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Japanese, South Koreans Optimistic Over Relationship - 2002-07-06

Last month's World Cup football championship has left a lingering benefit for co-hosts Japan and South Korea. An opinion poll released Saturday shows a record number of people in both countries feel that their relationship is heading in a good direction.

A record 79 percent of both Japanese and South Koreans think that ties between the two countries are getting better. In a similar survey last November, only 46 percent of South Koreans and 64 percent of Japanese felt that way.

This latest poll, conducted jointly by the Asahi newspaper in Japan and the Dong-a Ilbo daily in South Korea, reflects the afterglow of the World Cup. The two countries were co-hosts of the event and both countries' teams did well in the tournament, which ended June 30.

The survey also finds that the majority of Japanese came around to the idea of co-hosting the Cup. Seventy-four percent of Japanese liked sharing the honor with neighboring South Korea, up from 37 percent who felt that way in 1996. South Koreans were less enthusiastic with 42 percent saying co-hosting was a good idea, but that was up from a mere 10 percent six years ago.

Japan and South Korea had competed fiercely to host the event. That resulted in a surprise decision by international football's governing body in 1996 to have the two countries serve as co-hosts.

Japanese-Korean relations have been rocky for more than a century. Japan was colonial master of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and many South Koreans remain bitter about that period of subjugation.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul were irritated over the past year-and-a-half by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's two visits to a Shinto shrine where Japanese soldiers are honored, including some convicted of war crimes after World War II.