In 2013 when he was running for governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe promised the Korean-American community in Northern Virginia that, in the future, he would make sure that the state’s textbooks would stress that the Sea of Japan, a body of water between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, is also known as the East Sea. To the extent that there’s a sizeable Korean-American community in that part of the state (the namesake association says there are 100,000 such people in the area, which is crucial get-out-the-vote territory for Virginia Democrats), it’s understandable that McAuliffe would want to please them in some way.
So what’s the problem? The Japanese government, one of the state’s largest trade partners, hasn’t taken very kindly to the idea. As the Washington Post tells it, the pledge to tweak the textbook’s nomenclature has sufficiently angered Tokyo that advisors for the newly inaugurated McAuliffe have been trying, behind the scenes, to kill the legislation backing up McAuliffe’s promise.
What’s been the response from Republicans? Naturally enough, they’re trying to push the bill through to the governor’s desk for perhaps one of the more awkward bill signings in recent Virginia history. A version of the bill has passed the state senate.
“It’s time for them to learn you can’t please everybody all the time,” state GOP Del. Peter F. Farrell told the Post. “It’s time to do the job.”
The history of relations between Japanese and Koreans is violent and bitter, culminating in the colonization of the Korean Peninsula by Japanese Imperical forces throughout the early part of the 20th century. And, in case you’re wondering, this isn’t the only recent dust-up between the two ethnic groups in the United States over how history is remembered and portrayed—back in 2012, The New York Times reported that Japanese officials tried to deep-six a memorial to “comfort women” (the euphemism used for Korean women who were enslaved and forced to provide sexual favors to Japanese soldiers during World War II) in New Jersey.
The Times reported that, as part of their lobbying efforts to take down that memorial, the Japanese government “said that their formal apologies, expressions of remorse and admissions of responsibility regarding the treatment of comfort women are sufficient, including an offer to set up a $1 billion fund for victims.” But it was to no avail.
Who has the edge in a similar lobbying battle in Virginia? The Post puts the power of the two countries and ethnic groups in Virginia in different ways. While about 250 Japanese companies invest in the state and employ about 13,000 Virginians, outdoing Korean business by a country mile, the number of residents of Korean descent dwarf those of Japanese descent. It’s still unclear which side will win out in this variant of textbook wars.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.