“Sabetsu to Nihonjin”

Shiomi Maeda

Today I would like to introduce a book titled “Sabetsu to Nihonjin” – Discrimination and Japanese people” in English – published by Kakugawa, written by Hiromu Nonaka and Shin Sugok.

Mr. Nonaka was born and grew up as a Buraku child, while Ms. Shin, as you can guess by her name, is Zainichi Korean. Despite of their different status in society, there is something they share – the experience of unfair treatment due to what they were born with.

This book is very easy to read. 80% of the book is written in conversational style based on their experience of discrimination, with 20% of explanation to make it easier for readers to understand the background and history.

Among all the stories they tell, there is one story that shocked me the most. It is a story about 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and discrimination associated with it.

In the panic of the quake, there were many Koreans who were killed not by the quake, but by Japanese people.

In that time period, there were so many cases of thefts – there was a huge shortage of food and goods; people were struggling to survive after their properties were all broke down or lost; some people had stolen things from broken houses. (Maybe some had no choice but to do so against their will?) Japanese made all of these cases Zainichi’s fault. Japanese said “it’s no one but Zainichi who do such things.” And in the end, those who believe the story DID kill innocent Zainichi Koreans.

This story is not well-known particularly among the younger generation of Japan. But I believe this is the story we should tell from generation to generation.

This year, we had 311 – the Great East Japan earthquake. I haven’t heard any sad stories like the one above. But there might have been victims of discrimination even if no one was killed – we don’t know yet.

Earthquake is a tragedy – it can kill many people. Why do we make it more tragic by killing innocent people who survived the quake? We have to look back at the reality and rethink about it.

This untold tragedy of Great Kanto earthquake is just one of the stories discussed in the book. I really recommend this book since it provides many opportunities to reconsider the issue of discrimination against social minorities. If any of you would like to read further, you can buy the book online or at most of bookstores.

Nonaka, Hiromu, and Shin Sugok. Sabetsu to Nihonjin. Tokyo: Kakugawa Group Publishing, 2009. Print.

3 thoughts on ““Sabetsu to Nihonjin”

  1. Brilliant post. I have also read the same book ‘Sabetu to Nihonjin’, and the same part, about the Great Kanto earthquake, has shaken me as well. The number of the people who were killed is about 7,000…!! Though it should not be the problem of the number of people, that is absolutely shocking.
    If that incident of strong discrimination-based mass killing was related to the mentality of people at the time of crisis, it is actually scary because the current society still has both discrimination and the possibilities of various tragic crises.

    Likewise, about the book, I think it shows the families’ difficulties to fight with discrimination.
    Hiromu Nonaka described he had many of attacks as opposing to his anti-discrimination activities. He described even once somebody threw a dead body of a cat into his house. Yes, he mentioned the anti-discrimination activities hit even the family of the activists/politicians themselves.

    I also highly recommend the book!

  2. I think this post is very thoughtful. As you mentioned, the story that many Zainichi Koreans are killed in Great Kanto earthquake are well-known by younger generation in Japan. When I heard this fact first time, I was very shocked and I did not want to believe what Japanese did at that time. During the period when Korea was colonized by Japan, Japanese people believed Korean people are inferior. I believe there is superiority or inferiority among on ethnicity.

    Also, you have mentioned about 3.11(Great East Japan earthquake), you haven’t heard any of discriminated stories. However, I have heard that Chinese people are discriminated in some kind of way. I’m not sure about it and I’m sure that is fabrication, but I just wanted to say there were some kind of discrimination.

  3. Thanks for your recommendation. This book sounds very interesting to me.

    As Ayako-san mentioned above, I have also heard about the discrimination against Chinese people in Tohoku after 3.11. One of my friend from Fukushima told me that there are a rumor that there were people who stole things like jewels from broken houses so that they had to seal off some areas and they believe that is Chinese who are thefts. It shocked me a lot when I heard that story.

    I guess that it more likely happens, in the situation like 3.11 and Great Kanto earthquake when people are sad and frightened, that people want someone to blame or show their feeling more directly. Does that mean Japanese are just hiding their feeling against foreigners? I don’t want to finish it with saying I feel sad to know that but I was really sad when I heard this story.

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