Tensions resurface with BTS scandal


Risa Mori, In-Depth Editor

As I open a message from my Japanese school friends, I see a petition titled: “Get BTS out of Japan” in Japanese — with it, an image of Jimin, a member of the Korean boy group BTS, wearing a shirt depicting the atomic bombing of Nagasaki during World War II. BTS, a highly regarded group that spoke at the United Nations Assembly this year, is a role model to many, including myself. Regardless of their reputation, this controversy prompted me to feel irritated at Jimin, whose insensitive shirt disrespected atomic bomb victims and ignored the long-standing tension between Korea and Japan.

The photo of Jimin raised an uproar in Japan, despite the group’s huge fanbase there, because the shirt portrayed images of atomic explosions with words celebrating the liberation of Korea. As a person of Japanese heritage, I felt as if Jimin’s shirt completely dismissed the fact that the atomic bomb marks a tragic point in history. Its impact extends to the 80,000 people who were killed and tens of thousands more who died later of radiation exposure, not to mention many more who were injured or lost their homes as a result. Nevertheless, with the atrocities that Japan inflicted on Korea, its people abused, cultural symbols destroyed and language wiped out, it is understandable why some Koreans maintain a historical hatred against Japan.

Still, I believed that Korean-Japanese relations had improved since World War II, and this is true to an extent. However, this shirt controversy proved to me that some conflicts were still very much present. Many Japanese fans accused Jimin of promoting anti-Japanese sentiment, while Koreans defended their country, accusing the Japanese of being overly sensitive; the incident divided fans online. Meanwhile, I battled with my contending feelings: on one hand, I wanted to to continue to support BTS, but on the other, I couldn’t merely dismiss Jimin’s offensive shirt.

The following week, as I waited in line to watch BTS’s recently released documentary movie, “Burn the Stage,” I remained torn. My feelings changed, however, while watching the film. It reminded me of why I loved the group in the first place: the members were unafraid to criticize South Korea’s myopic education system, materialism and the media, and demonstrated respect to each country they performed in. One scene, in particular, portrayed the members practicing Japanese phrases before a concert in Japan so that they could better connect with their fans. I realized that, at its core, BTS exists to unite fans regardless of their origins or nationality, so why should fans remain divided because of Jimin’s mistake? As long as Jimin has learned from this controversy, there is no need to direct unnecessary hatred toward him.

However, the incident reminds us that the past still continues to have an effect on present-day conflicts. While Jimin was at fault for unintentionally making a politically offensive statement with the shirt, BTS should not be regarded any less than it was before this incident, for the group’s mission, to create music for the happiness of others, remains the same. Instead, people must look at the issue at hand: the still-existing tension between Korea and Japan. Regardless of their pasts, the two countries should push aside their differences to forgive, but not forget history. When we unite with music, we can understand and love, not hate, for those are the messages BTS has been heralding in its songs all along.