[VIEWPOINT]Korean fish in a Japanese ocean

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[VIEWPOINT]Korean fish in a Japanese ocean

No parent would ever want their children to go astray. But there are surprisingly many instances where sacrifices made and decisions reached after long soul-searching for children fail to produce the intended results.

This probably is because it is not always easy for parents to know with absolute certainty what is truly necessary and important for their children.

And this may be why there are more parents who are eager to pass on their wealth to their children or try to get them into prestigious colleges than there are parents who are inclined to make donations to the needy or instill good principles in their children.

There are always children who fail to manage inherited wealth well, or jobs that were thought to bring wealth and status suddenly become valueless. This is why parents are always concerned how their children will turn out.

The scale of such concern for parents of Korean ancestry living in Japan is especially large. Unlike Korean-Americans, who live side by side with the white majority, Koreans in Japan have constantly been pressured and lured to raise their children as Japanese.

Despite a heavier financial burden and possible discrimination in college admissions, some Korean parents have sent their children to Korean schools in Japan. But a significant number of Korean parents simply could not afford to teach their children the Korean language and culture because of financial constraints.

In addition, because of severe discrimination and a history of repression, Korean parents have tried to hide their children's Korean names, use Japanese names and act like Japanese. The parents hoped their children would make Japanese friends at Japanese schools, grow up Japanese and become a successful members of Japanese society.

How horrible the discrimination must have been to make many Korean children think they would rather become Japanese than stay Korean.

But of late, a significant number of second- and third-generation Koreans in Japan are "coming out of the closet" and declaring themselves Korean despite their parents' opposition. They reached their decision after attending classes on Korean culture. Why do they want to use their Korean names and restore their identity, fully knowing they would be met by age-old discrimination, especially when they can act Japanese without a foreign flavor? Their decision is not only intended to strengthen the link between them and their country of origin but also to restore dignity and assert their rights as decent human beings.

The new generation Koreans desire to change Japanese society so that Koreans, aboriginal Japanese, Okinawans and foreign migrant workers can live without discrimination. They understand Japanese discrimination against Koreans not merely as part of the unfortunate historical relationship between Korea and Japan but as a broader human rights issue.

In other words, resolution of the discrimination issue for Koreans would be the beginning of an eradication of every discrimination issue in Japan. The Korean effort would enhance the rights of all other minority groups in Japan. Perhaps because of this, Korean education officials that I met recently in Osaka's Ikuno district, which has the greatest concentration of Koreans in Japan, were full of pride and were imbued with a sense of responsibility.

What I thought lacking was a material and systemic basis for Korean cultural education. While Korean culture classes are conducted in 90 different Japanese schools in the area as an extracurricular activity, there is no support from the Japanese education system and the classes are taking place only with permission from school principals. There is also a lot to be desired in the treatment of Korean teachers.

The schools run by Jochongnyeon, the pro-North Korean Federation of Korean Residents in Japan, are also facing a crisis because of the ending of monetary aid from the North Korean government, the overall decline in the financial condition of members of the group and the decrease in the number of students. Active support and interest on the part of the South Korean government and people toward Korean education in Japan is a high priority.


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The writer is a professor of anthropology at Kookmin University.

by Han Gyeong-gu

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