Japan’s island-shaped curry inflames tensions with Korean neighbours

Restaurant plants Japanese flag in seafood dish moulded in shape of islands that are also claimed by South Korea

A simple bowl of curry is at the centre of the latest row in a long-running territorial dispute between Japan and the Koreas.

Media in North and South Korea reacted angrily after an online media report about a seafood curry sold in Japan that includes mounds of rice shaped to resemble the Takeshima islands, which Koreans refer to as Dokdo.

The rocky islets, which lie roughly equidistant between the two countries in the Japan Sea – or the East Sea according to Koreans – are administered by South Korea, but Japan insists they are an integral part of its territory.

The row over the islands’ sovereignty has clouded bilateral ties in recent years, along with disputes over Japan’s wartime use of Korean sex slaves and forced labour.

The dish features a Japanese flag planted in one of the mounds of rice, which are surrounded by a “sea” of curry sauce.

North Korea’s state-controlled Uriminzokkiri website said the dish betrayed Japanese ambitions to “capture” the islands, where a small police detachment lives alongside its sole resident, Kim Shin-yeol, who lived there with her husband, Kim Sung-do, until his death in 2018.

The dish at the centre of the controversy is served at a restaurant on the island of Okinoshima in Shimane, the Japanese prefecture closest to the disputed territory, and comes with side orders of pickles and soup.

South Korean media have also reported on the dish, with a university professor telling the Dong-A-Ilbo newspaper that Japan had used a “typical cheap trick” to promote its claims to the islands.

It is not the first time that food has reignited the dispute. In 2017, Japanese officials protested after shrimp caught in waters off Dokdo appeared on the menu at a state banquet during Donald Trump’s state visit to South Korea.

The islands even strained ties in the run-up to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, after the South Korean government protested against their inclusion in a map on the website of the Games’ organising committee.

The islands – also known as the Liancourt Rocks after a French whaling ship that was almost wrecked there in 1849 – lie 225km (140 miles) off the east coast of South Korea.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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