Zainichi Korean in Japan

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Zainichi Korean in Japan

Category: Anthropology

Subcategory: Construction

Level: University

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

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Zainichi Korean in Japan
Speculations about the nature and origins of the people of Japan debates over their identity, their self-image construction, and their nation have been recurrent on the Japanese political and intellectual life over the decades. Recently, a literature genre commonly referred to as Nihonjinron has been used over the years to highlight these speculations. The western scholars have critically been scrutinizing this genre. To get an understanding of its context and to analyze what it says about the people of Japan, the scholars have focused on the nature of theories constructed, their self-imagery and concepts of identity. The Nihonjinron seeks to provide an account of the characteristics of the society in Japan, national character, Japanese society, and domestic identity.
The Nihonjinron of Japan is that it is a unique country that never changes. The Japanese society considers themselves as one of the most homogeneous communities in the world. They justify this by citing a very low percentage of foreigners. The central Nihonjinron premise of Japan as being an ethnically homogeneous society that makes up a racially unified nation has been the key source of discrimination against the minority groups. A lot of literature has been documented on discrimination against the minority groups in the country. The experiences of the ethnic Koreans in Japan have drawn a lot of attention from the perspective of minority group discrimination. A lot of injustices have also been pointed out on the historical and social conditions that led to the Zainichi identity.
The experiences of discrimination and diaspora conditions of the Zainichi is the main focus of this thesis. The superordinate Zainichi identity means that they are not limited to a fixed host or ethnic identity. They consider their lifestyle as independent and distinct from the bounds of Japanese or Korean identity. They thus regard themselves as individuals or citizens of the earth. Their identity is, however, part Japanese and in part Korean. All their prejudice and discrimination perceptions have been associated with the part that is Korean identity. Their history can be traced all the way back to the 1910 annexation of Korea.
Review of Literature
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 (Lie, 2008). Koreans, therefore, lost their rights to vote by 1945. A law passed in 1947 consigned the Koreans in Japan as aliens.
Since the time, Japan has had an uncooperative and hostile attitude towards its minority groups more specifically the Zainichi. 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 (Lie, 2001). Their nature of being stateless citizens of the earth has led to an increase in their human rights violations. 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 (Kim, 2011).
Nihonjinron effect
The common, widespread view is that Japan comprises of a homogenous society. There was a point in when the country was considered to some extent as a society of consensus, harmony, classlessness, absent conflict and homogeneity. Several books have focused on the issues surrounding the social identity and culture of Japan. The topics covered in these books try to determine what is Japan, what is their lifestyle, among others. These academic works have been categorized into a genre known as Nihonjinron. This means Japanese theory. It covers a wide range of diverse fields such as anthropology, history, psychology, and sociology. The Nihonjinron literature main focus is on the homogeneity and uniqueness of Japanese culture, language and shared blood. The Nihonjinron theories have been noted to be the main reason around which the nationalism and identity of Japan are constructed (Sugimoto, 1997).
There are three major assumptions of the Nihonjinron ideology. The first one is that the society of Japan is culturally and racially homogeneous whose state remains unchanged up to date. The second assumption is that Japanese people are different from other people, ethnicities, and culture. The third assumption is that Japan is conspicuously nationalistic. This means that any external mode of analysis is unwelcome. Japanese people perceive themselves as being unique and very different from other races of the world. Since the state is located on an island, it completely set apart from the world and its difference in seasons shapes the behavior and thinking of the Japanese people (Andō, 2009).
The structure of the Japanese language is also unique that its influences the thinking patterns of the Japanese people to be vague and peculiar. Though foreigners may speak it and understand it, they are not capable of perfecting its usage. The relationships in Japanese society are hierarchical in a parent-child behavioral pattern. Individuality is eradicated as groups persist. Since the government of Japan expressed the country as being ethno-racially homogeneous, citizenship was synonymous to ethnicity. Naturalization at the time of turmoil for the Zainichi 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 Zainichi faced several challenges such as barriers in accessing medical treatment, pension, and welfare in addition to other public services. They were treated equally when it came to tax payments and had established an ethnic economy made up of self-employment services and targeting Japanese customers.
Intellectual currents and social movements enhanced the assertion and ethnic mobilization of the Zainichi. They led a movement against fingerprinting and changing of names thus asserting the ethnicity of Koreans even after naturalization. The social movements had diverse objectives such as creating a Korea town and winning suffrage rights, among others. After intense political activism lasting over a decade, the local authorities began incorporating Korean nationals in civil service (Lie 110). This started in the early 1980s, and by 1985, the number of ethnic Koreans in scientific and medical fields was greater than that of Japanese. The laws on citizenship were revised in 1985 and 1987, and naturalized Koreans were allowed to keep their original names. Almost all of the Zainichi population was granted permanent residency by 1991, and the practice of fingerprinting was abolished in 1993 (Moon 5). The gaps in employment and education have also been narrowing significantly between the ethnic Koreans and ethnic Japanese.
Research Question
How has the Nihonjinron ideology contributed to the discrimination against ethnic Koreans?
Thesis Statement
The Japanese Nihonjinron ideology has contributed greatly to the discrimination against the minority group of ethnic Koreans.
The first Chapter of this paper provides an overview of the history of ethnic Koreans. The discussion provides a review starting with how they immigrated to Japan from the Korean peninsula as early as 1910 and the circumstances surrounding their emigration. A historical discussion on their experiences in Japan and the chronology of the events that took place will also be provided. This covers their experiences before and after the war as well as the changes that took place as a result of Japan losing the Second World War. The history also captures the birth of the Zainichi identity and the struggle of the ethnic Koreans in Japan.
The second Chapter of the paper provides an assessment of the Nihonjinron ideology in relation to the identity of Japan, self-imagery, believes and the place of foreigners in the Japanese society. There is a focus on the post-war period and an exploration of the impacts of Nihonjinron effect on the ethnic Koreans.
The third chapter mainly focuses on the ongoing discrimination in Japan. Central to the premise of this discussion on discrimination are the experiences by the minority group of ethnic Koreans. The chapter also reviews the implementation of policies and laws by the government of Japan that led to the onset of discrimination and prejudice against foreigners. The treatment of ethnic Koreans by the Japanese government is also covered in this section.
The fourth chapter focuses on the development of the Zainichi social movements in an attempt to fight back and liberate the people of Korean descent from Japanese discrimination. The chipper also provides an analysis of the views and perceptions of the Japanese about the ethnic Koreans and their issues. Additionally, the views of the Zainichi as a minority group and the Japanese image are also discussed.
Reason for choice of Topic
This area of study has drawn a lot of attention among scholars because even after a period exceeding 70 years since the end of the Second World War, the third and fourth generations of ethnic Koreans in Japan are still considered foreigners in the Japanese society. They are still subject to discrimination and prejudice from society including the government. Despite the country being one of the most developed nations in the world, up to date, society is still ignorant of the impact of discrimination on the basis of ethnic and cultural identity. The Japanese Nihonjinron impact should, therefore, be assessed to get at the root cause of this problem.
Linking the first Chapter and the current situation
Despite the continued struggle by the ethnic Koreans for acceptance in the Japanese society, traces of discrimination and prejudice are still apparent in the country. Notorious organizations with racist ideologies such as the Zaitokukai still hold anti-Zainichi demonstrations in the country. Despite the negative perception of Zainichi by some anti-Korean Japanese, there is part of the Japanese community that is welcoming to them. Currently, the numbers of the members of movements that are against racism and discrimination ideologies against the minorities exceed those of organizations such as Zaitokukai significantly (Ito, 2014). It is expected that racism and discrimination will eventually come to an end in Japan.
Works Cited
Andō, S. (2009). A Look at Nihonjinron: Theories of Japaneseness. Otemae Journal, 10, 33-42.
Ito, K. (2014). Anti-Korean sentiment and hate speech in current Japan: A report from the street. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 20, 434-443.
Kim, B. (2011). “Blatant Discrimination Disappears, But…”: The Politics of Everyday Exclusion in Contemporary Japan. Asian Perspective, 35(2), 287-308.
Lie, J. (2008). Zainichi (Koreans in Japan): Diasporic nationalism and postcolonial identity (Vol. 8). Univ of California Press.
Lie, John. (2001). Multiethnic Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Moon, Rennie. “Koreans in Japan.” FSI | SPICE, Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education,
Ryang, Sonia, and John Lie, eds. Diaspora without homeland: being Korean in Japan. Vol. 8. Univ of California Press, 2009.
Sugimoto, Y. (1997). An Introduction to Japanese Society, Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, England.

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