While South Korea remains heavily focused on a devastating ferry disaster, that didn’t stop local media and fans from noticing Justin Bieber’s visit to a controversial Japanese shrine — and his failure to mention Korea in his apology statement afterwards.
While in Tokyo this week, Bieber drew criticism for visiting the city’s Yasukuni Shrine, a notorious religious site that has been a constant source of geopolitical disputes between Japan and neighboring Asian countries Korea and China.
Former military leaders from Japan’s imperial army — including 14 class-A war criminals who orchestrated mass atrocities in Asia during the Pacific War — are believed to have their souls enshrined there. Visits to the shrine by right-wing Japanese politicians regularly cause diplomatic tensions, as it is interpreted by China and Korea as a glorification of Japan’s wartime atrocities. Japan colonized Korea for 35 years from 1910 to 1945, a traumatic history that lives on in the minds of contemporary Koreans. During the war, Korean men were forcibly drafted to serve in Japan’s imperial army, while young women from Korea and other Asian countries were coerced into sexual slavery as “comfort women.”
Bieber immediately apologized for his ill-conceived visit to the shrine, but only provoked more criticism in Korea as he neglected to mention the country in his statement on Instagram: “I was mislead to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”
Major Korean media headlines on Wednesday and Thursday noted the pop star’s uninformed visit to to the shrine, but heavily criticized his disregard for Korea.
“Bieber Forgets Korea in Apology for Yasukuni Shrine Visit” ran the headlines of several major media outlets, including Financial News and Hankook Ilbo. Similar complaints were trending among Korean users of social media sites.
“He has lost all his Korean fans,” commented one local Twitter user.
Kim Chom-sook, who goes by the handle paux2011, tweeted: “You can’t help a person who doesn’t think.”
But other users saw the imbroglio as an opportunity to inform. Users AskAKorean and SweetParsoons both tweeted: “Thanks Bieber for helping bring the shrine issue to the attention of the larger public, besides those already interested in northeast Asian geopolitics.”
Meanwhile, Seo Kyung-duk, a professor at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul and a well-known commentator on nationalist issues such as comfort women, offered to help inform Bieber about why his actions have created such a stir.
“I sent an English version of the YouTube video [I made] about the Yasukuni Shrine to him through social media and by e-mail,” Seo tweeted to his 45,000 followers.
He later added that he mailed a CD containing the video and other information in English to Bieber’s agency.