Since modernity, the Korean peninsula has, from its geopolitical positioning, become a focus point of North-East Asian international politics. Even today, as a hotspot which occupies an important position for the peace and security of not just North-East Asia but for the world, the Korean peninsula continues to receive the world’s attention.
Following the Second World War, Korea has traversed a history chequered with a mixture of the honour and shame that came from its independence from colonisation and the division of its people. Furthermore, the commencement of the Cold War assisted and intensified this division and allowed for the elongated suzerainty of a pro-American military totalitarianism. One could say that it has traversed a path in stark contrast to that of Japan, which came to enjoy a period of exponential economic growth through the post-war reforms implemented by the American army. However, the Korean people bore this hardship with resolve and, in a powerful fight for democracy, raising the concepts of communal prosperity with their regional neighbours and a new form of state based on reconciliation and peace, they have accomplished remarkable developments. This transmission of political, economic and cultural power has reached beyond the limits of Korea, its huge impact extending to both North and South Korea, and to North-East Asia as well.
In this context, recent times have become that bit more versatile, with Japanese-Korean relations having also risen above their previous animosities and continuously increasing in rigour. Yet contrary to this, issues that both countries should overcome, such as the problems of historical recognition, textbooks, the Yasukuni Shrine and Takeshima (Dokdo), come to the surface time and again. However the rigorous development of Korean-Japanese relations is vital for both countries and, in future prospects for North-East Asian regional cooperation and community, Japanese-Korean relations further reminds us of this importance. It is precisely because of this situation that versatile effort and know-how are desired from both countries for a sincere development in relations, and why the continuous expansion of Japanese-Korean cultural and intellectual exchange and mutual understanding is required.
Ritsumeikan University has always aimed to be a holistic university which can operate internationally in a three point territory of education, research and social compromise based on the educational ideal of “Peace and Democracy”. When it comes to teaching and research relating to North and South Korea it has kept one step ahead of other universities, and together with enriching education relating to the peninsula such as special lectures on the Korean language, contemporary Korea and introductory Korean studies, researchers with an interest in North and South Korea also founded the “Contemporary Korea Research Group”, treading the first step in research of contemporary Korea. Following this, having received a science support stimulus fund from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Science, as well as promoting large scale collaborative research between energetic Korean researchers in studies such as “Changes in Contemporary Korean Legal-Political Structures”, “Empirical Research of Security Guarantees and System of Legal Stability in Contemporary Korea”, and “Socio-Legalistic Research of Democratisation and Political-Legal Structures in Contemporary Korea”, it also established the “Meeting of North-East Asian Specialists” following the historic North South Mutual Declaration in 2000, and has continued to undertake research into contemporary Korea within the context of its association with the North-East Asia region.
With this experience, in June, 2005 with the acknowledgment of the importance and urgency of research into the contemporary North-South Korean peninsula as well as of Japanese-Korean relations research, the “ Ritsumeikan Center for Korea Studies “came to be established as a centre for holistic academic research of contemporary Korea, as a centre for educational exchange relating to North and South Korea, and as a regionally accessible centre for the understanding of contemporary Korea. In 2009, the centre’s activities were selected as a pertinent research area as part of the Ritsumeikan University Global Innovation Research Body. Since 2011, based on its second period operations plan, it has promoted medium to long term research in the five fields of 1) Research into “Plans for a Twenty-First Century North-East Asia Era”, 2) Research into the law and politics of contemporary Korea, 3) Research into the media and culture of contemporary Korea, 4) Research into Japanese-Korean historical consciousness and the history of Japanese-Korean relations and 5) Research into “Zainichi” Koreans (Koreans resident in Japan). We are now proactively undertaking the responsibility of research into these areas.
As for the establishment of the centre, we express our heartfelt gratitude for the valuable support and words of encouragement we have received not just from researchers from Ristumeikan and other institutions, but from all the researchers from both Korea and other countries, from all those in Japan and from Zainichi Koreans. In response to their generosity and expectations we at the Ritsumeikan Center for Korea Studies intend to employ our utmost efforts for the realization of sincere mutual understanding, cooperation and peace in Japan, the Korean peninsula and North-East Asia by accumulating the wisdom of any and all as an accessible centre, together with encouraging cutting edge research. We rely entirely on your future encouragement and support.