JPRI Working Paper No. 69: July 2000
Korean Voluntary Associations in Japanese Civil Society
by Erin Aeran Chung

In a speech to a unit of the Self Defense Forces on April 9, 2000, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara warned that, in the event of a major earthquake, the soldiers should be prepared for riots by sangokujin, a derogatory term used to refer to people from the former Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan. Following the uproar in the media and by segments of the public, Ishihara maintained that there was no need to apologize because he was referring only to illegal immigrants, not long-term Korean residents. Certainly, such a statement does not come as a surprise from a prominent politician who has often claimed that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre was a fabrication. However, Ishihara's willingness to qualify his statement as it pertains to Korean residents highlights the continued ambiguity of the Korean community's position between "troublesome" new immigrants and Japanese nationals.

Korean residents make up over 40 percent of all resident aliens in Japan (see Table 1). Although naturalization procedures have become less restrictive for permanent residents, only about 30 percent of the total Korean population has been naturalized in the past 40 years (see Table 2). Japanese citizenship policies are based on the principle of jus sanguinis (citizenship by descent) and, therefore, native-born Koreans do not automatically qualify for Japanese citizenship. Yet, according to the conventional indicators of language, education, and marriage, the Korean community in Japan does not show signs of maintaining a strong Korean sociocultural identity. An estimated 90 percent of this population was born in Japan and the majority are not fluent in Korean. The overwhelming majority of school-age Korean residents attends Japanese elementary and secondary schools using their Japanese names. Furthermore, intermarriage of Koreans with Japanese has increased to over 80 percent (see Table 3). Nonetheless, the low rate of naturalization suggests that a significant proportion of the Korean community has made a conscious decision to retain its Korean nationality.
Table 1
Registered Foreign Residents in Japan by Nationality
Year N & S Korea China Philippines USA Brazil Peru Other* Total
1970 614,202 51,481 932 19,045 891 134 21,773 708,458
1975 647,156 48,728 3,035 21,976 1,418 308 29,221 751,842
1980 664,536 52,896 5,547 22,401 1,492 348 35,690 782,910
1985 683,313 74,924 12,261 29,044 1,955 480 48,635 850,612
1990 687,940 150,339 49,092 38,364 56,429 10,279 82,874 1,075,317
1995 666,376 222,991 74,297 43,198 176,440 36,269 142,800 1,362,371
1996 657,159 234,264 84,509 44,168 201,795 37,099 156,142 1,415,136
1997 645,373 252,164 93,265 43,690 233,254 40,394 174,567 1,482,707
1998 638,828 272,230 105,308 42,774 222,217 41,317 189,442 1,512,116
SOURCE: Management and Coordination Agency, Government of Japan, Nihon tokei nenkan [Japan Statistical Yearbook], 1995-2000.
*Includes Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Iran, United Kingdom, etc.

Table 2
Naturalized Foreign Residents
Year (N&S) Korean Nationals Total Foreign Residents
1952 232 282
1955 2,434 2,661
1960 3,763 4,156
1965 3,438 4,188
1970 4,646 5,379
1975 6,323 8,568
1980 5,987 8,004
1985 5,040 6,824
1990 5,216 6,794
1995 10,327 14,104
1996 9,898 14,495
1997 9,678 15,061
Total 217,055 286,734
SOURCES: Kim Yong Dal, Zainchi chosenjin no kika [The Naturalization of Korean Residents] (Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 1990); Ministry of Justice, Homu nenkan [Ministry of Justice Annual Yearbook], 1985-1997; Hoso jiho [Judicial Review], 1985-1997

Table 3
Marriage Trends of Korean Residents in Japan
Year Total Registered Marriages Marriages to (N&S) Korean Nationals Marriages to Japanese Nationals*
1960 3,524 2,315 1,172
1965 5,693 3,681 1,971
1970 6,892 3,879 2,922
1975 7,249 3,618 3,548
1980 7,255 3,061 4,109
1985 8,627 2,404 6,147
1990 13,934 2,195 11,661
1995 8,953 1,485 7,363
1996 8,804 1,438 7,261
1997 8,540 1,269 7,178
SOURCES: Ministry of Health and Welfare, Jinko dotai tokei [Vital Statistics of Japan], 1986-1997; Yamanaka Shuji et al., Daburu no shinpu: Zainichi korian to nihonji no kekkon kazoku [The New Spirit of the Double: Families of Marriages between Korean Residents in Japan and Japanese] (Tokyo: Shinkansha, 1998).
*The category of "Japanese nationals" may include some of Korean ancestry.

The situation of Koreans in Japan is certainly not unique. Foreign nationals make up a substantial proportion of the labor force in all the advanced industrial countries, but the rate of naturalization is normally low even for long-term residents. The case of the Turks in Germany-- where, as in Japan, citizenship was until very recently based on descent rather than residence-- is a good example. The problem of the Koreans in Japan without Japanese citizenship is thus common to many advanced industrial societies with sizable foreign populations. The question is why, given that the Koreans are the largest and oldest of all alien resident groups in Japan, does the majority of them still lack Japanese citizenship?

Earlier English-language studies of Koreans in Japan have argued that they do not have citizenship because of the difficulties and requirements imposed by state immigration and naturalization policies and because the Korean residents maintain their own sociocultural identity.1 But this view gives only a static, dichotomous portrait of an "oppressive" Japanese government and "oppressed" Koreans. It fails to note many non-state forms of political participation in the Korean communities in Japan as well as in Japanese civil society as a whole.

While Japanese citizenship policies at the state level have remained largely unchanged in the postwar period, citizenship at the level of daily life has expanded significantly. In particular, new generations of Korean activists have reinterpreted the meaning of citizenship within the Korean community from stressing eventual repatriation to Korea to stressing Korean "nation building" in Japan and elsewhere abroad. In the early postwar period, Korean citizenship signified the temporary nature of the community, but in the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of movements for civil and social rights in Korea and in Japan, Korean citizenship came to pinpoint a permanently resident minority group in Japan. In the 1990s, activists in the Korean community attempted further to expand the boundaries of citizenship both as a dynamic identity in the Korean community and as participants in Japanese civil society. The emphasis today is on replacing passive citizenship "from above" with active citizenship "from below."

What's in a Name?

Discussion of Koreans in Japan-- in English as well as in Japanese and Korean-- often begins with the thorny issue of names. In English, this community is most often referred to as "Korean residents in Japan" (in reference to their legal status) or "ethnic Koreans in Japan" (which would include Japanese nationals of Korean ancestry), or the "Korean minority in Japan" (to signify their position in Japanese society), or simply, "Koreans in Japan." Although some use the term "Korean-Japanese" (or "Japanese-Korean") to refer to this group, the idea of hyphenated identities and its corollary, a multicultural society, is not yet widely accepted in Japan.

The official Japanese term for Korean residents is Zainichi Kankoku Chosenjin (South and North Korean Residents in Japan), which divides the community according to nationality, with the implication that Chosen refers only to North Korea, and places South Korean nationals (Kankoku) ahead of their Northern brethren. While some Koreans prefer the term Zainichi Korian because of its neutrality and its apparent reference to Koreans as an ethnic group, others identify themselves according to their nationalities (e.g., Zainichi Kankokujin if they are South Korean nationals). Some prefer the historically contextualized names (Chosenjin was the Japanese word for Koreans before the war), while others simply use the abbreviation, Zainichi, as a reference to their permanent residence in Japan. On the other hand, some would like to be rid of the term Zainichi altogether because they see themselves as part of an autonomous nation separate from Japan and not as a Japanese minority group. As one young second-generation Korean activist said to me, "I don't like to be referred to as a Zainichi. I am Korean and therefore should be recognized as being a whole Korean person, not as someone whose identity is compromised by the country in which I reside."

The Japanese public no longer uses the term Chosenjin to refer to present-day Koreans in Japan because of its associations with colonialism. Indeed, the term is often used by children as a slur to taunt other children who are suspected of or are identified as being Korean. However, members of the Korean community continue to use the term to refer to their history in Japan as colonized subjects and their present situation of statelessness (since Chosen as a unified state no longer exists). Moreover, the term has been reappropriated by some members of the community as a symbol of ethnic Korean pride similar to comparable terms used by the Black power movement and the gay rights movement in the United States.

Reference to Koreans in Japan in Korean is the least controversial. Koreans are simply referred to as "Overseas Koreans in Japan" (Chaeil Kyopo, literally "brethren" or "compatriots" in Japan). This term has also been adopted by some members of the Korean community in Japan (although in Japanese the term doho rather than kyoho is more often used). While all external Korean populations are named in Korean in this way, the term is controversial among some Korean-Americans who identify themselves primarily as Americans of Korean ancestry (literally Hankuk kye mikukin but more often referred to as Hanin dongpo, "ethnic Korean brethren," or Komerikan, Korean slang for "Korean-American") rather than as "overseas Koreans" who reside in the United States (Chaemi Kyopo).

These difficulties in formulating an appropriate name for the Korean community highlight the community's complexity and diversity. The Koreans in Japan are divided today by national identities (Japanese/North Korean/South Korean), regional ties (the Kansai and Kanto regions in Japan and the Kyongsang, Cholla, and Cheju regions in Korea), class affiliations, and generations (in Japanese, Zainichi issei, nisei, sansei, yonsei or, in Korean, Chaeil Kyopo ilse, ise, samse, sase). In addition, there are different political agendas for achieving social parity, which are mixed and often antagonistic. While some Korean groups lobby for voting rights and political inclusion, others vehemently oppose these efforts because they are said to promote assimilation and collaboration with the Japanese government.

During the 1980s, at the height of the campaign to abolish the fingerprinting of Korean residents, a number of Korean groups, particularly those affiliated with Chongryun (the pro-North Korean organization in Japan), maintained that the fingerprinting requirement was a necessary consciousness-raising experience for Korean youth who, upon turning 16, were confronted with their Korean identities, often for the first time. It was said that without this sort of "rite of passage," Koreans in Japan would completely assimilate into Japanese society without ever having to acknowledge their true identities. This would only encourage Korean residents to hide their backgrounds, which, in turn, would place less pressure on the Japanese government to end its discriminatory social policies.

Historical Problems

The identity politics of this highly assimilated, structurally foreign community are directly related to the refusal of the Japanese state to acknowledge Koreans as part of Japanese society. Indeed, postwar Japanese citizenship policies have been central to the institutionalization of differences in Japanese society. After Japan's defeat in World War II and Korea's independence from Japan in August 1945, more than 1.7 million Koreans in Japan returned to the Korean peninsula. The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) made no clarification regarding the legal status of the approximately 600,000 Koreans who remained in Japan. They were treated as "liberated nationals" as long as military security was not a concern but were to be treated as enemies if a security issue should arise.

Eventually, Koreans in Japan were denationalized under the Alien Registration Law of 1947 and were required to carry alien registration cards that identified them as belonging to Chosen. (Korea was called Chosen by the Japanese until Korea's liberation from Japan. During the Japanese colonial period, 1910-1945, the Japanese government regarded the Korean population as Japanese nationals by virtue of annexation. Korean imperial subjects were eventually enfranchised in 1937.) However, because the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not come into existence until 1948, Koreans in Japan during this time were held to be stateless. Consequently, Chosen referred not to a nationality but to an ethnic group. Finally, when Japan concluded the San Francisco Peace Treaty with the Allied Powers in 1952, it formally declared its resident Koreans to be aliens.

SCAP implemented many radical reforms in Japanese society, including a new Constitution (1946) and a number of changes in the Japanese political and social order to reflect democratic principles. While the Japanese empire was destroyed and the emperor declared to be human and not divine, the imperial institution remained intact as a symbol of the state and national unity. On the one hand, postwar Japanese citizenship policies expanded the system of rights for state members, but at the same time they blurred the distinction between legal and primordial membership. Working under the assumption that Japan is a homogenous nation, the Diet passed the 1950 Nationality Law perpetuating without controversy the principle of jus sanguinis from the Meiji law of 1899. Because international law recognizes the legitimacy of the principles of jus sanguinis as well as jus soli (citizenship by birthplace), SCAP did not object to this law.

While Japan's population remained heterogeneous in the postwar period, its members were recategorized from imperial subjects into citizens and non-citizens. Whereas the key signifier of difference among imperial subjects had been the proximity of one's relationship to the emperor, that of the postwar population became consanguinity. As colonial subjects, Koreans had been incorporated into a hierarchical imperial system through forced assimilation. Now postwar citizenship policies became the principal institutional device for severing Koreans from the Japanese body politic and quarantining them from potentially contaminating Japanese society and culture. This racialization of Koreans as foreigners complements the ideology of Japan as a "uniquely homogenous society," which some Japanese claim was critical to the nation's drive toward modernization. Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, the existence of Koreans in Japan-- most of whom initially registered by claiming North Korean nationality-- became a security threat to the otherwise politically stable and economically dynamic post-1955 system.

Nationality thus became the primary source of social identity for Koreans in Japan. It is also the basis for political organization within the community itself. The first postwar Korean organization in Japan, Choryon (Zai Nippon Chosenjin Renmei or "League of Koreans in Japan"), was established in October 1945 with the primary purpose of repatriating all Koreans in Japan to Korea. However, the U.S. occupation forces dissolved it in 1949 because American officials saw it as a subversive organization with strong ties to the Japanese Communist Party.

Since the establishment of the pro-South Korean organization Mindan (Korean Residents Association in Japan) in 1948 and the pro-North Korean organization Chongryun (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, Chosen Soren in Japanese) in 1955, the Korean community has been the object of two competing political regimes. From 1955 to 1960, Chongryun was more effective than Mindan in organizing the activities of the Korean community, partly because South Korean president Syngman Rhee paid little attention to Mindan and offered it virtually no assistance. By contrast, the emergence of Chongryun led immediately to the re-establishment of Korean schools (that were initially set up under Choryon ) throughout Japan and the offering of classes in Korean language and history as well as in Kim Il Sung's "revolutionary ideas and activities."2

Following the normalization of Japanese and ROK relations in 1965, Mindan grew stronger because those Koreans who chose to affiliate with the South were given special permanent resident status. Also, the South Korean government now extended university scholarships to second-generation Koreans to study in South Korea. As a result, in the year 1971 alone, approximately 25 percent of the Korean minority changed its registered allegiance from North to South Korea.

Because both Mindan and Chongryun were founded for the purpose of repatriation, they have discouraged their members from acquiring Japanese nationality. Also, rather than challenge the exclusionary ideology of Japanese homogeneity, both groups have, until very recently, emphasized "authentic identities" for the Korean community. These identities not only exclude non-Koreans but also Koreans who have naturalized and become "Japanese citizens," as well as bicultural and racially mixed Koreans who do not fit the "pure" definition. As is the case with most state-centered organizations, Mindan and Chongryun have served less as representatives of their communities' interests than as conduits for the promulgation of their respective state and organizational elite ideologies concerning what constitutes Korean identity in Japan. By stressing these arbitrary Korean causes over gender, class, and other community issues, these organizations often mirror the hegemony of the Japanese state, as well as that of the South Korean and North Korean states. The rigid anti-assimilationist stance of both organizations has neither brought about massive repatriation nor prevented the assimilation of Koreans into Japanese society. On the contrary, the unintended consequence has been to perpetuate the existence of over 600,000 highly assimilated Koreans permanently living within Japan's boundaries without full citizenship rights.

De Facto Versus Legal Citizenship

Although the number of naturalized Koreans in Japan has steadily increased, particularly during the past decade, the incongruity between the daily lives of Korean residents as integral members of their local communities and their legal positions as foreigners has generated important social movements among the younger generations. Three major events in the early 1970s, coinciding with the coming of age of second-generation Koreans, fueled the transition from state-based identity politics to the birth of new and independent movements.

First, in April 1971, came the arrest of the Suh brothers while they were students at Seoul National University in South Korea. Suh Sung and Suh Jun-sik were second-generation Korean residents in Japan but had been active in student demonstrations during the bitterly fought 1971 presidential election between Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae Jung. Following an unauthorized visit to North Korea, the brothers were arrested for violating South Korea's National Security Law, which bans unauthorized contact with North Koreans, any activity that "praises" or "benefits" North Korea, and any involvement in organizations alleged to be pro-North Korean. South Korean authorities also charged Suh Sung with masterminding an espionage ring of students, including his younger brother, under orders from North Korea. They sentenced Suh Sung to death and Suh Jun-sik to 15 years in prison. At their second trial in 1972, their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment (in 1988 reduced to 20 years) and seven years, respectively.

Following his release in 1978, Suh Jun-sik was detained for another 10 years for refusing to submit a statement of ideological conversion. He remained in South Korea as a human rights activist following his release and was arrested again in 1997 during a human rights film festival that he helped organize. He was charged with violating the National Security Law for screening the film "Red Hunt," a South Korean documentary about the 1948 Cheju Island uprising and subsequent massacre of suspected communist sympathizers. (For more information, see the Amnesty International Report, "Republic of Korea (South Korea): On Trial for Defending His Rights: The Case of Human Rights Activist Suh Jun-Sik," AI Index: ASA 25/18/98, May 1998. )

Partially through the efforts of their younger brother, Suh Kyung Sik, who is discussed later in this paper, the cases of the Suh brothers attracted international attention to the treatment of political prisoners in South Korea.3 However, they were merely the best known case: between April 1971 to February 1976, some 36 second-generation Koreans from Japan were arrested in South Korea for their alleged links with the "pro-North Korean" community in Japan and for violating South Korean political laws.

Second, in August 1973, Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) agents kidnapped Kim Dae Jung from his hotel room in Tokyo while he was organizing a mass rally protesting General Park Chung Hee's dictatorship in South Korea. Not only was the arrest a violation of Japanese law, one that stirred international interest, but it also splintered Mindan into two factions: those who supported South Korea's ruling party and those who supported Kim Dae Jung. Shortly thereafter, the majority of those in the latter category abandoned Mindan to join the South Korean democratization movement in Japan and Korea that included the creation of independent groups such as the Korean Youth Alliance, discussed later in this paper.

Third, during the early 1970s, the Hitachi company dismissed a second-generation Korean resident after learning of his Korean nationality. The resulting Hitachi Employment Discrimination Trial spurred a citizens' movement in Japan that generated a coalition between young Koreans and Japanese. Neither Mindan nor Chongryun supported the Korean plaintiff because, they argued, employment in a major Japanese corporation was merely a step toward assimilation into Japanese society. The movement that grew out of this trial eventually led in 1975 to the creation of Mintoren (the National Council for Combating Discrimination against Ethnic Peoples).4

Coinciding with the generational change within the Korean community were many other developments that altered conditions in Japan and promoted new Korean movements. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of Japan's bubble economy, and the movements toward economic globalization and liberalization weakened the highly centralized Japanese state and economy and led to a more diversified population. In addition, the death of Kim Il Sung and the democratization of South Korea improved South Korea-Japan relations and had a profound effect on the lives of numerous activists in Japan's Korean community.

These changes directly affected the legal status of Koreans in Japan. Following Japan's ratification in 1981 of the international convention on the status of refugees, a new permanent resident status was created to cover the remaining former colonial subjects and their descendants. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, the Japanese central and local governments enacted a series of reforms that made the legal status of Korean residents more secure and conferred social welfare benefits on them such as social security and health insurance. This new legal system is based on their rights and obligations as tax-paying permanent residents rather than on their nationalities.

In 1984, Japan revised its postwar nationality law for the first time since 1950. It removed the unequal treatment of men and women in the application of jus sanguinis. Since the revision, children of intermarriages between foreigners and Japanese can acquire Japanese nationality either through their father or mother's nationality. Moreover, the Japanese government no longer required applicants for naturalization to adopt a Japanese-style name. Finally, in 1991, the government created the category of "special permanent residents" to cover all former colonial subjects and their descendants and, in 1993, abolished the fingerprinting requirement for permanent residents. Thus, not only do Koreans in Japan have greater opportunities to become Japanese nationals but as "special permanent residents," they possess more rights than other foreigners in Japan.

The Japanese terms for citizenship reveal the growing dichotomies between citizenship at the state level and at local levels and between citizenship as policy and as practice. Although the word "citizenship" translates directly into Japanese as shiminken, this term is not used in Japanese government documents or legal texts. Rather, the Japanese government employs kokuseki ("nationality") to refer to legal-juridical membership in the state and kokumin (literally "people of the country") to refer to citizens. Shiminken is reserved to discuss citizenship in places like North America and Europe. At the same time, Japanese voluntary associations increasingly use shimin ("people of the city," "townspeople") and often refer to themselves as participating in shimin undo ("citizens' movements") or shimin dantai ("citizens' groups"). Hence, the concept shimin transcends the implied passivity and formality of kokumin to connote active members of civil society. Use of the term shimin is based on community participation rather than state membership, which opens up the possibility of recognizing foreign residents as citizens in the sense of their being members of a civil society.

Building a Korean Nation in Japanese Territory

Suh Kyung Sik, whose theoretical position corresponds with that of the Korean Youth Alliance, divides Koreans in Japan according to whether they identify most strongly with: (a) the homeland, (b) the Korean community in Japan, or (c) Japan itself.5 Category (a) includes those who identify themselves as members of a unified Korean nation or as citizens of the DPRK or ROK. A subcategory exists between categories (a) and (b) that includes those who seek an autonomous Korean nation in Japan centered around Korean schools, organizations, and industries. Category (b) refers to (North and South) Korean nationals who identify themselves primarily as permanent residents of Japan and as members of either Japanese civil society or their local communities. Between (b) and (c) there is a subcategory Suh calls "Korean-Japanese," which refers to ethnic Koreans who have naturalized but maintain their Korean ethnic identities. Category (c) includes naturalized Japanese citizens of Korean descent who identify themselves as "Japanese." Suh notes that this last category does not necessarily include Japanese nationals of Korean descent who are involuntary citizens, such as those whose parents were naturalized prior to their birth or children of mixed marriages between Koreans and Japanese.

According to Suh, the Korean community in the postwar period has been following a sequential transition from categories (a) to (b) and from (b) to (c). Suh argues that the collective and individual lives of Koreans in Japan are fundamentally determined by homeland politics and Korea-Japan relations. Rather than a classical "imagined community" that shares a collective memory of the homeland, the politics of the homeland tangibly affect the everyday lives of the Korean diaspora in Japan-- from attacks on female Korean students following North Korea's launch of the Taepodong ballistic missile in 1998 to the concentrated surveillance of Koreans suspected of subversive activities toward the Japanese, North Korean, or South Korean states. In Suh's view, the reunification of the homeland is central to the emancipation of Koreans in Japan.

Nonetheless, the complete assimilation of Koreans into Japanese society is not inevitable. Rather, in Suh's perspective, the Korean community in Japan has the capacity and obligation to reverse its absorption into Japanese society by forging an emancipating vision of its future in relation to a reunified homeland. Given the currently divided Korean peninsula, Koreans seeking a homeland in a unified Korea are essentially stateless. Suh believes that the Korean community should exercise citizenship not as nationals of either North or South Korea but as autonomous citizens of a reunified Korean nation along the lines of the Palestinian National Council. Hence, Korean citizenship is not bounded by state borders but extends to Korean populations in Japan, China, North and South America, and the former Soviet Union.

Members of the Korean Youth Alliance in Japan (Zainichi Kankoku Seinen Domei, known as Seinendo in Japanese and Hanch'ong dong in Korean) advocate Suh's concept of citizenship for the Korean diaspora. This group was originally part of Mindan but became independent in the 1970s because of political repression from the South Korean government and in order to protest the kidnapping of Kim Dae Jung in 1973. Its members are primarily second, third, and fourth generation South Korean nationals ranging in age from 18 to 35, although it includes a few Koreans who are North Korean and Japanese nationals. Although the organization's members are diverse in background, most of its key leaders are working class.

Funds for the Korean Youth Alliance come entirely from group members' and sympathizers' contributions. The Alliance does not support either North or South Korea. It claims to espouse "democracy" as its principal tenet and centers its activities on teaching the Korean language and on cultural and social activities for Korean youth. Because most of the representatives of the Korean Youth Alliance have at some point been active in the demonstrations to democratize South Korea and the movement to reunify North and South Korea, they are not allowed to enter South Korea at the present time. The activists therefore see themselves as political refugees building an autonomous nation between Japan and the Korean peninsula. Yet, they do not necessarily want to move to Korea if it were reunified. As one activist described the organization to me, engaging in progressive politics as Koreans in order to try to transform Korea and Korea-Japan relations from below is also a means of democratizing the society in which they live: the Japanese government would much prefer that Koreans assimilate and become Japanese with full rights than have groups such as the Korean Youth Alliance encouraging Koreans to assert their identities.

The Korean Citizen as Local Resident

The Kawasaki Fureaikan ("Fureai Hall"), a community center for cultural exchange primarily between Japanese and Korean residents, is located in the heart of the Sakuramoto district of Kawasaki city. This area has a large concentration of Korean laborers and their descendants who were enlisted by the Japanese government to build military factories in the city during the war. The name fureai comes from the Japanese verb fureau, which means "to open one's heart" to others. According to the Kawasaki Fureaikan Tenth Year Anniversary Magazine, dated June 13, 1998, the stated purpose of the center is "to eradicate discrimination and create a tolerant local society" and to "let everyone live up to his or her potential." Before the hall opened in 1988, there was considerable controversy over the project. In 1987, the Kawasaki city government planned to build the hall and assign administrative responsibility over it to the Seikyusha ("Blue Hill Association"), an ethnic Korean social welfare foundation set up in 1973 that provides daycare services for children of Korean and Japanese residents in the area. Japanese residents opposed the hall because they thought the Koreans would dominate it (see Japan Times, August 22, 1987). To overcome these objections, the city assigned three Japanese municipal officials to work at the center, including one who served as its first director. In 1990, Bae Jung Do, a second-generation Korean resident and Mintoren activist, replaced the Japanese director.

Controversy surrounding the opening of the Fureaikan centered around issues of control, but it also raised the larger challenge posed by a Korean grassroots movement attempting to transform Japanese civil society from the bottom up. In a lecture on October 27, 1998, to the Yokohama Asia Festival, Bae Jung Do explained:

Japanese and Koreans are of the same heritage and look the same. Some ethnic Koreans wish that they could look different from Japanese like Blacks do from Whites. . . . Direct discrimination against Koreans has lessened to such an extent that some Koreans say that they have never experienced discrimination. But these are Koreans who continue to use their Japanese names. Most Korean parents give their children Japanese names so that they will not experience discrimination. . . . Discrimination in Japan is indirect, difficult to discern, and hard to identify. This type of discriminatory practice is often more severe than institutional discrimination because it's so hard to recognize and prove . . . . But Koreans need to go beyond complaining about discrimination and demanding rights. Complaints alone cannot change a community. Rather, Koreans and Japanese alike need to come together as a community to tackle the specific problems of our local communities and work toward actual participation in them. After all, foreign residents living in Kawasaki are not only residents [jumin] but also citizens [shimin] of Kawasaki.

Central to this approach is the appeal to citizenship in its broadest sense at the local level-- citizenship correlated with residence rather than nationality. These activists are not attempting to elicit sympathy from segments of Japanese civil society by focusing on the human rights of Koreans in Japan as a whole. On the contrary, their focus is on the local responsibilities of Korean and Japanese residents alike. The goal of the Fureaikan is horizontal integration of the local community rather than entrenchment of the ethnic Korean community. Indeed, in recent years, the Fureaikan has addressed the needs of new foreign residents in Kawasaki such as Filipinos and Japanese-Brazilians. In 1985, ethnic Koreans still made up 83 percent of all foreign residents in Kawasaki, but in 1996, their numbers had fallen to 47 percent. Because the new foreign residents have different concerns from those of Koreans who have lived in Japan for generations, the Fureaikan has expanded its scope of activities.

In addition to such activities as classes in the Korean language and arts, social clubs for Korean and Japanese residents of all ages, and public lectures on Korean history and the Korean community in Japan, the community center now holds Japanese language classes and training seminars for volunteers working with recent immigrants. As a non-profit organization, the Fureaikan receives its funds from the local government of Kawasaki. The staff consists of a more or less equal number of Korean and Japanese residents while the clientele is about 80 percent Japanese and 20 percent Korean and other foreign residents, reflecting the makeup of the local population.

The Fureaikan is part of a network of grassroots Korean and Japanese citizen movements that seek to raise awareness of and tolerance for cultural diversity within Japanese society. Their activities range from movements for the (re)adoption of ethnic names to diversity-training seminars for Japanese executives and movements for local voting rights for foreign residents. Although some of these groups organize political protests against existing policies, most of their work is devoted to educational activities and working with local communities. They believe that the everyday practice of sharing differences within their local societies will progressively transform Japanese social attitudes and state policies.

Cosmopolitan Citizenship

Kim Kyu Il is the leading representative of the Korean Research Organization (Zainichi Doho no Seikatsu o Kangaeru Kai), an independent, non-profit ethnic Korean organization that he founded in 1982 and that is supported entirely by contributions from the Korean resident community. This group's main activities are annual symposia and the publication of an annual journal of essays and articles related to the Korean community entitled Uri Seikatsu (Our Lives). Its members, most of whom have graduated from elite universities in Japan, are primarily professionals and intellectuals as well as activists from other ethnic Korean and Japanese voluntary associations. The vast array of political viewpoints held by its members, who range from first to fourth generation Korean residents-- including Chongryun school graduates, bicultural activists, and some virulently anti-communist Mindan members-- often results in heated debates at the symposiums. Yet, according to Kim, it is precisely this open forum for discussion that holds the group together and promotes the development of active citizens.

On November 3, 1998, in a panel discussion on the idea of a "borderless society" held in Yokohama, Kim remarked: "Some people contend that Japan has changed considerably in this era of so-called internationalization. . . . But despite the changes on the outside, the inside hasn't changed very much at all. Although Korean residents have been granted ïspecial permanent residence' status, they are accepted as part of Japanese society only when they use their Japanese names. Perhaps the internationalization of Japanese society assumes the assimilation of Koreans [in order to present a picture of a discrimination-free Japanese society]. . . . Yet, in a city as cosmopolitan as Tokyo, isn't it possible to conceive of the existence of Korean residents within the city? While the third ïopening' of Japan [after those of Commodore Perry and General MacArthur] is supposed to be conducted by the Japanese people, I believe that Korean residents will be at the center of the pivotal change from nation-state to citizen-state."

Kim believes that Japan is on the road to the creation of what he calls an "advanced citizen society" (senshin shimin shakai). While citizens of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were members of class societies, Kim thinks that the twenty-first century will usher in a classless society in which rights are based on a common humanity rather than on the particularistic projects of individual states. He is convinced that Japan, as an advanced industrial democracy with a "middle-class society," is close to reaching such a citizen society and that Koreans in Japan are crucial to its realization.

Kim argues that the concept of the citizen in Japan today is too narrowly defined as either a formal member of the state (kokumin) or a local resident (jumin). In both cases, an arbitrary leader defines the subject and sets the parameters for his or her participation. Koreans in Japan have also engaged in this narrow form of citizenship-- either as national members of North or South Korea via Chongryun and Mindan or as local residents seeking integration into Japanese society through demands for local voting rights.

Yet, citizenship in its fullest sense for Kim is about transcending the narrow confines of authority and engaging in an interactive process of social criticism. Kim argues that as former colonial subjects and ongoing participants in Japan's postwar democratic project, Koreans in Japan are uniquely qualified for and capable of examining Japanese society objectively and asking the important questions for the current historical moment. Thus, for Kim, efforts by the Japanese state and some segments of its civil society to assimilate Koreans completely into Japanese society are harmful for Japan's democratic development. In a society that demands conformity and espouses homogeneity, the active presence of the Korean citizen pushes the boundaries of the state's official pretensions and opens up opportunities for reshaping social relations. Hence he argues that the exercise of citizenship by Koreans furthers the democratic development of the Japanese citizen.

Kim's vision of citizenship coincides with that of Bae Jung Do and even Suh Kyung Sik in its emphasis on participation and responsibility over rights and demands. All three make a strong distinction between the instrumental view of nationality at the state level and the interactive interpretation of citizenship at the local and international levels. Although they stress different aspects of citizenship in their particular projects, they all base themselves on the premise that Koreans are permanent and vital participants in Japanese society.

In the postwar era, Japanese citizenship has been exclusionary and its acquisition highly conditional. At the same time, because membership at the state level is so exclusive, local level interpretation and implementation of citizenship as practice has had to be less rigid in order to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. Thus, the quality of state-defined citizenship in Japan has also created political opportunities for the Koreans to exercise a form of citizenship as long-term, tax-paying non-national members of Japanese civil society. Nonetheless, this does not justify the continuation of exclusionary practices by the Japanese state. On the contrary, it illustrates the contradictions in the Japanese state's continuing exclusion of a body of native-born foreign residents from formal membership based on a political definition of foreign blood.


1. See Changsoo Lee and George DeVos, Koreans in Japan: Ethnic Conflict and Accommodation (University of California Press, 1981).

2. See Sonia Ryang, North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology and Identity (Westview, 1997).

3. Sung Suh, Goku-chu 19 nen: Kankoku seijihan no tatakai (Nineteen Years in Prison: The Fight of a South Korean Political Prisoner) (Iwanami, 1994).

4. See Yasunori Fukuoka, Lives of Young Koreans in Japan (Kegan Paul International, 1999).

5. See his article "'Esunikku mainoriti' ka 'neishon' ka: zainichi Chosenjin no susumu michi" ('Ethnic Minority' or 'Nation'? The Path of Korean Residents in Japan), Rekishigaku Kenkyu No. 703 (October 1997): 20-30.

ERIN AERAN CHUNG is an advanced doctoral student in political science at Northwestern University. She received a grant from the Japan Foundation to support her research in Japan on Korean communities. This paper is adapted from her presentation to the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, San Diego, March 2000.

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