition on the presidential office website, requesting to bring down the “No Japan” flags, had collected nearly 15,000 signatures several hours after it was first filed Tuesday morning.

“Such flags in the heart of Seoul will make the Japanese tourists uncomfortable and only increase the number of Japanese supporting their government’s economic retaliation,” said the petitioner, who introduced himself as a supporter of the boycott campaign.

“We are not trying to end our relationship with Japan,” the petitioner said. “The government must bring down the flags from the Seoul streets.”

The placards in question reads “NO, Boycott Japan” in English, and below, “Don’t go. Don’t buy” in Korean.

By Choi Ji-won (jwc@heraldcorp.com)