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


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