Photo/Illutration A woman walks in Tokyo’s Ginza district early this month holding a mini handheld fan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

This summer, I started noticing people walking around with mini handheld fans, which have become trending items this year in Japan.

As I understand it, their breakout happened earlier in South Korea. Summers must be getting increasingly hot in both countries.

The Japanese edition of "Kim Ji-young, Born 1982," a feminist novel published in 2016 by South Korean author Cho Nam-joo, has also become--well, hot--since it started selling briskly late last year.

It quietly exposes South Korean society's systematic sidelining of women in ways that are almost identical in Japan. Reading this book makes me, as a man, cringe with guilt and misgivings.

Male university students call the shots on extracurricular activities. Women are discriminated against in employment, and are paid lower salaries than their male colleagues.

The novel's protagonist is a woman. When her husband tells her they should start a family, she says that having a child may cause her to lose her health, colleagues and even her future. And she snaps: "What are you going to lose?"

Many of South Korea's social problems are Japan's as well, or so I am made to think, not infrequently.

The Asahi Shimbun recently reported on South Korean cases of "hikikomori" (withdrawal from society) and a Japanese support organization based in suburban Seoul.

South Korea's birthrate is dropping faster than in Japan, and depopulation in the provinces is a grave problem.

As next-door neighbors, South Koreans and Japanese should normally be able to help one another by sharing their problems and swapping possible solutions. But the reality today is that their respective governments are at odds, instilling ugly mutual feelings in citizens and deepening their rift.

And it is simply not "natural" when South Koreans and Japanese hesitate to visit each other's country.

A meeting of South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers is expected to take place before the end of this month.

A fresh breeze is what Seoul and Tokyo desperately need to blow away the stagnant air that is choking their relationship. I wish I could send them mini handheld fans.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.