Oct. 22 (UPI) -- South Korea's prime minister called for improved ties between Seoul and Tokyo as he paid his respects at a memorial in Japan for a South Korean exchange student who died in 2001 while saving a Japanese man who had fallen off a Tokyo train platform.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited the site at Shin-Okubo subway station in Tokyo's Shinjuku district on Tuesday afternoon. Lee was in Japan to attend the enthronement of new Emperor Naruhito, South Korean news service Newsis reported.
Lee's visit to the memorial for Lee Su-hyun, who died while saving a drunken Japanese man, comes at a time of tensions over history and trade between the two countries.
Lee said Tuesday Korea and Japan have a history of 1,500 years, but an "unfortunate" history of only 50 years. Lee was quoting former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who has been credited with improving Korea-Japan ties along with his Japanese counterpart former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, according to South Korean news service News 1.
Lee Su-hyun was a student at Akamonkai language school in Japan at the time of his death. He was a student at Korea University on language exchange when he died on Jan. 26, 2001.
His death became a symbol of lasting friendship between the two countries. In 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised Lee Su-hyun, and offered his wishes that the student's spirit of altruism and courage will be passed down to future generations.
On Tuesday the South Korean prime minister put his hands together to pray and meditate in Lee Su-hyun's memory. The South Korean official mentioned the sacrifice of Shiro Sekine, a Japanese photographer who also died while saving the man's life.
"Two righteous people practiced a love of humanity that transcends borders," Lee said. "I am here to commemorate that devotion."
Lee Nak-yon also said he would have come to the memorial "even if Korea-Japan relations were good."
Japanese networks, including NHK, TBS and Kyodo covered his visit to the memorial.