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Why Japan PM Kishida welcomed S. Korea President Yoon to Tokyo with ‘omurice diplomacy’

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
via Reuters

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    On Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol landed in Tokyo for the countries’ first bilateral meeting in 12 years.

    While the Asian countries are seeking to mend diplomatic relations, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is taking an extra step to welcome Yoon, the first South Korean president to visit Japan since 2019. 

    On Thursday, the two leaders were scheduled for a summit meeting and a joint news conference before they shared a formal dinner of sukiyaki (beef hotpot) in Ginza.

    According to the Yomiuri newspaper, Kishida also planned to take Yoon to the popular 128-year-old restaurant Rengatei for omurice, a Japanese classic. 

    As an avid cook and foodie, Yoon reportedly made the request for omurice, which ​​is popular in both Japan and South Korea and is often made at home.

    Omurice is a Western-style dish consisting of a slightly underdone omelet made with fried rice and scrambled eggs. 

    According to Motoo Kawabata, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University who specializes in the global strategy of Japanese restaurants, the omurice in Japan has a fluffy, almond-shaped image of eggs that blanket the ketchup-fried rice, while the South Korean version typically has a thinner and firmer layer of eggs.

    “Yoon may have been impressed with the softness of Japanese-style omurice,” Kawabata told Reuters, adding that the meal could be “an effort to foster a laid-back mood through a casual dish that both Japanese and Koreans consider comfort food.”

    Yoon reportedly had “unforgettable” memories of the dish when he often visited Tokyo in 1996 while his father taught at Hitotsubashi University. 

    Yoon reportedly recalled his earliest impression of Japan as being a clean country with honest people, according to the Yomiuri newspaper.

    “I expect that normalizing bilateral relations will not only serve the interests of both countries, but also will send a very positive sign to the international community,” Yoon said.

    After his two-day visit, Yoon said he looks forward to “frequent dialogues” with Kishida “as often as is necessary, without any restrictions by formalities and time,” according to The Straits Times. 

    Japan and South Korea’s diplomatic relations were soured over wartime forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. 

    Last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin announced that the government will compensate the World War II forced labor victims using an existing domestic fund rather than seeking reparations from Japan.

    Yoon noted that the move, which prompted protests from victims and hundreds of supporters, is in the common interest of both countries. However, protesters called Yoon’s diplomacy “humiliating” and demanded the deal be withdrawn.

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