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One of the winners of this year’s Japan Foundation Award said he hopes promoting closer ties between South Korea and Japan will also lead to stronger links between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

“I hope that this win-win situation (improved relations between South Korea and Japan) can also be applied to building Japan’s ties with North Korea, and consequently lead to stability in East Asia,” Chi Myong Kwan, one of South Korea’s top experts on Japan, said Thursday.

Chi, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at Hallym University, received the award for his contribution to improving relations between Japan and South Korea in the fields of history and culture, and for founding South Korea’s largest center for Japanese studies.

The Foreign Ministry’s Japan Foundation promotes international exchanges and confers two kinds of awards on individuals and organizations each year in recognition of outstanding contributions to fostering cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between Japan and other countries.

In an acceptance speech at a Tokyo hotel, the 76-year-old Chi also said he wants to improve what he described as the “ambivalent” relationship between South Korea and Japan.

The Japan Foundation Award was also given to Yoneo Ishii, 71, president of Kanda University of International Studies, for his role as a scholar and researcher in various disciplines that promote “a better understanding of Asia.”

“I believe international exchange is a link between two individuals from different countries, from which friendship and understanding blossoms,” said Ishii, a former diplomat.

Special Prize recipient Willy Vande Walle, one of Belgium’s top Japan scholars, said, “Internationalization does not mean uniformity, but the willingness of (people) to learn, understand and respect cultural diversity.”

Vande Walle, currently chairman of the Department of Oriental and Slavonic Studies at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, was cited for establishing the university as Europe’s leading center of Japanese studies.

The largest museum of Japanese art in the Middle East, Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art at Haifa Museums in Israel, also received the Special Prize for being a pioneer in the introduction of Japanese culture in the region.

“It is a cultural bridge, symbol of the long and ancient ties of Japan and Israel (over the past 40 years),” Nissim Tal, director general of Haifa Museums, said in reference to the museum’s role.

The other Special Prize went to Japan-based Daido Life Foundation for its academic research and its support of the translation and publication of Asian literature into Japanese and vice versa.

“This may be a roundabout way, but I believe that in the long-term, at the grassroots level, it will foster mutual understanding among our regional neighbors,” said Yuzo Kondo, chairman of the foundation.

Japan Foundation Award winners each receive 5 million yen, while the Special Prize recipients receive 2 million yen.

Past recipients include the late film director Akira Kurosawa and the Pusan Korea-Japan Cultural Exchange Association in South Korea.

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