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Koreans in Japan Zainichi

Japan flag. Korean Zainichi in Japan

Koreans in Japan - An Invisible Community 在日

by David White

Korea flag.

Resident (在日 or 'zainichi') Koreans in Japan remain a somewhat invisible minority in Japanese society, with little being known about them both inside and outside of Japan, although with the current popularity of resident Korean literature and a number of films regarding this community becoming popular, their situation is now more well known than ever before.

The TV drama 冬のソナタ ('Fuyu no sonata, or 'Winter Sonata') has also contributed to a 'Korea boom', and an increased focus on not only Korea but Japan resident Koreans as well. A brief overview of the resident Korean community is as follows:

In 1910 the Japanese annexation of Korea occurred, and with it heavy migration from Japan to Korea as the Japanese government promised cheap land and better opportunities on the peninsula.

There was a drive to assimilate the Korean population and obliterate Korean culture and language. At the same time as migration to Korea was occurring, it was also happening in the opposite direction, with many Koreans moving to Japan in an attempt to escape the poverty at home.

Most Koreans in the 1920's and 30's in Japan ended up in the lower reaches of Japanese society, doing backbreaking and poorly paid work. At this time there was no cohesive Korean community, but from the late 1930's, more and more Koreans migrated to Japan, both voluntarily and also forcibly recruited in Korea by the Japanese authorities.

Inter-marriage between resident Koreans and Japanese is now very common, and it is commonly said that most young Japanese do not really care if their prospective spouse is a resident Korean.

If opposition comes at all it is usually from an older generation who still feel the legacy of history. There are still some historical issues that refuse to go away and these remain controversial.

The denial of pension rights to those Koreans forced to serve in the Japanese Imperial Army is one of them, and according to the Asahi Shimbun, in 2001 the Supreme Court threw out a case that involved a Korean man who had served in the Japanese Imperial Army and lived in Japan for 63 years but was still denied a pension.

Many Koreans use Japanese aliases, as they fear that their true identity cannot be revealed in certain situations, particularly in business. This is a personal choice and largely comes down to a mix of factors such as family history, affiliation with one of the residents' organizations such as Mindan or Chongryun (North Korea-affiliated), practicality, employment and degree of ethnic identification.

Many resident Koreans are prominent in the entertainment world; some choose to open about their ethnic background, others choose to hide it. Again, it is a personal choice based on a variety of factors.

Osaka has the largest Korean community in Japan.

Japan-Korea Relations

For those interested in reading more about the Korean community in Japan, as well as a vast amount of material available in Japanese, there are a number of good books in English that are available:

North Koreans in Japan, by Sonia Ryang
Japan's Hidden Apartheid, by George Hicks
Lives of Young Koreans in Japan, by Yasunori Fukuoka
Japan's Minorities, edited by Michael Weiner

A version of this article first appeared in Avenues: Voices of Central Japan magazine

Books on Japanese Politics