by Robert Moorehead
K-1 UFC fighter Choo Sung-hon and soccer player Lee Chung-sun have more in common than their Korean ancestry and their status as professional athletes Both also surrendered their Korean citizenship when they became “Japanese.” Lee (known in Japan as Lee Tadanari) says he grew weary of the taunts he suffered in Korea because he grew up in Japan. Choo (known in Japan as Akiyama Yoshihiro) acquired Japanese nationality so he could compete on the Japanese national judo team. Choo wears both the Korean and Japanese flags on his uniform when he competes, to honor his dual heritage.
Faced with older Koreans in Japan pulling them toward retaining a Korean identity, and younger Koreans in Japan feeling a kinship to the Japanese country where they had been born and raised, many activists have pushed for a “third way,” an identity as Zainichi (Korean resident of Japan) that reflects their experiences as both of and not of Japan and Korea.
This interview with Choo captures his thoughts on his in-between status.