[KS] KSR 2001-13: _Koreans in Japan_, ed. by Sonia Ryang

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Thu Jul 26 00:26:15 EDT 2001

_Koreans in Japan: Critical Voices from the Margin_, ed. by
Sonia Ryang. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.  240 pages. ISBN:

Reviewed by Haesook Kim
Long Island University

	[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 4 (2001): 173-75.  _Acta
Koreana_ is published by Academia Koreana of Keimyung University.]

The history of the Korean community in Japan spans nearly a century and
includes not only the voluntary migration of Koreans during and after the
First World War but also the involuntary migration perpetrated by the
Japanese colonial authorities during the Pacific War. While many returned
to Korea after the war, most of the earlier-arriving Koreans remained.
Today, there are approximately 650,000 Koreans currently living in Japan,
many of whom are of the second or third generation.

In general, the experience of the Zainichi Chosenjin, as they have been
commonly known in Japan, has not been an easy one. To be sure, overseas
Koreans in other countries experienced hardships and discrimination, most
notably in the Soviet Union. But the Koreans in Japan have arguably had it
the worst, beginning with the massacre of several thousand innocent Koreans
in the aftermath of the Kanto Earthquake of 1923.  During the Pacific War,
many Koreans served as forced labor for the Japanese war machine and ended
up as victims of the American bombing campaign. During the prewar period,
the household registration system in place in Japan assured that Koreans
would remain second class citizens despite imperial rhetoric to the
contrary. In the postwar era, numerous factors have operated to make life
difficult for Koreans in Japan. The edited volume under review, consisting
of ten articles, examines this postwar period.

The editor, Sonia Ryang, is an anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University
and a leading authority on the subject, having a number of articles and
several books to her credit. As a Korean raised in Japan, she also brings a
unique perspective of personal experience to the topic. Ryang also
contributes one of the articles as well as an introduction to the volume,
so it is appropriate to begin with her contention that North Korea serves
as a kind of ideal "site" for Koreans in Japan, basing her findings on
interviewee narratives. Despite its current problems, she concludes that
North Korea is seen as symbolically  "pure"--a feeling of an ideal
"home"--cultivated by the pro-North Korean schools. As a symbol, she
predicts that this feeling will be relatively slow to dissipate.

In the space of a short review, it is impossible to do justice to the rich
variety of the research reflected in this volume.  One way to look at the
wide range of insights, however, is to categorize some as representing a
macro-level approach, while others look at the micro-level. One piece
reflecting the former is a discussion of the legal status of Koreans in
Japan that serves to exclude Koreans in important ways. The author
(Kashiwazaki) argues that this status is reflective of Japan's state
interest, but that it is also a product of the Koreans themselves and their
attitudes and organizations, more concerned with Korean nationality and
national identity than life in Japan.  As such, at a time when aliens in
most developed countries are becoming more empowered, one does not find
such a trend in Japan.

Educational issues are also a critical component in the identity of Koreans
in Japan.  Inokuchi looks at Korean ethnic schools during the Occupation,
arguing that the Japanese did not want to fund Korean schools and that
SCAP's policies toward Koreans in Japan were often incoherent, allowing the
Japanese effectively to relegate these schools to insignificance. In what
might be considered a micro-level approach to educational issues, Aoki
looks at the textbooks used in Japanese schools. Because they emphasize the
national language as necessary for passing the examinations, this emphasis
tends to marginalize Korean school children. Similarly, in social studies
texts, the stress is on an unbroken lineage in which Koreans have no place.
Finally regarding education is an article in which the author (Hester)
describes the Korean schools that many attend after their regular school
day where Koreans can express their Korean identity. Here they learn Korean
songs, learn han'gul, and use their Korean, rather than their Japanese,

One can also look at representations of Koreans in Japan as oppressed
minorities.  Certainly the earlier literature on the subject (Mitchell and
Lee and deVos) emphasize the suffering of the Koreans.  Such themes are
easy to find here. Melissa Wender, for example, focuses on two women
writers in the Koreatown slum of Osaka whose themes of oppression include
the fingerprinting issue and make common cause with other oppressed
minorities such as the burakumin. Lisa Yoneyama also focuses on a Korean
woman writer--Yu Miri--winner of the Akutagawa Prize who explores themes of
dysfunctionality in Korean families in Japan.  Yu finds herself in the same
fix as Asian American writers whose works are deemed "Asian American"
literature rather than "American" literature. Yi Yang-ji is another
award-winning Korean writer in Japan whose story is taken up by Carol
Hayes. Yi's parents suppressed their Koreanness, then divorced, leading Yi
to run away from home and attempt to commit suicide out of a sense of shame
from the duality of her existence.

At the same time, some of the articles present evidence that many of the
Koreans in Japan live quite normal, "ordinary" Japanese lives. Films such
as the 1993 comedy "Where is the Moon?" by a Korean Japanese filmmaker
pokes fun at Koreanness in Japan.  If the subject were still a sensitive
one, suggests Iwabuchi, a comedy about it would be the last thing one would
expect to find.  At the same time, it introduces Japanese audiences to a
world to which few have been privy. John Lie, looking at three individual
cases, suggests that not all Koreans in Japan feel oppressed. Challenging
earlier scholarship, Lie says that there is a wide range of responses to
living in Japan, not all of which fall into the category of oppression. In
fact, many second- and third-generation Koreans live quite normal,
Japanese, lives without much ado.

This volume contributes to our knowledge of diaspora and the notion that
where one is from and where one is at are constantly in conflict and that
the complexity stemming from that conflict plays itself out in myriad ways.
The editor hopes that by examining Koreans in Japan, this volume will
contribute to the theoretical literature on minorities and oppressed
peoples. The fascinating detail revealed in this collection will certainly
advance this goal.

Kim, Haesook 2001
Review of  _Koreans in Japan: Critical Voices form the Margin_, ed. by
Sonia Ryang, (2000)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2001, no. 13
Electronic file: http://www.iic.edu/thelist/review/ksr01-13.htm

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