Hero of diligence KOs fans in Japan
Shouts of “Victory, victory, Hong Chang-su,” rang out from the crowd, who were mostly in their teens and 20s. As they vigorously waved flags printed with a blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula, Tokuyama won his ninth title defense with a unanimous decision.
Tokuyama’s real name is Hong Chang-su, and he is based in Japan because of his grandfather’s decision to leave Goseong, South Gyeongsang province, and settle there when Korea was a Japanese colony. Hong is a third generation Korean in Japan with North Korean nationality. In 2001, he received the “Athlete of People” and “Hero of Diligence” titles from North Korea.
Hong is registered under the Japanese Boxing Commission, but has kept his nationality. He began boxing when he was enrolled in a high school associated with the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. Hong debuted in 1994, but he refused to naturalize and become a Japanese citizen.
Hong did not want to renounce the fact that he was Korean but at the start of his career, when he tried to be registered under Hong Chang-su, he was rejected several times. To get over this discrimination he began competing under the name of Tokuyama.
Hong has the habit of writing his will a day before a match, which shows his determination ― the will stipulates that he does not want to be kept alive if he falls into coma, and explains how any prize money is to be shared. Such strength of character has led him to become a star boxer in Japan. Hong has a record of 32 wins, including eight knockouts, one draw and three losses. It is the third best record among world boxing champions coming from Japan since 1929. He has also been named the most valuable boxer of the year twice in a row by the Japanese Boxing Commission.
Hong said that he fought for himself in the ring and at the same he fought in the hope that victory could give courage to Koreans in Japan. Hong’s swift left hook is his trademark punch.
He used to wear shorts with “One Korea” inscribed on them when he was an unknown. On the poster for matches, he had the phrase, “Our only wish is unification.” Recently, however, this slogan has disappeared and he no longer shows up with a flag of a unified Korean peninsula.
“Anti-North Korea sentiment increased in Japan because of the North’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens, and Hong Chang-su has had emotional conflicts,” said a reporter who is close to the boxer.
Also, having turned 31, he is feeling some pressure to retire. At a press conference after the match, he said, “I don’t know what I will do after I quit boxing, but I will keep the spirit I learned from it into my future.”
by Yeh Young-june