Are Zainichi Koreans “foreigners”?

Anonymous student post

There are lots of ethnicities in Japan, such as Zainichi Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Ainu, Okinawan, and more. In spite of the existence of plural cultures for a long time, Japanese government had ignored their existence until the 1980s when globalization came into Japan. The Ainu and Okinawans had maintained their culture and language since 18c or 19c though the Japanese government prohibited them from using their language and sought to assimilate them.

On the other hand, Zainichi Koreans came to Japan as a result of Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. During the colonization, Koreans were referred to as Japanese subjects. However, After Japan got independent in 1952, Koreans lost their legal rights as Japanese subjects and became ‘foreigners’. Some went back to their home country, but others decided to stay in Japan because of the confused situation of Korea such as Korean Separation or Korea War. Due to this, they stayed in Japan as ‘foreigners’ with permanent residence status, so-called ‘Zainichi Koreans’.

In 1965, the central government prohibited schools from teaching Korean culture and language to the Korean children, and the government policy was that teachers were to treat Korean children in the same way as Japanese kids. Because of this policy, later generations of Zainichi Korean were assimilated more and more. Now, most descendants of Zainichi Koreans were born in Japan and speak Japanese as their first language with little Korean language skill and many of them use their Japanese name not Korean name. However, they are referred to as ‘foreigners’. In this case, the question what does ‘foreigners’ mean?

Most Japanese people see ‘foreigners’ as someone born outside Japan and come and stay in Japan temporarily. Japanese government had been speaking out that Japan was a monolingual and monoculture state by making the ethnic minorities ‘foreigners’. That is the reason why Zainichi Korean were invisible ‘ethnic minorities’ for a long time. However, this situation changed from 1970s to 1980s.

In 1970s, Dowa problem rose widely in Japan and ethnicity became ‘human rights’ issue. Also, a lot of immigrants came to Japan as guest workers and ‘foreigners’ education were acknowledged in 1980s. These things had impacts on the Zainichi Korean policies. In 1991, the central government finally allowed schools to teach Korean culture and language though lots of policy changes had already occurs in local levels.

Due to these movements, Zainichi Korean were ‘discovered’ as ‘ethnic minority’ in Japan. By becoming ‘visible’, Zainichi Korean got explicitly identity as a Zainichi Korean not Japanese or foreigners. However, whether they chose which identity is their problem. Fortunately, I think they are easy to assimilate into Japanese society more than African people or European people because our culture is similar to each other and physical features are also similar. However, it is not only identity issue but also their legal statement issue. They haven’t got the citizenship and have been discriminated against in terms of education, housing and work. Even though the existence became visible, there are still a lot of difficulties for Zainichi Korean in reality.


Hokkaido Ainu Kyokai.

Lie, John. 2008. “Zainichi Recognitions: Japan’s Korean Residents’ Ideology and Its Discontents.” The Asia-Pacific Journal >

Okano, Kaori. 2006. “The Impact of Immigrants on Long-lasting Ethnic Minorities in Japanese Schools: Globalization from Below.” Language and Education 20(4):338-354.

Transnationalism: the case of Zainichi Koreans, support and problems

by Yuriko Otsuka

In Japanese society, there are a lot of Zainichi Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians and other ethnic minorities who have been staying in Japan for more than half a century. In the case of Zainichi Koreans, Chapman (2008) wrote that from 1910, Koreans started to come in to Japan due to  Japanese colonization in the imperial period (as cited in Shipper 2010, p.58). Inokuchi (2000) said that many Koreans left Japan after losing World War 2, however about 620,000 Koreans remained in Japan (ibid). In 2010, the Ministry of Justice estimated that 600,000 Zainichi Koreans were living in Japan (as cited in Sooim, 2012).

Peggy Levitt (2001) says that there are 3 institutional actors that help immigrants connect to their home country: states, political parties, and hometown organizations. In the case of the Zainichi Koreans, I think the states and especially the hometown organizations are playing a big role in Japanese society to help maintain its Korean identity.

The establishment and prevalence of Korean schools is one example of hometown organizations and government involvement. According to the Chosen Soren (as cited in Shipper 2010, p.61), Chongryun (an organization for Zainichi North Koreans) promoted the ties between North Korea and Zainichi by building a lot of Korean schools, also agitating Zainichi Korean parents to enroll their kids in the schools they built (ibid). Chongryun’s Central Education Institute is said to be working closely with the North Korean government through the encouragement of not only teaching Korean and history, but also “loyalty education subjects”, which the government promoted strongly under the periods of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

I also had an opportunity once to go to a Korean school in Osaka. One of the classrooms that I passed had both Japanese and Korean writings on the walls, which I thought is teaching the second and further generations of Zainichi to not forget about their homeland culture and language, and also nurturing their identities as not Japanese but Koreans. In addition, the government of South Korea started to enable Zainichi and other Koreans who live outside South Korea to vote in elections from April 2012 (Choson Ilbo, 2009). I think this is another way for Zainichi and other Koreans outside of Korea to have a sense of belonging towards their home country, and also to build an identity as Koreans by participating in the elections of their country. The examples that I wrote above are only a few of the supports that are done by the government and also the hometown organizations to give Zainichi Koreans to maintain their identity.

The problem that I thought is occurring towards not only Zainichi Koreans but also other ethnic minorities is related to ethnic plurality in Japanese society. As I wrote above, Zainichi Koreans have been staying in Japan for a long time, getting into the Japanese society so well that most people could not even tell the differences between Japanese and Zainichi Koreans. However, I think there is still discrimination against ethnic minorities such as Zainichi Koreans in Japan, which I thought that Japanese should overcome due to having lived with other ethnicities for such a long period. It might be hard for the society to change soon, but at least we have to try more to change our minds to accept people who are trying to live in a difficult society: Japan.


Choson Ilbo. (2009). Zaigaigaikokujinnimo senkyoken 2012 sousenkyokara (Koreans in overseas’ general election voting rights starting from 2012). Retrieved from

Lee, Soo im. (2012). Diversity of zainichi Koreans and their ties to Japan and Korea. Shiga: Japan.

Levitt, Peggy. (2001). Transnational migration: Taking stock and future directions. Global networks, 1(3), 195-216.

Shipper, Apichai W. (2010). Nationalisms of and against Zainichi Koreans in Japan. Asian politics & policy, 2(1). Retrieved from

“Tsuruhashi Massacre” and a Call to Conscience

by Robert Moorehead

A video of a Japanese girl speaking at an anti-Korean rally in Tsuruhashi, Osaka, has recently gone viral. In the video, the girl calls for a “Tsuruhashi Massacre,” akin to the Nanking massacre by Japanese troops in World War 2. Yelling into her microphone, she tells Koreans to leave Japan before they are killed for their alleged arrogance.

The sight of a junior high school-age girl proudly proclaiming her hatred of an ethnic group and her desire to kill members of that group is chilling. The Zaitokukai and other right-wing groups have the support of a small portion of the Japanese population, but where is the outcry against such calls for violence? In times like this, quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., fill my head. As Rev. King told us:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

It’s depressing enough to see a young girl as one of the “bad people,” but we shouldn’t be surprised by open expressions of hate by groups like this. But how do we respond? Do we look the other way? Do we post a comment on a website, saying how terrible it is, and then move on? As Rev. King wrote:

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

So if we follow Dr. King’s call to action, how do we respond? Do we take up arms against our oppressor?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do we organize our own rallies? In my case, I will be making this a topic of conversation in every one of my classes. Year after year I have Japanese students tell me they had no idea such protests were occurring in Japan—but now that they know, what will they do about it?

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Some have replied with the Japanese saying “Netta ko wo okosuna” (Don’t wake a sleeping baby). It’s similar to the English saying “Let sleeping dogs lie.” If we ignore the problem, it will go away. But will it?

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

My students sometimes think I’m pushing them to become radical activists (sometimes?), but I’d like to think that I’m pushing them to start living.


American teacher in Japan under fire for lessons on Japan’s history of discrimination

by Robert Moorehead

From the Washington Post:

Miki Dezaki, who first arrived in Japan on a teacher exchange program in 2007, wanted to learn about the nation that his parents had once called home. He taught English, explored the country and affectionately chronicled his cross-cultural adventures on social media, most recently on YouTube, where he gained a small following for videos like “Hitchhiking Okinawa” and the truly cringe-worthy “What Americans think of Japan.” One of them, on the experience of being gay in Japan, attracted 75,000 views and dozens of thoughtful comments.

Dezaki didn’t think the reaction to his latest video was going to be any different, but he was wrong. “If I should have anticipated something, I should have anticipated the netouyo” (spelling corrected from original post), he told me, referring to the informal army of young, hyper-nationalist Japanese Web users who tend to descend on any article — or person — they perceive as critical of Japan.

But before the netouyo put Dezaki in their crosshairs, sending him death threats and hounding his employers, previous employers and even the local politicians who oversee his employers, there was just a teacher and his students.

Dezaki began his final lesson with a 1970 TV documentary, Eye of the Storm, often taught in American schools for its bracingly honest exploration of how good-hearted people — in this case, young children participating in an experiment — can turn to racism. After the video ended, he asked his students to raise their hands if they thought racism existed in Japan. Almost none did. They all thought of it as a uniquely American problem.

Gently, Dezaki showed his students that, yes, there is also racism in Japan. He carefully avoided the most extreme and controversial cases — for example, Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean and other Asian women for sex, which the country today doesn’t fully acknowledge — pointing instead to such slang terms as “bakachon camera.” The phrase, which translates as “idiot Korean camera,” is meant to refer to disposable cameras so easy to use that even an idiot or a Korean could do it.

He really got his students’ attention when he talked about discrimination between Japanese groups. People from Okinawa, where Dezaki happened to be teaching, are sometimes looked down upon by other Japanese, he pointed out, and in the past have been treated as second-class citizens. Isn’t that discrimination?

“The reaction was so positive,” he recalled. For many of them, the class was a sort of an a-ha moment. “These kids have heard the stories of their parents being discriminated against by the mainland Japanese. They know this stuff. But the funny thing is that they weren’t making the connection that that was discrimination.” From there, it was easier for the students to accept that other popular Japanese attitudes about race or class might be discriminatory.

The vice principal of the school said he wished more Japanese students could hear the lesson. Dezaki didn’t get a single complaint. No one accused him of being an enemy of Japan.

That changed a week ago. Dezaki had recorded his July classes and, last Thursday, posted a six-minute video in which he narrated an abbreviated version of the lesson. It opens with a disclaimer that would prove both prescient and, for his critics, vastly insufficient. “I know there’s a lot of racism in America, and I’m not saying that America is better than Japan or anything like that,” he says.

Also on Thursday, Dezaki posted the video, titled “Racism in Japan,” to the popular link-sharing site Reddit under its Japan-focused subsection, where he often comments. By this Saturday, the netouyo had discovered the video.

“I recently made a video about Racism in Japan, and am currently getting bombarded with some pretty harsh, irrational comments from Japanese people who think I am purposefully attacking Japan,” Dezaki wrote in a new post on Reddit’s Japan section, also known as r/Japan. The critics, he wrote, were “flood[ing] the comments section with confusion and spin.” But angry Web comments would turn out to be the least of his problems.

The netouyu make their home at a Web site called ni channeru, otherwise known as ni chan, 2chan or 2ch. Americans familiar with the bottommost depths of the Internet might know 2chan’s English-language spin-off, 4chan, which, like the original, is a message board famous for its crude discussions, graphic images (don’t open either on your work computer) and penchant for mischief that can sometimes cross into illegality.

Some 2chan users, perhaps curious about how their country is perceived abroad, will occasionally translate Reddit’s r/Japan posts into Japanese. When the “Racism in Japan” video made it onto 2chan, outraged users flocked to the comments section on YouTube to attempt to discredit the video. They attacked Dezaki as “anti-Japanese” and fumed at him for warping Japanese schoolchildren with “misinformation.”

Inevitably, at least one death threat appeared. Though it was presumably idle, like most threats made anonymously over the Web, it rattled him. Still, it’s no surprise that the netouyu’s initial campaign, like just about every effort to change a real-life debate by flooding some Web comments sections, went nowhere. So they escalated.

A few of the outraged Japanese found some personal information about Dezaki, starting with his until-then-secret real name and building up to contact information for his Japanese employers. Given Dezaki’s social media trail, it probably wasn’t hard. They proliferated the information using a file-sharing service called SkyDrive, urging fellow netouyu to take their fight off the message boards and into Dezaki’s personal life.

By Monday, superiors at the school in Japan were e-mailing him, saying they were bombarded with complaints. Though the video was based almost entirely on a lecture that they had once praised, they asked him to pull it down.

“Some Japanese guys found out which school I used to work at and now, I am being pressured to take down the ‘Racism in Japan’ video,” Dezaki posted on Reddit. “I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I don’t want to take down the video because I don’t believe I did anything wrong, and I don’t believe in giving into bullies who try to censor every taboo topic in Japan. What do you guys think?”

He decided to keep the video online, but placed a message over the first few sentences that, in English and Japanese, announce his refusal to take it down.

But the outrage continued to mount, both online and in the real world. At one point, Dezaki says he was contacted by an official in Okinawa’s board of education, who warned that a member of Japan’s legislature might raise it on the floor of the National Diet, Japan’s lower house of parliament. Apparently, the netouyu may have succeeded in elevating the issue from a YouTube comments field to regional and perhaps even national Japanese politics.

“I knew there were going to be some Japanese upset with me, but I didn’t expect this magnitude of a problem,” Dezaki said. “I didn’t expect them to call my board of education. That said, I wasn’t surprised, though. You know what I mean? They’re insane people.”

Nationalism is not unique to Japan, but it is strong there, tinged with the insecurity of a once-powerful nation on the decline and with the humiliation of defeat and American occupation at the end of World War II. Japan’s national constitution, which declares the country’s commitment to pacifism and thus implicitly maintains its reliance on the United States, was in some ways pressed on the country by the American military government that ruled it for several years. The Americans, rather than Japan’s own excesses, make an easy culprit for the country’s lowered global status.

That history is still raw in Japan, where nationalism and resentment of perceived American control often go hand-in-hand. Dezaki is an American, and his video seems to have hit on the belief among many nationalists that the Americans still condescend to, and ultimately seek to control, their country.

“I fell in love with Japan; I love Japan,” Dezaki says, explaining why he made the video in the first place. “And I want to see Japan become a better place. Because I do see these potential problems with racism and discrimination.” His students at Okinawa seemed to benefit from the lesson, but a number of others don’t seem ready to hear it.

Here’s my response: I applaud Dezaki-sensei for his efforts to raise students’ awareness of issues of racism and discrimination in Japan. In my classes at Ritsumeikan, I’ve found students very open to learning about Japan’s modern history, of which they are unfortunately often ignorant. Students have told me that they have gone home after class and asked their parents about the Burakumin, Zainichi Koreans, and other groups. The fact that many of these students grew up in the Kansai area, which is home to many Burakumin and Zainichi, shows how students in high school are not being taught even local history, let alone national history. Of course, many of my students also pass as mainstream Japanese, preferring to conceal their ethnic ancestries rather than constantly out themselves as non- or mixed-Japanese.

As for present-day issues of discrimination, we should not confuse the absence of slurs with the acceptance of minorities. Buraku children still face low expectations and stereotypes from teachers. They are also less likely to attend high school, to graduate from high school or university. They are also more likely to receive government welfare benefits. Plus, groups such as the Zainichi, South Americans, Chinese, and Filipinos routinely face discrimination in employment, education, and other realms of social life. Much of this happens discretely, but it still happens. And let’s not forget the right-wing sound trucks and Zaitokukai protests against Zainichi and other non-Japanese.

I also applaud Desaki-sensei for bravely not giving in to the netouyo. Like Desaki, I’m an American teaching in Japan and I consider this place home. And just like sometimes you have to tell to a friend or family member something they don’t want to hear, Japan needs to hear about problems it would rather ignore. As a country with the third-largest economy and tenth-largest population in the world, Japan is not a child that needs to be protected. It can handle the truth, even if the netouyo would rather avoid it.

Undocumented Migrants

by Maika Kubo

In the US, there are 1.2 million illegal migrants. 70% of them came from Mexico and other Latin American countries to earn better wages. In the class, especially we’ve learned about undocumented migrants who were brought by parents when they were children.

They go to local school and learn local language. They grow up same as other children. However, they notice the fact that they are undocumented migrants when they need identification. They can’t drive because they can’t get driver’s license. They can’t go abroad because they can’t get passport. Also, sometimes they can’t get job because of the lack of identification.

There are two opinions about undocumented migrants. One opinion affirms the stay of undocumented migrants because they contribute to the development of the country as one people. Also, these migrants didn’t commit a crime. They were just brought by parents. The other opinion denies the stay of undocumented migrants because they increase the country’s burden of social security. Also, admitting the stay of undocumented migrant would promote the illegal immigration.

The U.S. president Obama is the former. He declared “DREAM act” which helps undocumented migrants. This law admits less than 30 year-old undocumented migrants who were brought by parents when they were less than 16 years old. They have to be enrolled or graduated from high school in the US, and also they mustn’t have been arrested. If this law is carried out, these undocumented migrants won’t be forced repatriation in two years.

I agree with “DREAM act”, because these migrants should be admitted as American. In Japan, there are many Korean residents. After the WWII, many Korean people smuggle themselves into Japan to escape from the fires of the Korean War. Their descendants go to Japanese school, and grow up as Japanese. I have many such friend, however, I can’t distinguish whether they are Korean or not until they tell it to me because they are totally Japanese. I think environment where they grow is the most important matter when we think about identity, because people can grow up only by being influenced by the environment. They learn their language, common sense, culture, and behavior by the environment. Only the environment can makes people’s character. Therefore, even if the parents are illegal migrants, their children shouldn’t treat as illegal, and they should be given the right to reside.

Are multi-culture and multi-ethnicity accepted in Japanese society?

by Naoko Yoshida

In 2007, Taro Aso, the then Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, made a statement that Japan was the only racially, linguistically, and culturally homogeneous nation. Throughout the history, many politicians and celebrities have said that Japan is a mono-ethnic and mono-cultural country, and those statements have caused a lot of disputes. Although there have been some other races and cultures besides Japanese ones, why so many people consider that Japan is mono-cultural or mono-ethnic nation? I believe this fact shows that Japanese society tacitly has not accepted multi-culture and multi-ethnicity.

There are several minority races in Japan, two of them are Koreans with permanent residence of Japan, who are called Zainichi Koreans, and the Ryukyu race in Okinawa, who are also called Okinawans.

Zainichi Koreans are people who moved to Japan in search of work and as forced labor before and during World War II, and the offspring of those people. Although their nationalities and races are Korean, many of them have Japanese family names. That is because they can adapt to Japanese society more easily with Japanese family names. For example, one of my friends has her Japanese family name “Nakamura” as well as her Korean name “Kim.” She almost always uses her Japanese surname except when she is abroad. In addition, Koreans in Japan usually speak Japanese instead of their mother language, Korean. Those facts show that although they are proud of their own culture, they should follow Japanese customs not to stand out in Japan.

Also, Ryukyu race is a minority in Japanese society. Although Okinawa is one of the prefectures in Japan, it is seen as unique in Japanese society. That is because they show off their indigenous culture. Here, we can say they have strong pride for their culture. And, indeed, Okinawan society is sometimes considered to be separate from Japanese society. That is also shown throughout the history. Japanese government offered Okinawa as a hostage to the US soon after World War Two.

In summary, Zainichi Koreans had tried to be inconspicuous in Japanese society with using Japanese family name and speaking Japanese, and Okinawans had hard time probably because of their too strong pride of their own culture. By considering those facts, multi-culture and multi-ethnicity are not accepted in Japanese society. Since we are in the world of globalization, Japanese people should be more acceptable for other races and cultures.


Tai, E. (2004/9). Korean japanese. Asian Studies 36 (3), 355-382. doi: 10.1080/1467271042000241586

Hoffman, M. (2012/6). Okinawa: a long history of hardship. The Japan Times, 14.

麻生総務相「一民族の国はほかにない」九博開館式で発言. (2005/10/16).