Inhae reads the news: June 2020

Welcome to a new study sessions of Japanese editorials. This month’s topics are:

  • How Japanese newspapers report on the George Floyd protests
  • The death of Shigeru Yokota and the fight for the Japanese abductees in North Korea
  • North Korea’s cutting off communication with South Korea.

Starting with News 2, I have decided to try a new format for the vocabulary tables.

Note: if you are reading this post in the WordPress reader, custom CSS might not work and the vocabulary tables might be difficult to read.

Black Lives Matter

I usually focus on national news, but I also wanted to know how Japanese newspapers talk about the George Floyd protests. Sankei, Mainichi and Tokyo have devoted their editorial to the protests on June 3rd, and Yomiuri and Asahi on the 4th.

Sankei: 米黒人暴行死 融和に徹し暴力を許すな
Mainichi: 米の黒人死亡抗議デモ 大統領が分断あおる異常
Tokyo: 荒れる米国 トランプ氏の責任重い
Asahi: 米の抗議運動 不公正の根源、直視を
Yomiuri: 米国の騒乱 トランプ氏はまず融和を語れ

Useful vocabulary

圧迫あっぱくpressure, oppression, compression (圧迫死)
暴行ぼうこうviolence, attack, assault (暴行死)
人種差別じんしゅさべつracial discrimination
抗議デモこうぎでもa protest
暴走ぼうそうrun wild, run out of control
暴動ぼうどうriot, disturbance, uprising
兵士へいしsoldier, private
動員どういんmobilisation (set an army in motion)
警戒けいかいtaking precaution, cautiousness
振りかざるふりかざるraise, brandish (ideal, cause, the law)

Most newspapers say that while Trump should call for peace, he keeps on making statements that make the situation worse. The expressions 対立をあおる or 分断をあおる are commonly used to describe Trump.

Mainichi says that Trump’s statements are so shocking that you can hardly believe your ears (トランプ米大統領からは耳を疑うことばが相次ぐ) and Sankei that Trump is just adding fuel to the fire (トランプ大統領の発言も火に油を注いだ).

Yomiuri asks:


To which extent is president Trump understanding the subtlety of racial issues?

Sankei, Tokyo and Mainichi all mention the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” which is translated in Japanese by 略奪が始まれば銃撃も始まる.

Mainichi particularly insists on Trump’s failure to calm the protest and underlines that he only deepens the division of society. The article ends on a warning that this division weakens democracy.

Tokyo criticises Trump in a similar way and cites Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as an example of how a leader should response to the violence.

All newspapers mention that the rate of death due to the coronavirus is disproportionately high among ethnic minorities. Yomiuri also mentions the discriminatory treatment of African Americans by the police (警官は黒人を容疑者とみなしがちだ) and Asahi mentions the disproportionately high rate of imprisonment among African Americans (黒人の投獄率は白人の5倍に及ぶ).

Not surprisingly, Sankei has a more conservative position. The article focuses more on the violence that has crept in the peaceful protests and ends its article by citing Trump blaming left-wing extremists. It also quotes Attorney General William Barr saying 国内テロにはしかるべく対処する, giving the impression that the newspaper is siding with the Trump government.

One thing that I found very strange is that none of the editorials actually mentioned the name of George Floyd, even though they all talk about him to explain why the protests started. They only talk about the death of a “黒人男性” killed by a “白人警官”. Similarly, when citing Terrence Floyd, he is introduced as “死亡した被害男性の弟” by Asahi, which is okay because it clearly identifies who he is, but Yomiuri says “黒人男性の弟”…?

When Tokyo explains the origin of the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Miami police Chief Walter Headley also becomes a nameless “白人警察幹部”.

Maybe newspapers have simplified for their readers because this is an editorial? Do they think that writing the names of the persons they talk about will be overwhelming for them? But on the other hand, political personalities like Bottoms and Barr were named, so why not even mention George Floyd’s name? We are talking about the biggest newspapers of the country! It is so weird…

Week 2: Shigeru Yokota

Shigeru Yokota died on the 5th of June, at the age of 87. He was the father of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea in 1977, at the age of 13. Shigeru Yokota has fought for the return of his daughter and other Japanese abductees, pressing the government to take action and making speeches with his wife Sakie across the country to raise awareness around this issue.

Only 17 Japanese are officially recognised as being abducted by North Korea, but there might be more. Among the 17 abductees recognised by the government, 5 have returned to Japan in 2002. North Korea has announced the death of 8 other abductees, including Megumi, and 4 are still detained in North Korea. However, the documents proving Megumi’s death were insufficient and the remains that North Korea sent to Japan were not genuine.

Yomiuri: 北朝鮮拉致問題 交渉重ね首脳会談を模索せよ
Sankei: 横田滋さん死去 拉致への怒りを結集せよ 安倍首相は膠着破る行動を
Mainichi: 横田滋さん死去 43年間の長すぎる「闘い」
Asahi: 横田滋さん死去 悲劇を繰り返させまい
Tokyo: 横田滋さん死去 原点に戻り対話解決を

Useful vocabulary

The abductions by North Korea are refered to as 拉致問題 and the abductees are 拉致被害者.
The term 拉致 is more widely used to refer to abductees, but I also saw the expression 拉致誘拐 to talk about abductions by North Korea.
This is the word commonly used to talk about rescuing the abductees. The Yokotas activities for their rescue are 救出活動 or 拉致被害者救出運動.
国家犯罪こっかはんざいa state crime
Abductions by North Korea are refered to as 国家犯罪
The term for diplomatic relations is 国交 (こっこう).
The economic sanctions imposed to North Korea by Japan are 経済制裁. They can either be strengthened 強化 (きょうか) or relaxed 緩和 (かんわ).
奪還だっかんrescue (a prisoner of war, a hostage…)
救出 and 帰国 (きこく) are more commonly used to talk about the return of the abductees, but I also saw the term 奪還.
戦いたたかいfight, battle
When talking about the Yokotas’ battle for the return of the abductees, newspapers use 戦い, also written 闘い.
遺骨いこつthe remains
North Korea sent the remains 遺骨 of Megumi to Japan.
Shigeru Yokota (横田 滋)
Shigeru Yokota has founded the 北朝鮮による拉致被害者家族連絡会(きたちょうせんによるらちひがいしゃかぞくれんらくかい), also named 家族会 (かぞくかい) in 1997.

The death of Shigeru Yokota is a reminder that both abductees and their families are aging and that their return should be a priority. Yomiuri opens its editorial with these words:


The abductees taken by North Korea as well as their families are aging. Rescuing them must be a priority.

And Sankei ends by quoting Sakie Yokota saying, in a “letter to Megumi”:

私たちに、残された時間は本当にわずかです (…) 皆さまには、拉致の残酷な現実をもっと、直視していただきたいのです.

We only have but little time left. I wish that everyone would face the cruel reality of the abductions more boldly.

All newspapers underline the urgency of the problem and call the government for action.

Yomiuri says that the government’s action for the return of the abductees was slow (the article says: 政府の動きは鈍かった), and it is thanks to Shigeru Yokota’s work that 5 abductees were able to return to Japan in 2002:


It was the couple’s activities that, by pushing the country, allowed the return of 5 abductees to be made a concrete reality during the Japan-North Korea summit meeting of 2002.

For Tokyo, this change of attitude from North Korea was motivated by economic reasons:


At the time, North Korea had sunk into economic difficulties and was planning on overcoming these hard times by receiving Japan’s [economical] support.

Mainichi says that the abductions intensified in the 70s, when relations between North and South Korea were worsening. Japanese were abducted among other reasons to teach Japanese. However, Mainichi says, the issue did not attract media’s interest at the time:


But evidence was sparse and the media did not show a strong interest.

While Abe has shown a strong resolution to solve the issue, progress has barely been made, mainly due to the incoherent and untrustworthy attitude of North Korea. As Asahi points out, since the return of 5 abductees in 2002:


North Korea kept providing extremely inaccurate information concerning the abductions.

Tokyo blames the Japan government’s lack of flexibility when negotiating with North Korea:


The government also has fought for a long time to solve the issue, but the lack of flexibility in its response is noticeable.


But with the abduction issue and by strengthening the economic sanctions, the government has blocked the road to achieving normal diplomatic relations through negotiations [with North Korea].

And Asahi blames the government’s lack of consistency:


But Abe government too hasn’t taken a firm position on this issue. After advocating for the “utmost pressure”, it changed its course and asked for a dialogue without condition when the United States and North Korea began a diplomatic rapprochement. We will not get North Korea to negotiate with this kind of attitude.

Tokyo also mentions that in 2018, whereas North Korea’s relationship with the United States, South Korea and China had made some progress, Japan was excluded. It quotes Shigeru Yokota himself.


During his lifetime, mister Shigeru Yokota has insisted on choosing the path of dialog: “We must relax the sanctions in order to solve the issue. If we keep harassing one another, it won’t end.”

I am surprised to see that no newspaper mentions a collaboration with South Korea as a possible option. More than 3800 South Koreans have been abducted by the North (mostly in the late 70s, like Megumi), and working together with South Korea could be a way for Abe to reach Kim Jong-un. (In 2018, Moon Jae-in had already expressed his intention to raise the problem of Japanese abductees during the inter-Korean summit of April.)

On the contrary, Asahi ends its article with:


A step towards the truth of the abductions can only be expected between Japan and North Korea.

I guess that Korea-Japan relationships are just too bad at the moment.

News 3: North Korea

Speaking of Korea, the third news of this month will also be an international news. I was tempted to study either the end of the unusual session of the Diet for the coronavirus or the suspension of the deployment of the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system, but I am also always interested in knowing how Japanese newspapers report on South Korea.

On June 17th, Pyeongyang has literally blown up the building that housed the liaison office with the South. Furthermore, the North has threatened to send troops into the DMZ (demilitarised zone).

North Korean defectors and activists have been sending anti-government leaflets across the border, which triggered Pyeongyang’s anger and the spectacular and symbolic demolition of the liaison office building. Built in 2018 after the historical meeting between North and South, this building was the symbol of the detente and communication between the two countries.

On June 18th, only Sankei and Mainichi had reported about it in their editorials. Asahi wrote an editorial about it on the 19th.

Sankei: 連絡事務所爆破 北朝鮮にアメを与えるな
Mainichi: 南北連絡事務所の爆破 挑発で苦境は打開できぬ
Asahi: 北朝鮮の暴挙 孤立無援にもどるのか

Useful vocabulary

南北融和なんぼくゆうわSouth-North rapprochement.
This term is used to talk about the rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul in 2018. The joint liaison office is often described as the symbol of this rapprochement: 南北融和の象徴 (しょうちょう)
Kaesong is a city of North Korea, near the border with the South. The joint liaison office was situated in Kaesong.
Inter-Korean liaison office (or joint liaison office).
The office was established in 2018 as part of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. It provided a direct communication channel between North and South.
爆破ばくはBlasting, blowing up, explosion.
This is the word unanimously used to describe the blowing up of the building.
The Korean Peninsula.
This is the word used to talk about the whole Korea. South Korea used to be called 南朝鮮 (みなみちょうせん) in Japan, but it changed in 1965 to the present 大韓民国 (だいかんみんこく), shortened 韓国 (かんこく). Wikipedia.
Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Maybe I am mistaken, but I feel that English newspapers tend to just call Kim Jong-un “North Korean leader” while most articles in Japanese give his official title.
通信線つうしんせんline of communication
遮断しゃだんcut off.
This is the verb used to say that the lines of communication between North and South have been cut off.
Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.
Created by agreement in 1953, the DMZ runs through the peninsula, between North and South. In the DMZ, there is a meeting point called Joint Security Area (also called Panmunjom 板門店 ).
軍備ぐんびMilitary preparations.
North Korea has intensified its military preparations: 軍備強化 (ぐんびきょうか) near the DMZ.
脱北者 だっぽくしゃNorth Korean defectors.
The North Korean refugees who sent the leaflets are described as 脱北者団体 (だんたい), but I don’t know if the meaning here is just a “group” of refugees, or if it refers to an organisation.
Summit conference.
In our articles, the 首脳会談 refers to the 2018 inter-Korean summit which led to the Panmunjom Declaration 板門店宣言 (パンムンジョムせんげん) and the establishment of the joint liaison office.
We talk here about economic sanctions imposed by the UN 国連制裁 (こくれんせいさい). Sanctions can be lifted 解除 (かいじょ) or relaxed 緩和 (かんわ).
A word used to talk about Pyongyang’s provocative conduct 挑発行為 (ちょうはつこうい) or military provocations 軍事挑発 (ぐんじちょうはつ).
特使とくしSpecial envoy.
Seoul has proposed to dispatch a special envoy to Pyongyang but the offer has been rejected.
毅然としたきぜんresolute (attitude).
Sankei is using this word to call for a resolute attitude towards North Korea 毅然とした態度 (たいど).
在韓米軍ざいかんべいぐんUnited States Forces Korea (USFK).

First on all, it is very interesting to note that most of the articles I read in English about this topic do not mention that stopping the anti-Pyeongyang leaflets sent across the border was part of the 2018 agreement reached by the two countries (point 2-1). Usually, articles will mention that the North has given the leaflets as the official reason for their threats, but they will also note that most experts see it as a pretext to put pressure on Seoul and obtain economic concessions.

Mainichi, however, mentions that the North is seeing these leaflets as problematic because:


During the summit meeting of 2018, [the two leaders] had reached an agreement on stopping the scattering of leaflets. However, the leaflets continued [to be sent to North Korea] after the meeting. Pyeongyang’s real motive might be its dissatisfaction towards Moon administration.

The article also mentions that blowing up the liaison office is a way to attack Moon Jae-in directly:


It looks like [Kim Jong-un]’s aim was to strike a psychological blow on Moon government which is strongly associated with the successful dialogue with the North.

As for Sankei, it uses an interesting expression when talking about the leaflets. Rather than talking about the South’s “inability” to prevent defectors to send leaflets, it uses the word 許した, as if the government allowed them. But of course, they also mention that the North’s response was disproportionate:


[The destruction of the liaison office] was presented as reprisal towards South Korea who tolerated North Korean refugees’ sending of leaflets criticising Kim Jong-un. However, it is an overly simplistic and excessive response.

I was expecting it coming from Sankei, but it also criticises Moon Jae-in. Other international newspapers I have read would not usually mention it, or if they do, say that North Korea is criticising Moon Jae-in’s promises, not criticising him directly.


First of all, president Moon Jae-in must reflect on his hasty and unprepared diplomatic exchange with the North that led him to promise [economic] assistance that was impossible [to provide] under UN sanctions.

This is interesting to read because this passage almost gives the impression that, in order to criticise Moon Jae-in, it is worth briefly siding with the North.

Asahi is the newspaper who most completely sides with Seoul. The Asahi editorial does not even mention the leaflets, but only states:


Ruthlessly blowing up a building complex that was the symbol of the friendship [between the two countries] and claim that it is the other’s fault? This attitude only managed to produce one thing: showing to the world Pyeongyang’s own foolishness.

Asahi also says that the meeting North Korea-United States was made possible by Seoul:


It is because there had been an inter-Korean meeting in the first place that the meeting with the United States, that North Korea was so anxious to have, was made possible at all. North Korea is now hinting at military actions towards the South, as if it had forgotten this too.

It is also interesting to note that Mainichi refers to Kim Jeong-un as 金氏 and Sankei as 正恩氏, which I find strange to be honest.

That’s it for June! I hope you all have a nice month of July, see you on the 25th!