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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How can people become Japanese?

by Tatsuya Haishi

Through the discussion in our class, I realized that there are many ways to become Japanese; however, it is a very difficult attempt to succeed. If I must choose one way to become Japanese, I would mention Japanese language. We cannot judge people’s nationality by their appearance like skin, hair and eyes in the age of globalization. We feel comfortable when we can communicate well with other people, yet if we feel that we cannot communicate well with them, maybe we begin thinking about a disparity between us and them. The most effective way to communicate well is the language. When I hit it off with a foreigner who really wants to be a Japanese citizen, it is difficult for me to recognize him as Japanese although I would like to.  He would be one of my foreign friends. However, if he can speak Japanese and communicate with me in Japanese, I will regard him as Japanese with no doubts. Accordingly, I think hafu people who grew up in Japan and can speak Japanese well are perfect Japanese.

I think that to be Japanese is still harder than to be other country’s citizen. Although I have no idea about the exact reason of that, in my experience, many Japanese people have the feeling that our society is a homogeneous community. Of course we learn and know Japan is not a racially homogeneous nation, but we have such sense unconsciously. I think that’s because we have few opportunities to meet foreigners in Japan. I also had never talked with foreigners until I entered the university.

Now, for most of Japanese people, to be Japanese means to be “Japanese-Japanese”, not “Korean-Japanese” or “British-Japanese”, but this situation may change in the near future. Japan is an aging society with a declining birthrate and is facing a decrease of the work force. It will be necessary to accept immigrants from other countries to hire them. When they adapt themselves to Japanese society and have their kids, some of them come to feel that they are Japanese. I take it for granted that there are many kinds of races living together in London. Today, it is a quite natural scene that various different ethnic people are living together in the U.K. On the contrary, I would feel strange if there is a TV drama or a movie that a foreigner acts as Japanese. However, Japan may be a multiethnic nation like U.K. in future. If it becomes real, it will be easy to become Japanese.