New Korean name, but man remains an outsider

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New Korean name, but man remains an outsider

YANGSAN, South Gyeongsang ― With the millions of Koreans named Lee, Kim and Park, most visitors could easily wonder, “doesn’t anybody have an original name around here?” Well, of the 286 family names in Korea, there is one that is not shared by anybody else ― yet ― Mangjeol.
The only problem is that the man is not considered a true Korean. He is always the “Japanese who naturalized in Korea.”
Mr. Mangjeol Il-lang, 64, is Korean in every way, and for most of his life did his best to earn the title of a “proud Korean.”
He has received a presidential award for being a “proud farmer,” was later acknowledged as an “admired knowledge worker” and has been given eight more awards from the government for devoted service to his neighborhood in Naesong village.
“For 60 years, I lived up to my best as a Korean man,” said Mr. Mangjeol, a former village head of Naesong. He even received a “proud village leader” award from the Yangsang county head in 1980. Mr. Mangjeol insists that the only Japanese left inside him comes from his family name, Anikiri, which he switched to Mangjeol, the Korean pronunciation of Chinese characters in his name, when he naturalized. (Chinese characters are also used in Japan and Korea.)
Mr. Mangjeol was the only child of a Japanese couple living in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang province during the latter days of Japanese colonial rule. His father, a senior police officer, was transferred to a precinct there in 1942.
Three years later, when Japan was defeated in World War Two, his parents were forced into hiding. With the liberation of Korea, most Japanese residing in Korea refused to step outside the house, fearing retaliation from the locals. One day, government officials came to their house and ordered a forced repatriation of the family. Mr. Mangjeol, then four years old, was playing at a neighbor's house. His parents left the country without him, stranding him in Korea.
His Korean neighbor adopted him and gave him the Korean name Yang Il-lang.
When he turned 29, he went to Japan to find his parents in Kakoshima prefecture. The Japanese government gave him Japanese citizenship, but he returned to Korea and decided to naturalize.
“Korea had been a more meaningful nation to me,” he said. “So I thought it was natural for me to become Korean.” He used his Japanese family name instead of Yang because he wanted to preserve his family line, not because he wanted Japanese nationality, he said.
In 1972, he sought out his Korean foster parents again, and rented a small patch of land from their son in order to start a mushroom farm. In 1994, he succeeded in cultivating a king oyster mushroom, a first of its kind in Korea. Last year, he developed a “red ginseng mushroom,” which is 40 percent richer in the anti-cancer substance saponin than green ginseng mushrooms.
“It would be really nice if people would look at me without always noting my Japanese origin,” he said.


by Lee Key-won

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