There is the rather continually annoying subject of the argument between the Koreans and the Japanese over the ownership of a (very) small island named Dokdo, located between Korea and Japan, and the bickering about the naming of the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
Korean people get all riled up about these topics and I'm not just talking about politicians, but EVERYONE and the same is true in Japan. Put a map of the world up in an Elementary school class and all the children will notice that it says Sea of Japan instead of the East sea, even if they can hardly speak a word of English.
They are somehow made to care about an issue that has no influence on their young lives whatsoever.
Foreign teachers and visitors are not even allowed to ignore these issues as upon arrival in Korea at our orientation, the back of our 'Introduction to Korea' books on teaching in Korea were plastered with an article about how Dokdo is rightfully Korea's property and not the Japanese and the historical reasons why.
I am not saying that these matters have no importance at all, but these matters are a political matter between Korean and Japanese governments, and of minor importance. I say this because an invasion of Dokdo by either side might upset, perhaps two part-time residents of, what is essentially a rock in the sea. No one lives there. I have also read articles over the naming of the Sea of Japan/East sea, and this is a matter of name only and not ownership, the words 'Sea of Japan' do not mean that the Japanese own those waters. So what we are left with is the pedantic argument over a name, plain and simple.
Let me first announce the reality of the fact that every person in the world that isn't Japanese or Korean or a politician does not care about any of this. To give an idea of the ridiculousness of everyone in a country becoming upset about this issue, we can make a very valid comparison in my own country's affairs, and that's the Falkland Islands.
Does everyone in England really care that much about the current situation in the Falkland islands?
Maybe they care a bit, but not enough to protest in the street, to tell young school children, and to blanket visitors to the British Isles with propaganda about our rightful ownership. And let's not forget that this is an unfair comparison seeing as some 6000 people live on the Falkland Islands and Dokdo has currently 2 people living on it, but surprise surprise the Korean government want to increase this number (I wonder why?).
In the case of the Sea of Japan/East Sea argument, a name is really of no importance, but in my opinion the Sea of Japan explains a lot more clearly where the sea actually is. The East sea could be in any number of places, so I think the Sea of Japan should stay.
It sounds like I am being really harsh on the Koreans and with a Korean wife, who feels as strongly as any other Korean in this country about these issues, you might wonder why I am conciously designating myself a place in the doghouse. I can, however, provide quite a valid explanation for the behaviour of Korea people.
There is quite a long history between Korea and Japan and it is not necessarily a happy one for Koreans. Korea has been invaded twice by the Japanese, with the most recent still a painful memory that some of the older generation had to live through and suffer.
I was reminded by my wife when I brought up the subject of Korean people being over-patriotic and insecure about many things to do with their country (especially when it has to do with Japan), that I come from a country that was a coloniser itself, much like the Japanese. Of the many crimes committed by my fellow countrymen in colonial history, perhaps the one they did not commit was the forced adoption of their culture. They merely ruled many nations and didn't interfere with their culture that much (some Scottish and Irish people, I know, might take issue with this).
With some exceptions, maybe, the British were not nearly as dictatorial and destructive of another country's culture as the Japanese were in Korea (perhaps this is why Japan failed to colonise as great a number of countries and failed to hold on to them for as long as they wanted to).
The Japanese wanted to completely change the Korean way of life, including their language, and were guilty of some horrendous crimes against the Korean people. Many Japanese politicians have apologised since but much of their behaviour after their comments made Koreans feels their apologies were not sincere. Many Japanese of high government standing have also stirred things up nicely with other insensitive comments, for example (source, wikipedia):
During the talks between Japan and Korea in 1953, Kubota Kanichiro (久保田貫一郞), one of the Japanese representatives, stated that "Japanese colonial rule was beneficial to Korea...Korea would have been colonized by other countries anyway, which would have led to harsher rules than Japanese rules." This remark is considered by Koreans as the first reckless statement by Japanese politicians on colonial rules on Korea.
In 1997, Abe Shinzo (安倍晋三), an ex-Prime Minister of Japan, stated that "Many so-called victims of comfort women system are liars...prostitution was ordinary behavior in Korea because the country had many brothels."
On May 31, 2003, Aso Taro (麻生太郎), another ex-Prime Minister of Japan, stated that "the change to Japanese name (創氏改名) during Japanese colonial rule was what Koreans wanted."
On October 28, 2003, Ishihara Shintaro (石原愼太郞), Governor of Tokyo stated that "The annexation of Korea and Japan was Koreans' choice...the ones to be blamed are the ancestors of Koreans".
In 2007, Shimomura Hakubun (下村博文), Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japanese government, stated that "The comfort women system existed, but I believe it was because Korean parents sold their daughters at that time."
On March 27, 2010, in the centennial of Japan-Korean annexation, Edano Yukio (枝野幸男), Japanese Minister of State for Government Revitalization, stated that "The invasion and colonization of China and Korea was historically inevitable...since China and Korea could not modernize themselves."
The second and penultimate comment refers to 'Comfort Women', these were Korean women, some of whom are still alive, that were repeatedly sexually abused by Japanese soldiers in the second World War. Women from all over Asia as well as Korea were forced into sexual slavery for the amusement of the Japanese military.
These were widely known and highly organised prostitution centres. Most international media sources quote the number of women used in this way by the Japanese to be of the number of about 200,000. Many in the Japanese government refuse to accept this number and also state that the Korean comfort women voluntarily participated (I find this slightly hard to believe).
Koreans are still demanding an official apology from the Japanese government and sufficient compensation for those women who are still alive. Korea currently have a statue in the image of one such women outside the Japanese embassy and faced towards it, in Seoul, much to the annoyance of the Japanese. If the 'Comfort Women' system is indeed true, and it is believed by almost every nation except for Japan, then this behaviour during World War II should be apologised for and compensation given, of that there can be no doubt.
With my wife's perspective on the situation, and the history between the two countries, I could easily understand Korea's stubborness with any issues relating to having to cede ground to the Japanese. The Japanese, not so long ago, tried to obliterate their national identity, and they don't appear to be that sorry about it. At some point, however, someone is going to have to take the moral high ground and make relations between the two nations a bit more pleasant.
Stubborness exists on both sides, perhaps more righteously on the Korean side, but Korea could still benefit at looking at situations a little more dispassionately and logically. There is always constant bickering going on between the two countries, and to foreign eyes it all looks quite petty and pathetic.
When it comes to Dokdo, Japan could just give it up to Korea to show some humility and acknowledge past mistakes, or even better surely they can just jointly own the island (although duel-ownership of land world-wide never appears to make people happy).
In the case of the Sea of Japan/East Sea argument, Korea has a logically weak position and should just concede that in name only the sea is better named 'The Sea of Japan'. It is easier for lay-people to recognise the location of the sea under this name and it is already the most widely used term across all nations. Korea have to suck up their insecurity and deal with it.
On top of all of the feuding over territory, arguments over history, and names of places, there are other even sillier things that go on and regularly make the news over here in Korea. Things like a Japanese boycott on flying with Korean Air, regular trade disagreements, the Japanese making Kimchi the wrong way and claiming that they created it, general micky-taking and racism on both sides, and some insensitive television making.
An incident that brought quite a bit of attention was an exhibition kick boxing match between a Korean woman mixed martial arts champion Lim Soo Jung and three Japanese entertainers, who were all men. The men were, however, all capable kick boxing practictioners and wore protective clothing while the Korean women didn't, the result can be viewed below (fast forward to about 2.45 and agian at 4.20 for some highlights and make up your own mind):