SEOUL--Art historian You Hong-june might best be described as the keeper of South Korea's cultural heritage.
His series of books, titled "My Exploration of Our Cultural Heritage," has sold more than 3 million copies since the first volume was published in 1993.
His trick is to bring life to the country's many temples, palaces and other cultural landmarks.
In August, he strayed from his chosen field and published his first volume outside of the Korean Peninsula. His topic was Kyushu and Asuka/Nara.
The book created a buzz, coming out at a time when relations between Japan and South Korea remain strained, and is still on the best-seller lists.
"Knowing about Japan as it really is will further broaden readers' understanding of Korean history," said You, 64.
When he attended Seoul National University, You was active in the student movement against the dictatorship that ruled South Korea.
His activities led to him being imprisoned, where his soul-searching culminated in the philosophy of "facts over ideals."
You, an oriental arts history major, has spent more than 30 years visiting historical sites in Japan. He is particularly fond of Nara, and the Asuka district in Nara Prefecture, because of its links with the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje (early fourth century to 660).
Although he was born in Seoul, You says it "feels like I've come back to my hometown" when he rides a rented bicycle there.
You said he expects his new book to draw criticism. As he explains in the Nara volume, "Foreigners who came to settle in ancient Japan exerted an influence, but what grew there should be regarded as Japan's own culture."
In a description of the area in Kyushu that produced the Arita and Imari styles of pottery, You writes that the potters brought to Japan by troops sent to invade the Korean Peninsula by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century were "of lowly status in Korea, but in Japan treated as skilled artisans."
The book has generally been received positively. A common refrain is that "Japan must be assessed objectively."
You served as head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, which is tasked with protecting the nation's cultural properties, under former President Roh Moo-hyun. He continues to teach at Myongji University.
His goal is to entrust the next generation with the centuries-old ties that bind Korea and Japan.
"Korea and Japan have cultural and historical roots they can share," You said. "If we know each other well, then we can co-exist in peace."
By AKIRA NAKANO/ Correspondent