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.

References

Hokkaido Ainu Kyokai.http://www.ainu-assn.or.jp/about03.html

Lie, John. 2008. “Zainichi Recognitions: Japan’s Korean Residents’ Ideology and Its Discontents.” The Asia-Pacific Journal >http://japanfocus.org/-John-Lie/2939

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.

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