Tsushima, halfway between Japan and South Korea, is about as close as you can get to the frontline of their trade war. Now part of Nagasaki Prefecture, waves of Korean cultural, commercial and military influence have crested and receded over the hills of this verdant island since the Middle Ages.

Here it's apparent that centuries-old ties between the nations can't be unwound by political rhetoric spewing from distant capital cities. Economic life crawls along, with a determination to do whatever it takes to weather this moment in Seoul-Tokyo relations. Survival depends on it.

Tension between these two industrial powerhouses heated up in July, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tightened controls on exports of certain materials vital to South Korea's technology industry, citing concerns about military use. Many suspect this was really a response to recent South Korean court decisions that determined some big Japanese companies must pay damages for wartime labor during World War II when Korea was under Japan's colonial rule. Japan says all claims were covered under a 1965 treaty and faulted Seoul's handling of the issue.