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Korea: Koreans in UTORO

There are 203 Koreans who are in a small village, Utoro in Japan. They have lived in Utoro since their ancestors were drafted for labor during the Japanese colonization period and they couldn’t afford the fare to go back to Korea. More than 60 years later, they are about to be kicked out. A news clip is below.

Korean descendents living in Utoro, Japan are facing a difficult time as their residence is about to be sold to another buyer. The move could oust them from their homes as early as this month… Utoro was first built in the 1940s when the Japanese colony drafted 1,300 Koreans to build strips for the air force. But the construction was not completed because the war ended before the development was finished. As a result, those Koreans were left stranded in the middle of nowhere. People who could not afford to go back to Korea gathered around the town of Utoro and lived in slated houses, battling poverty and racism.
However, the Japanese government, which owned the land and let the Koreans stay there, sold the real estate to a private corporation in 1987. Since then, the residents had to struggle against those who tried to sell the land and rid of them from their homes. In 2005, their news caught the eye of several progressive people in Korea and 500 million won was contributed to allow the people buy the land from the Japanese owners, but it was only a fraction of what the owners were asking.
Recently, the new landlord told residents that another real estate development company was willing to buy the land. He gave the ultimatum that unless the current residents buy the land, or at least tell him that they would buy the land by July 31 (Editor: It’s delayed to the end of August), it will be sold off and that they will have to leave. The bidder is said to be in the planning stages in developing the land.
In 2005, Ban Ki-moon, then foreign affairs minister and currently secretary-general of the United Nations, promised the residents aide if the donation by civilians fails to meet the required amount.
Kim Kyo-il, the village headman, and seven others visited the National Assembly, sponsors and civic groups asking for help. However, the government said it is impossible to give them money, as it would be unfair to other Koreans living in Japan who are not entitled to government subsidies. According to some reports, all it can do is help find a social welfare center that could accept them after the demolition takes place.
Kim said he understands the government's dilemma. “But what we are expecting is some legal advice which does not require large amounts of money,” he added.
To many residents, leaving the village means more than just moving away. The place has been a haven for those who were discriminated by Japanese society.
“Utoro was labeled a Joseon slum among Kyoto residents. Many people looked down on us and put us through hard times. But we were happy that we had each other's company,” Kim said.
During their trip to Korea, some non-governmental organization members held charity concerts and encouraged residents by holding campaigns to promote the story of Utoro.
Several lawmakers, who were supporters, promised to address their plight in the National Assembly, but the plenary session is due in September, and it may be too late.
“But thank you all for caring for us this much. We will fight to our last to live in our places, and please pray for us and support us in Korea,” the Korean residents in Utoro said as they left for Japan Tuesday.
The 6,400 pyong (587.6 square meters) of land was where they kept their identity as Koreans, Bae Ji-won, director of Utoro supporters’ group, said. She explained that the 1,300 residents, who were literally drawn to the land, received no compensation from the Japanese government for the draft and the land they live in is the only thing they rely on…

Since several days left, the appeals from netizens to let people support Utoro have been rapidly growing up. Some bloggers express their ignorance through the internet and others make use of the internet, linking Utoro stories or making cartoons or flashes to get the attentions from people.

Bloggers reflect on what they and the Korean government can and should do for Utoro people.

일제강점기
강제로 이주당한 그 사람들을 볼때마다
화가납니다. 국제방에 와서 보니 베스트에 올라있는 글들 중에
우토로란 현안을 언급하는 글들이 없어서
많이 아쉽습니다.

다시 한번 생각해 보았으면 합니다.
시한은 촉박하고 우리에게 점점 희망이 사라져 가지만
형평성이니 구제니 하기전에 우리정부가 할 수 있는 방법을 모색해보자고
말해보고 싶습니다.

I’m always so mad whenever I see people who were drafted during the Japanese colonization period. I feel sad that the Utoro issue does not get much attention.

We should think again.
Time is ticking and the hope is getting weaker. But before we argue about equality and aid, I hope that the government tries to find a solution.

Bloggers like Hangulo suggest ideas of how to solve this problem.

…최근에 300억원 이상 친일파의 땅을 환수하기로 했으면, 그중의 일부는, 일제시대때 끌려간 우리의 동포를 구제하는데 사용해야 하지 않나? 일본의 땅을 한국 정부가 구입하고, 일제시대 강제 징용자들에게 장기 임대하면 되는 문제다.

이 일에 쌍심지를 켜고 보는 어떤이들은, “그러면 한국에 들어와서 살지 그러냐?”고 한다. 참 철없는 헛소리다. 어느곳에서 60년을 살았는데, 하루아침에 그 터전을 버리고 다른 곳에서 살라고? 미안하지만, 이미 그 분들은 한국에서 받아들일 자리가 없다. (우리가 얼마나 편협한지는 다 알지 않나?) 한국말도 잘 못하거나, 한다고 하더라도 일본에 모든 터전이 있는 그 분들이 한국에서 어떻게 뿌리를 내리나?

그냥. 쉽게 생각하자. 우토로 문제를 먼저 해결하고, 차차 그와 비슷한 문제들을 해결하자. 이미 그 분들은 나라를 잃은 “대한민국”의 과오때문에 많은 희생을 겪으셨다. 그런 분들에게 조국이 등을 돌린다면, 이 나라에서 “대~한민국”을 외치는 우리 대한민국 국민으로서 수치스러운 일이 아닐 수 없다.

Recently descendants of Japanese collaborators in Korea during the Japanese colonization period promised to return the 30 billion US dollar worth lands that their ancestors had obtained at that time. Don’t we have to use some of the money in order to aid people who were conscripted at that time? The Korean government can purchase the land Utoro and rent it out to those people.

Some people say “Why don’t they come back to Korea?” What are they talking about? They have lived there for 60 years. In a day, can we tell them to come back here, abandoning their place? Sorry to speak, there is no place to accept them (we know how narrow-minded we are). They don’t speak Korean well. Even though they do, how can we force them to abandon the place where they were born and grew up?

Let’s think at ease! First of all, solving this Utoro issue, and then we should solve similar issues. Those people already went through many sacrifices due to the mistake of the “Republic of Korea” If Korea doesn’t take care of them, as one of the Koreans who shout “Dae~hanminguk (Republic of Korea),” it is our shame.

Direct suggestions to the presidential candidates are not a few either.

대선후보, ‘우토로'가 당신들을 기다립니다.

이럴때, TV에 나와서 약속하고 실천하는겁니다. 저번 대선 때, ‘이미지정치'로 아주 확실하게 효과보셨죠? 이제는 ‘실체'까지 책임지는 ‘이미지정치'하시길 바랍니다…

‘대선'에서 정말 효과보고 싶으면 이런 일 합시다.

Candidates for the presidential election, Utoro is waiting for you.
Like this time, you come out in TV, and make promises and have some actions. The last presidential election, ‘image politics’ led to success. This time, I hope that you guys have the ‘image politics’ which include the responsibility of ‘reality.’
If you really want to juice up in the presidential election, start with this issue!

On the other hand, a netizen has a different opinion.

우리와 같은 민족은 맞지만 우토로 마을 사람들은
조총련계 입니다. 즉 국적이 대한민국이 아니라 북한이죠.
일본 민단조직(한국 재일교포)에서 지원을 하지 않는 것과
우리나라에서도 별다른 지원을 하지 않는 가장 큰 이유입니다.

They are Koreans, but those village people are Jochongnyeon (pro-North Korean residents in Japan). Their nationalities are not from South Korea, but from North Korea. It’s why Korean residents’ organizations in Japan and the South Korean government do not actively support them.

More planned or graphic suggestion is below.

1. 우토로 대책회의에서는 현재와 같이 네티즌이 독자적으로 국민적 호응을 얻어 줄 것을 요청함.

2. 국민적 호응이 있어야 정부 설득이 용이함.

1. Organizations for Utoro ask netizens to get support from people.
2. It will be easy to persuade the government after getting people’s support.

Here are articles about Utoro, a documentary movie, and an NGO website.

1 comment

  • The people who were behind this mess should step up to their responsibilities. The Japanese government is responsible for solving this… It was enough that they enslaved the poor people into working in japan, to go off and sell their homes.

    This is outrageous.

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