Chapter 4: Possibility of Change
Possibility of Change
After the Second World War, the Japanese government sort to create an ethno racially homogeneous country. They therefore no longer recognized the ethnic Koreans as part of the Japanese nationality. This led to prejudice and discrimination against the Zainichi among other ethnicities as policies and laws were passed by the government to outcast the minority groups. In an attempt to fight back and liberate the people of Korean descent from Japanese discrimination, several organizations were established. The most influential ones were the Mindan and the Chongryun. The Japanese have further been known to treat ethnic minorities with prejudice and outright discrimination. This chapter provides an analysis of the developments of ethnic Korean organizations and the changing Japanese image of Zainichi and other minority groups.
Zainichi Organizations in Japan
The Zainichi currently have two main organizations in Japan. The first one is Pro-Pyongyang Zainichi Chōsenjin Sōurengōkai which stands for “the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.” It is also known as Chongryun. The second organization is pro-Seoul Zainihon Daikanminkoku Mindan which stands for “the Association of Koreans in Japan.” It is also referred to as Mindan. The ultimate objective of the establishment of these organizations was unifying the Koreans. In the formation of both organizations, there was a split in allegiances between different peninsula regimes. One was the proxy war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The second one was a split based on ideological lines in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. According to Shipper (2010), both organizations were focused on long-distance nationalism and homeland politics. None of the organizations supported retaining Japanese nationality. It has been noted that even today, there are members of Chongryun and Mindan that possess the nationality of South Korean “Chosen” (Wickstrum, 2016).
The Chongryun organization was established by a labor activist known as Han Deok Su. He accomplished this under North Korea’s direct control in 1955. Though most ethnic Koreans were from the southern area of the peninsula, about ninety percent of them supported the regime of the north in 1955. During the time, the communist Koreans were mostly concerned with the struggle for independence. Therefore the North gained more support than the south because it was an embodiment of the independence sort by most ethnic Koreans in Japan. Chongryun had a greater influence compared to the Mindan during the 1950s to 1960s. The government of North Korea helped maintain the transnational ties with the Zainichi and their homeland. It was also successful in the establishment of powerful economic growth as an image of North Korea among the Zainichi.
The government of North Korea also provided financial resources to the Chongryun organization so that it could create schools for educating ethnic Korean students as overseas North Korean Nationals as from 1957 (Tai, 2009). Chongryun also played a very important role in the repatriation programme. It supported the process that saw over 93,339 ethnic Koreans in addition to ethnic Japanese spouses migrate to North Korea in the 1970s. According to the Zainichi at the time, North Korea was viewed as a way out of the discrimination experienced in Japan. The anti-communist resident Koreans formed the Mindan organization in 1948. It was much smaller compared to the Chongryun possibly because the South Korean government neglected it until the 1970s (Wickstrum, 2016). Its leadership was hardly identified with the majority of the Zainichi and was considered to be a middle-class conservative group.
The power relationships between the Mindan and the CHongryun organization stated changing in the 1960s. The treaty Japan and South Korea in 1965 enabled the Zainichi that had South Korean nationality to become permanent Japanese residents. This was a very attractive option for the ethnic Koreans that had not acquired Japanese nationality. There were requirements of a passport and several civil rights for them to visit their friends and family in South Korea that they had separated with as a result of the war chaos. The Zainichi with North Korean nationality was denied permanent Japanese residency because the Japanese government did not have any diplomatic ties with North Korea. This predicament made Korean residents even those that supported North Korea to apply for nationality in South Korea.
Additionally, there were attempts by the Japan and South Korean government to impose the nationality of South Korea on the Zainichi without recognizing the legitimacy of the North Korean nationality. This move spurred a lot of opposition by the ethnic Koreans. The split between the ethnic Koreans in Japan was caused by the diplomatic ties established between Japan and South Korea.
During the 1970s, the number of South Korean nationals exceeded that of North Korean nationals among the Zainichi. This made the Chongryun organization to become a minority group among the Zainichi. The Zainichi with South Korean nationality were better able to integrate in Japan, and the other Zainichi were moved by the fact that South Korea was stabilizing in addition to the democratization of the country. Additionally, economic disasters were occurring in North Korea, and the information about the deplorable human rights conditions was then reaching the Zainichi in Japan. Meanwhile, the Mindan organization did not generate an ideological conversion, and its growth in membership was as a result of practical exigencies. It thus functioned as a passport agency (Lie, 2008).
Long-distance nationalism was fostered by both the Mindan and Chongryun organizations. This was done among the members as they concentrated their projects on fostering identity and cultural ties with their home of origin (Shipper, 2010). There was a systematic affiliations web established by Chongryun throughout the organizational units in the nation. The organization consistently maintained an indifference stance to the Japanese. It focuses more on raising consciousness among its members by following the ideological apparatuses and its educational system. It has mainly been providing the ethnic education at the ethnic school instructed in Korean. Through this system of education, the organization portrays North Korea as the authentic and sole homeland for the Zainichi.
Mindan, on the other hand, focuses on leadership especially for the social movements aimed at the protection of political and legal rights as well as the empowerment of ethnic Koreans in Japan. Its priority is local electoral rights, and it lobbies actively at the two governmental levels. Some Mindan organization local branches actively offer services and programs about South Korea to the Zainichi as well as Japanese residents. This benefits the growth of the interest of Korean culture by the Japanese. Contrary to the Chongryun ideologies, the Mindan organization does not force its members to make any commitments to ethnic education or language reproduction (Lie, 2008).
The support of Chongryun began to decline as poverty, autocracy, and corruption became apparent in North Korea. Though the ethnic Koreans were interested in permanent settlement in Japan, only a few of them wanted to naturalize to Citizens of Japan. They hardly welcomed naturalization because it was considered an act of betrayal of their identity and experience as Zainichi synonymous to treason. A mixed Zainichi or a naturalized one suffered double exclusion unable to identify with a particular group. Since the government of Japan had expressed the country as being ethno-racially homogeneous, citizenship was synonymous to ethnicity. Naturalization at the time required an individual to adopt a Japanese name and comply with the household registration practice known as Koseki. Nevertheless, naturalization was not a guarantee that discrimination or elimination based on the Korean ancestry would stop (Ryang, Sonia, and Lie 151).
The ethnic identity of the Zainichi Koreans is most certainly related in part to the organizations in which its members belong. It can however not be stated that the ethnic Koreans belonging to any organization have firm ideological standpoints that are aligned with the organization. According to a recent estimate, about 400,000 ethnic Koreans ascribe to the Mindan organization while 150,000 of them belong to the Chongryun organization (Shipper, 2010). Many Zainichi finds themselves in a difficult position nevertheless because it has been noted that some have membership in both organizations. Some Zainichi with South Korean nationality has also been noted to send their children ethnic schools affiliated with Chongryun. This means that despite the fact that these organizations deepened the division among the Zainichi community by dissociating the ethnic solidarity, the relationship between the ethnic Koreans is very complicated.
By the 1990s, the Zainichi that supported the Chongryun was no longer interested in North Korea. Instead of sticking to their vision of eventually returning to their homeland and ending their diaspora reign, the young Zainichi began seeking a future in Japan. Although there were some members that continued to educate their children in Korean schools, their reason for doing so had already changed. The original reason was the ideological commitment to the homeland culture. The new reason was that the available Japanese schools lacked the historical resources of Korea and homogeneity was assumed among all the students thus compromising those of North Korean ancestry.
After the stay of Koreans in Japan that exceeded half a century, their perception as Chosenjin changed to Zainichi. The Chosenjin aspect represented the ethnic Koreans that were speaking in a Korean accent, were undernourished, had strangely broad gait while walking, ignorant, impulsive and insolent. The Zainichi, on the other hand, represented a fully assimilated race that had its ancestral descent in Korea but was existing in Japan and was the native speakers of the Japanese language with a high level of education (Ryang, 2016). The form of existence of the Chosenjin was represented as being very different from that of the Zainichi. The later denoted a future in Japan.
The ethnic Koreans that were brought up in the ways of the Chongryun through the 1980s and 1990s were effective in marking the fall of the organization. The gradual shift from the Chosenjin perspective to that of Zainichi made the organization lose its political identity. As the society of Japan changed with time, the disenfranchisement and ethnic discrimination that was being experienced by the ethnic Koreans progressively became less pronounced. The Zainichi image started being appreciated in the country and would appear in publications, prize-winning novels, and films. The earlier rejection of the ethnic Koreans started changing to an acceptable and even admirable cool form of being Japanese (Ryang, 2016).
Another factor that might have contributed to the acceptance of the Zainichi can be the advancement of the period. The twentieth century had the final decade that represented increased optimism. The Japanese during this time demonstrated high integrity. The Prime minister of the Japan socialist party had in 1995 issued an apology statement to the ethnic Korean women that had experienced sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Army. At the local level, the Zainichi were able to gain wider solidarity and civic enfranchisement with the Japanese without compromising their identity (Fujitani, 2011). There was also voluntary abolishment of national hurdles about public service employment by some municipalities.
The death of the Chongryun organization can, therefore, be attributed to numerous changes that took place in Japan. Another event that accelerated the death of the Chongryun organization was the first meeting between the Japanese prime minister and Kim Jong II. It was revealed that North Korean Agents had kidnaped innocent citizens of Japan in between the 1970s and 1980s (Ryang, 2010). The revelation led to an assault on the Chongryun organization. Thorough auditing of the organization’s assets was conducted that resulted in many charges of illegal acts and tax evasion. The subsidies that were offered to its schools by the local governments were abolished. The ultranationalist organizations started campaigns of harassment and intimidation against Chongryun individuals, schools and offices.
Japanese Images of Minorities and Zainichi
Japan has had an uncooperative and hostile attitude towards its minority groups more specifically the Zainichi. There are several minority groups in Japan and the view of the country as a homogeneous nation has evolved significantly. Different types of minority groups such as Okinawans, Ainu, Nikkeijin, Burakumin, Chinese and Zainichi have been mentioned by scholars (Weiner, 2009). There are about 1.3 million Okinawans in the Okinawan Prefecture and Amami Islands in Japan. About 300,000 more Okinawans can be found in other parts of Japan. The Okinawans represent the largest minority group. The second largest group is the Zainichi. The following group is that of Chinese, then Ainu and the rest. The presence of these minority groups in Japan has influenced the way Japanese people view and think of them. The Ainu people, for example, are viewed as a non-existent ethnic group.
The policies by the government geared towards assimilation and relocation aimed at the ultimate eradication of the Ainu group. The native education system introduced discouraged the customs and language of the Ainu people. As per the Japanese general understanding, based on their narrative of national homogeneity, the Ainu ethnic minority is non-existence. They consider the group as fully assimilated or extinct. This is despite the fact that the history of the Ainu people is long and distinctive in accordance with the existing historical records (Siddle, 1997).
The Burakumin, on the other hand, is a minority group in Japan that is outcast by the society there and considered repulsive because their ancestors dealt with the meat of dead bodies an act that is viewed as lowly and repellent. It is commonly believed that the Burakumin people are racially different from the mainstream Japanese and that they descended from ancient slaves of Koreans or lost Israel tribes that found their way into Japan.
The other minority group is the Chinese Japanese that are perceived as being a model minority by the Japanese. Their perception of minority status has subjected them to exclusion, exploitation, and obscurity in Japan. History records show that their emigration from China before the war was part of a continued tradition of internal and external Chinese migration and sojourning. Many Chinese that ended up in Japan resided in Chinese commercial centers as entrepreneurs and traders. They, therefore, viewed themselves as traders and entrepreneurs with a lot to offer unlike their perception by the Japanese as being a model minority.
The Okinawans and Nikkeijin are another indigenous minority group from the Ryukyu Islands. During the pre-war, both groups were considered an inferior race in Japan. Today, they make up the largest minority group in the country. Though they are considered an inferior race, they are the only foreign group with legal status to work in the unskilled sector. The term Nikkeijin is more specifically used to describe South American Japanese and their spouses from Peru and Brazil (Lie, 2001).
The other minority group is that of ethnic Koreans that is the main focus of this discussion. About 800,000 Zainichi Koreans reside in Japan. They are perceived as aliens by the Japanese and have endured discrimination and other hardships under the Japanese society which does not recognize them as one of their own. The division of their ethnic group and their mother country has also contributed to their challenges. Although there was economic exploitation and racial discrimination suffered by the ethnic Koreans before the Second World War, The Japanese had counted them as their nationals and planned to assimilate them fully into the Japanese society via intermarriage promotion and education. Things, however, changed after the war ended. The government of Japan started referring to the ethnic Koreans as foreigners and stopped recognizing them as nationals. The term Zainichi used in this case was an expression of the fact that ethnic Koreans were not Japanese nationals and would eventually return to their homeland after their temporary stay in Japan. Koreans, therefore, lost their rights to vote by 1945. A law passed in 1947 consigned the Koreans in Japan as aliens.
The Japanese are known to have a very negative perception about the ethnic Koreans. They have persistently shown prejudice and disdain towards more specifically those associated with the North Korean Nationality, the Chongryun organization, or the Zainichi that lack any nationality. They show more leniency to the Zainichi that are associated with the South Korean nationality. Their aggression towards North Korean affiliates in their country can be attributed to the lack of proper relations between Japan and North Korea. The negative perception of North Korea by the US and the international community about its leadership and way of life also contributes to the problem. This negative perception was exacerbated by their testing and launching of nuclear bombs and missiles. Additionally, there was a revelation by North Korea also referred to as “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)” that they abducted innocent citizens of Japan (Chapman, 2007). This led to an increase in the Zainichi human rights violations. These factors in addition to Japan considering itself as an ethnically homogenous country can be used to explain the negative perception of the Zainichi people.
The stateless Zainichi face a social effect problem because, in the eyes of the Japanese society, they are aliens. The exposure of their real names during many official and non-official functions leaves them vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion because they are identified with North Korea. Some are even forced to operate unofficially with Japanese names. One of the areas commonly associated with discrimination is in the employment sector. Once a Zainichi produces his/her documents, and it is noted that they are not of Japanese descent, they are rejected or even fired if they had already been hired (Kim, 2011).
The entrenched discrimination in Japan led to the establishment of anti-discrimination against foreigners’ social movements. Even some ethnically Japanese movements have been established to combat racism because they view it as a harmful problem. Many Japanese activists have also spoken out against racisms as a way of alleviating the burdens and risks that minority groups face (Shaw, 2017). They fight notorious racist views and organizations such as the “Citizens’ Association to Oppose Special Rights for Resident Koreans (Zaitokukai)” This organization has been known to go as far as protesting around ethnic Korean elementary schools and verbally abusing them calling them ‘stinking’ and ‘children of spies.’
Cases of hate speech and xenophobic attacks against ethnic Koreans have also been recorded in Japan. The efforts of activists, human rights workers, and policymakers, however, bore some fruits when a national ban against hate speech was passed in Japan. Hate speech is however still perpetuated through the online media. Activists blame this problem on the weaknesses of the law for lacking the ability to impose penalties on the offenders. There have been reports of stalking both at work and in neighborhoods against Zainichi women that were very verbal in anti-racism movements (Shaw, 2017).
The Zaitokukai organization claims that its main aggression against the Zainichi is that they are offered special privileges by the government such as the right to claim benefits and vote without being Japanese nationals. The organization further accuses the Zainichi as having two identities which they use to claim benefits because they are allowed to register with a Korean name or a Japanese name. The critics of the organization, however, argue that the Zaitokukai are selective in their aggression because while the Zainichi may be enjoying this privileges, even other foreigners that reside in Japan enjoy them. The Zaitokukai, however, direct their attention and aggression only to the Zainichi (Punk, 2014).
During demonstrations against ethnic Koreans by organizations such as the Zaitokukai, a lot of racist remarks are mentioned such as “You can throw stones at Korean. You can rape Korean ladies,” “Korean Cockroaches, go home!” “Koreans and Chinese stop stealing our oxygen!” “Comfort women are prostitutes and liars,” or “If you hate Japan, Why don’t you go home?” (Ito, 2014). In the street demonstrations in Kyoto, police had to be deployed so that they can prevent any violent confrontations between a group of racist Japanese protestors and antiracist protestors. According to the racist protestors, their comments are legal and are protected by the freedom of speech. They protest waving Japanese national flags and shouting hate speech comments. Some protestors were noted arguing that they are not racist but rather saying that “Trash to trash box, Korean to Korean Peninsula!” and that “the Zainichi should serve their country…the Korean men should be drafted to the Korean Army and women should become prostitutes like comfort women!” It has however been noted that the number of racist demonstrators has been decreasing with time as that of anti-racist confronters increases (Ito, 2014).
The Zaitokukai have argued that the facts also drive their negative perception towards ethnic Koreans that the crime rate by the Zainichi is higher than that of Japanese residents. This claim has been disputed by the facts available which show that the crime rate of both ethnic groups is virtually the same. The Zaitokukai, however, argue that the facts are not right because the Zainichi have additional Japanese names that they disclose in cases of criminal activity and hide their Korean identity. The territorial disputes between Japan and Korea have also been known to lead to an increase in demonstrations by anti-Zainichi groups (Ito, 2014). The anti-racism protestors commonly referred to as “Counter” have been very effective in addressing racism in the country. Their numbers exceed those of Zaitokukai significantly, for example in a demonstration that took place in 2013, over 2300 citizens surrounded racist protestors totaling to 300 (Ito, 2014). The high number of counters have successfully discouraged racist protests with the police recommending that the Zaitokukai not hold demonstrations during the election period.
Despite the negative perception of Zainichi by some anti-Korean Japanese, there is part of the Japanese community that is welcoming to them. Some Zainichi argues that from the perspective of their relationship with the people, they are part of Japan. The governmental policies are what categorizes them as outsiders. According to Jang Gyong, as quoted by Yong (2018), “If I’m viewed from South Korea or North Korea, they would think I look more Japanese. But from Japan, I would be seen as more Korean rather than Japanese.” Japan has a stigma of viewing people as foreigners even if they have been in the country for many generations. According to the interviews conducted by The Straight Times, Most Zainichi claims that it is difficult being a Korean Japanese. The Zainichi that pay a visit to the Korean peninsula realizes that they do not belong there either. This is because they are different from the Korean residents and even their accents while speaking the Korean language is noticeably different. Some have claimed that the Koreans refer to them as Japanese that speak weird Korean (Yong, 2018).
The racism and colonialism culture has been diminishing since the 1990s. With time Japan started gaining interest in the Korean culture, tourism, and sports and thus being more welcoming to the Zainichi. The discrimination attitude that was entrenched in Japan is changing as a result of pressure from social groups and the international community that increased awareness. The Zainichi and South Korean celebrities were able to openly announce their heritage by the 2000s the Korean-Japanese identity is nowadays embraced as a possible identity through naturalization.
There is no official documentation on the treatment of Zainichi people in Japan. Nevertheless, deducing from what is captured in the media and the personal narratives of the experiences by the Zainichi in Japan, it can be concluded that minority groups, more specifically the ethnic Koreans are hardly perceived as part of the Japanese society by both the government and the citizens. They are therefore viewed as aliens, and even though their livelihood in the country has been improving over time, the aspect of prejudice, discriminating and outing remains entrenched.
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