By Chika Kitaghishi, ELP Student
“We all are equal, regardless of race.” These words were always kept in one great Japanese man’s mind some 70 years ago, who worked in the Korean peninsula in the period when Japan ruled Korea and the humanity of Korean people were looked down on so badly. It has been 72 years since Korean people were freed from the empire of Japan. However, we, Japan and Korea, still have some conflicts over historical and political issues. Today I want to bring you to see one aspect of Japan, which is about Korean residents in Japan. They are called “Zainichi Korean.” I believe we, the young generations, need to handle these fragments of what the war left behind.
Firstly, let me briefly explain what made Zainichi Korean not want to go back to Korea but to live in Japan. While Japan had ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945, most Korean farmers had no choice but to move to Japan in order to raise their living standards. After the moment, when the Asia-Pacific War was about to begin, the Japanese government began to force a lot of Korean people to move to Japan. They were the bondages of seriously hard labors. Some Korean men were even forced to join the Japanese Army. On the one hand, some Korean women were forced to serve as sexual partners for Japanese personnel. They were called “comfort women,” which is now one of the most controversial issues between us, Japan and Korea. The number of such Korean people is estimated to be about 60 million. After Japan surrendered, most of them fortunately could go back to their own country, Korea, but some could not. One of the reasons for this is that their descendants who were born in Japan did not have a command of the Korean language. What was worse, the Japanese governments restricted them from taking property out of Japan. Therefore, they could do nothing but to keep living in Japan. That is how some Korean towns were born and then gradually evolved as good places for Korean BBQ over Japan.
However, their struggles of this dark history haven’t actually ended. Zainichi Koreans have been struggling with unequal treatment. Over these recent years, they have suffered from hate speech by an ultra-right wing party which does not tolerate privileges for Zainichi Koreans. Korean people are scared by their abusive, discriminatory, and intimidating words.
The saddest factor for me was, as Zainichi Korean is categorized as the minority, we are not just the majority, but the silent majority. Have you ever happened to see this news on TV? The news always showed the right-wing party doing hate speech around Korean Town and at the same time, they also showed Japanese people just staring at them from a distance or passing by without any interests. We are too apathetic about this issue our country has. Superficial knowledge can just sweep this tragedy of Zainichi Koreans. Sadly, however, at the moment, Japanese school doesn’t provide this modern history class as a mandatory class. I think learning about them is the first step to a better understanding of Zainichi Koreans and to change the stereotypes we might have.
We all first have to know the implications behind this issue.
We all need to take actions to make a better place for each other.
We all need to step into a different community from our own.
We all need to be advocates for each other.
What is wrong? What is right? We will find out when we try to learn about it.
Beyond all the historical and political issues, there is always something we can do to build a good relationship with Zainichi Koreans. I believe what makes people happy is the intimacy we have for each other. I hope more of us take a close relationship with them.