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Japan, Korea: Traces Of Japan-Korea History Within The Zainichi Community

August 10th, 2010 will remain  a historical date in the  Japan-South Korea diplomatic relations. In a statement addressed to South Korea, the Japanese Prime Minister from the Japanese Democratic Party (JDP) Naoto Kan apologized for  past crimes during Japanese occupation of Korea. In February, his Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada paved the way by offering an apology for colonial rule to his South Korean counterpart. One hundred years ago, both countries signed the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty which made officially Korea Japan’s colony and had marked the beginning of 35 years of Japanese harsh dominion over Koreans. Many of them were enrolled by force in the Japanese “war efforts” before and during the World War II, working in factories and coal mines in Japan for males, or as comfort women on the battlefields.

Flags of Japan and South Korea by Troy McClure SF on Flickr -CC license NC SA 2.0

It is the first time in Japanese-Korean relationships that a Japanese Prime Minister expresses a clear apology for the casualties done by Japan to Korea during the WWII. Before Kan, under the continuous rule the conservative party Liberal Democratic Party (LPD), Japanese Prime Ministers expressed only regrets during the annual official celebration of the Japanese capitulation on the15th August 1945. Only the socialist Tomiichi Murayama, during his short tenure as the Prime Minister, expressed an apology for the colonial rule and aggression over Asian nations on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Okada’s and Kan’s statements are in line with Murayama’s. But what do Japanese think of  this statement?

In his blog 読む・考える・書く (yomu, kangaeru, kaku – reading, thinking, writing), Vergile2010 gives his review of Kan’s statement [jp], castigating his way of apologizing.

「その意に反して行われた植民地支配」であったことを認めたのは、まあ一歩前進か。
しかしそれなら、「日韓併合条約が締結され」と、正常な条約締結の結果として起こったかのように言うのはいかがなものか。

[…]

また出た「未来志向」。
「未来志向」とは常に、過去は曖昧なままにしてこれから(も)うまくやっていこうぜ、という権力者同士の馴れ合いを示す言葉でしかない。植民地支配によって実際に被害を受け た人々に対しては、もうお前たちのことは忘れるからな、と宣告するのに等しい。
管総理が本当に「歴史に対して誠実に向き合いたい」と思っているなら、安易にこんな言葉は使えないはずだ。

It's somehow progressive that he admitted it was “the colonization against their will”.
Yet if this is true, it's not really correct to say “the Japan-Korea annexation treaty was concluded” as if it had been occurred as a result of a legitimate treaty.

[…]

Again, “future vision”. What this word means is a kind of connivance between authorities so as to work out, leaving the past unclear.
It also means a declaration to neglect those who suffered from the colonization. If the Prime Minister Kan wanted to “face the history sincerely”, he couldn't use such words.

Korea Japan Summit Meeting by Korea.Net on Flickr -CC lincense NC-ND 2.0

Then Vergile2010 noticed that in his statement, Prime Minister Kan did not mention Japan largest minority, the Zainichi community [jp]:

すぐ気がつくのは、在日韓国・朝鮮人に関する言及が一切ないことだ。

彼らは、過酷な植民地支配の結果として故郷を離れ、日本本土で生きることを余儀なくされた人々とその子孫である。

朝鮮半島の人々が、曲がりなりにも戦後は自らの国家と民族性を回復できたのに対して、在日は戦前以来本質的には変わることのない差別的ホスト社会の中で生き続けてきた。彼らこそが最も「国と文化を奪われ、民族の誇りを深く傷付けられ」た人々であることは、今でもその約9割が出自を隠し、日本名で生活していることからも明らかだろう。

にもかかわらず、自らの足元にいる在日を、まるで存在しないかのように無視する。

「痛切な反省と心からのお詫びの気持ち」などと言う管総理こそが、「痛みを与えた側は忘れやす」いという、その典型ではないのか。

管総理談話について聞かれた在日女性たちは「「何も感じない」「パフォーマンスのような印象」と答えたそうだが、まあ当たり前ですね。

First, we notice that he did absolutely not mention the Zainichi from South Korea or North Korea.
They are descendents of those who left their homeland as a result of the harsh colonizer’s dominion and many of them were forced to live in Japan.
While people living on the Korean peninsula could have rebuilt their own identity and their own State in the post-war period, Zainichis has continued to live in this unchanging discriminatory society as it was in the pre-war period.
It was these people who were the most “deprived of their country and their culture, their ethnic pride was deeply scarred”; it is obvious considering the fact that about 90% of Zainichi have hidden their origin and changed their name into a Japanese one in order to live in the [Japanese] society.
Despite this fact, he ignores the Zainichi just in front of him as if they didn't exist.
The Prime Minister Kan expressing “feelings of deep remorse and [his] heartfelt apology”, isn't he typical as someone “who render pain and tends to forget it”?
Regarding Kan’s statement, a Zainichi woman said “I am feeling nothing” “It looks like a performance” which is not surprising at all.

A Zainichi (在日 – “staying in Japan”) is a permanent ethnic Korean resident in Japan. According to the Minister of Justice, they were about 405,000 – on 410,000 special permanent residents [jp] (特別永住者 – tokubetsu eijûsha) from foreign countries – in 2009. In Japan, the nationality is determined by the jus sanguinis, that is why such a status exists in the society.

In an article delivered on KoreAm’s website, Sylvie Kim describes zainichis’ problems of identity and assimilation:

Living under discriminatory policies is only part of their plight; Zainichis are not recognized by either Japan or Korea as legal or symbolic citizens. Language, culture, ethnicity all come into complicated play: ethnic Koreans cannot be granted citizenship in Japan even by birth and to return to Korea is to return to a country whose language and culture are wholly unfamiliar. Stories from Eclipse Rising members reveal that Zainichis of this current generation often face hostility in Korea since their relatives were thought of as “traitors” for moving to Japan to find work and feed their families during colonization.

Zainichis feel discriminated by both Japanese laws and the cultural gap  with Korea. During the colonization period, Koreans living in Japan had no rights and were not considered as Japanese citizens. The legal status of “special permanent residents” was only created in 1965 for long-term South Korean residents and extended to Joseon (former name of the unified Korea) residents in 1991 while a growing number of third generation Zainichis appears. Little by little, the Japanese society has shown signs of recognition of zainichis – and by extension foreigners – as citizens of Japan.

During the post-war period the oppression-oriented Japanese policies forced Koreans living in Japan to protest. Alongside with the battles for the right to social welfare benefits, the access to the national health insurance system and state pensions [jp], the anti-fingerprint movement and the “real name” initiative in the 80’s rallied the Zainichi community, structured and strengthened the Zainichi identity.

However, there is still much to do to be considered as a Japanese citizen. From 16 years old, they must acquire a special card for foreigners (外国人登録証 – gaikokujin tôrokushô) renewable every 7 years; they must buy a re-entry permit if they want to go abroad renewable every 4 years in the longest case; they do not have the right to vote in any elections in Japan as well as in Korea; the access to posts in public institutions is de facto denied.

Yet, things are moving. In early 1990’s, the pro-South Korea organisation Mindan won an important trial against local authorities for the right to vote for Zainichis. The LDP blocked any pro-votes-for-foreigners bills proposed in the Diet, but the election of DPJ’s leader Yukio Hatoyama as Japan’s Prime Minister last year and his promise to give the right to exercise their right to vote in local elections brought a wave of hopes to the Zainichi community. Hatoyama’s chaotic foreign policies and his unkept promises on the national stage had hastened his fall. Now with Kan in office, he tends to stay with Hatoyama’s agenda but no one can predict when the right to vote issue will be handled, all the more that the majority consensus over this issue is far to be reached.

Will Zainichis see their situation changing in a near future? When initiatives of rapprochement between Japan and South Korea are undertaken, internal initiatives are undertaken for Zainichis too. Will a historical statement lead to a historical bill and law favouring Zainichi’s basic civil rights?

Special thanks to Junko “suke-chan” Cho for helping to find articles and writing translations

2 comments

  • Dolly

    What has been given to colonization can’t be taken back by a simple word of apology. The double standards and injustices eating out of the social fabric of communities living in exile is no different from the East to the West and vice versa. Not only do you have to change everything about yourself in order to fit into their culture, idealogy and nasionalism, you have to continously give in to obliging them, their narrow mindedness and constant need for “reinforcement”, simply to play around with hyprocrisy. All you get out of it is a reflection of the other persons wound pinned onto yours and find that no changes were ever expected from you to begin with. What they expect from you is the only way, only that it didn’t come from their mouth, naturally of course. :-)

  • Dolly

    What has been given to colonization can’t be taken back by a simple word of apology. The double standards and injustices eating out of the social fabric of communities living in exile is no different from the East to the West and vice versa. Not only do you have to change everything about yourself in order to fit into their culture, idealogy and nasionalism, you have to continously give in to obliging them, their narrow mindedness and constant need for “reinforcement”, simply to play around with hyprocrisy. All you get out of it is a reflection of the other persons wound pinned onto yours and find that no changes were ever expected from you to begin with. What they expect from you is the only way, only that it didn’t come from their mouth, naturally of course. :-)

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