‘Joseon’ students stir subsidy debate in Japan

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‘Joseon’ students stir subsidy debate in Japan

TOKYO - A heavy steel door stands in front of the Tokyo Joseon Second Elementary School in Kita, letting in just one person at a time.

It’s an incongruous sight. Inside the school are trees and a playground bigger than a football field. Students greet this journalist with a friendly konichiwa - “hello” in Japanese - and except for a portrait of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il together on top of the classroom chalkboard, there seems to be no difference between students at this school and those in schools in Japan or South Korea.

However, look closely and posters reading “Our stance on the free education policy” and “Don’t discriminate against Joseon people who are paying their taxes,” allude to another story.

The school - dubbed a “Joseon school,” or North Korean school - educates elementary, middle and high school North Korean expatriates. And the heavy steel door, explains a school manager, “is to avoid any right-wing organization members’ protests or violence towards us.”

In recent months, Joseon schools in Japan have been the center of a heated controversy. The Japanese government is beginning a “free high school education” policy next month, under which it will pay the tuition of all public school students as well as subsidize private and international school students.

Whether Joseon students will be included in the list to receive the state subsidy is still to be decided. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said last month that it is impossible to know whether Joseon students meet the educational requirements for full or partial subsidy, because the lack of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea means there is no avenue by which to evaluate the curriculum at the schools. On Saturday, he said he would like to meet with representatives from Joseon schools.

The question has split the government, as well as Japanese public opinion.

The argument against: Hiroshi Nakai, the head of Japan’s National Public Safety Commission, said last month that Joseon school students should not receive the benefits of free or subsidized education because Japanese citizens continue to be abducted to North Korea.

The Liberal Democratic Party opposes supporting schools which educate students who come from a country that has no diplomatic ties with Japan, and the right-wing newspaper Sankei Shimbun says that Joseon schools take orders from Kim Jong-il and therefore should not receive the subsidy.

The argument for: The Japanese Culture Minister Tatsuo Kawabata said that he has yet to understand the “true meaning” of the prime minister’s argument, and that as tax-paying residents of Japan, Joseon school students’ families are entitled to benefits from government programs. He said that he feels “strong anger” against the move to try to exclude only Joseon schools from the subsidy benefit.

The Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party both argue that abduction issues should not be connected to schoolchildren, and submitted a joint petition to that effect to the culture ministry.

In addition, editorials in major newspapers Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun have sided with the Joseon schools.

The National Assembly is due to decide the question soon.

By Park So-young [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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