Koreans in Japan: Past and Present1

FUKUOKA, Yasunori

Saitama University Review, Vol.31, No.1.


In 1986, ex-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described Japan as being a "homogen eous" country. This is a widely held view, even today, not only by a few conserv ative politicians, but by Japanese society at large. The Ainu, an indigenous gro up in Japan, took offence to the prime minister's statements. When all of the fa cts are taken into consideration, this whole myth of homogeneity can no longer g o unquestioned.

Take, for example, the approximately 700,000 North and South Korean national s dwelling in the country today. The majority of them were born and have grown u p in Japan. In fact, a considerable number of them are the third, and even the f ourth generation that have been brought up here. Yet, Japanese nationality is ba sed on lineage, meaning that these Korean descendants are not automatically awar ded Japanese citizenship.

Furthermore, Koreans who have naturalized, and some children of Korean-Japan ese intermarriages have become Japanese nationals. Therefore an estimated 1% of the 120 million people in Japan are either North or South Korean nationals, or J apanese nationals of Korean descent; they serve as an excellent example of evide nce contrary to this so-called homogeneity.

This essay will hopefully serve to dismantle the myth of homogeneity by prov iding an overview of the history and present situation of Koreans in Japan. By d oing so, it is also hoped that the essay will reveal the atrocities which lie be hind the myth, and serve to alert the reader to the need for change. To be more specific, I will focus on the following issues:

  1. The historical background of Koreans in Japan:- namely, the factors which mad e them come to Japan during Japan's colonial rule over Korea; the reasons why th ey had to remain in Japan even after Japan was defeated in 1945; what kind of Ko reans remained in Japan; and the way the post-war Japanese government treated th em.
  2. The current situation of young Koreans in Japan:- the lives of third-generati on Koreans in Japanese society; the degree of their retention of Korean ethnicit y; and their identity conflicts.
Historical background

Japanese colonization of Korea

It has been a common belief that the number of Koreans who were living in Japan before Japan annexed Korea in 1910 numbered a mere 790, and that most of them we re students. However, a recent study by Keizo Yamawaki[1994] revealed that quite a few Koreans had come to Japan even before 1910. They worked as laborers in co al mines or on railway construction sites, or as candy peddlers in Japan from th e latter half of the 1890s.

Nonetheless, it was primarily Japan's colonization of Korea that influenced a large number of Koreans to migrate to Japan. After the annexation of Korea in 1910, Koreans were forced to become the subjects of Imperial Japan. The occupyin g colonial policy imposed severe control on Korea. The Japanese government confi scated a significant amount of land from Korean landowners from 1910 to 1918. Fr om 1920 to 1934, Japanese authorities initiated a project to increase rice produ ction in Korea, and exported the major part of the rice to Japan causing serious famine among Koreans.

As a result, the life bases of many Koreans were devastated. Many Koreans le ft for Japan in search of jobs in order to escape the poverty at home. Koreans i n the southern part of the peninsula, Kyongsang-do, Cholla-do and Cheju-do, tend ed to migrate to Japan, whereas Koreans in the northern part tended to migrate t o the former Manchuria, which is currently the northeast region of China.

Koreans who migrated to Japan faced severe Japanese discrimination, prejudic e and antagonism. For example, more than six thousand Koreans were massacred at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Nonetheless, the number of Korea ns who migrated to Japan in search of employment continued to increase. In many cases, male Korean workers left their families and migrated to Japan alone. Thos e Korean males who were married brought their families to Japan when their econo mic situation had become somewhat stable. Single Korean males went home to get m arried, then returned to Japan with their wives. There were many other Koreans w ho migrated to Japan through family and hometown networks. By 1938, about 800,00 0 Koreans were living in Japan.

Between 1939 and 1945, many Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan to work u nder even more severe conditions [Park 1965]. During this same period, the Japan ese military forcibly brought many young Korean women to serve them as "comfort women" [Yoshimi 1995]. When Japan was defeated by the Allied Forces in 1945, it is estimated that there were approximately 2,300,000 Koreans in Japan.

Enforcement of Japanese names: "Soshi-kaimei"

During its colonial time and especially after the Pacific War broke out, Japan, using its military power, forced Koreans to completely assimilate to Japanese. A s a part of its assimilation policy, Japan forced Koreans to do "soshi-kaimei" ( adopt Japanese names instead of using their Korean ones). "Soshi-kaimei" was int ended to radically transform the Korean family system into that of the Japanese [Miyata et al. 1992]. The effect of "soshi-kaimei" is evident even today in a se nse, as the vast majority of Koreans in Japan still use Japanese names instead o f their Korean ones in their daily lives.

However, many Koreans attempted to preserve their family roots by modifying their Japanese names. One of the findings from my interviews with Koreans in Jap an was that there are correlations between their Japanese names and their Korean surnames. For example, "Kim", a popular Korean surname, can be read "kane" in J apanese. Thus, those Koreans who were members of the "Kim" family tended to name themselves "Kaneda", "Kaneyama", and so on. Some Koreans made up Japanese surna mes referring to their "bonkwan" (which means the place where their ancestors or iginated). Other Koreans created Japanese surnames with words which expressed th eir family history. Regrettably, the wishes of the Koreans at that time to prote ct their ethnicity and national pride seem to have not necessarily been passed o n to today's young, third generation.

From transient to resident: 600,000 Koreans remained in Japan

On August 15, 1945, Japan was defeated in World War II. This meant that Korea wa s liberated from Japanese colonial ruling. Many Koreans who resided in Japan at that time returned to Korea.

It is likely that all Koreans who resided in Japan had a common desire to re turn to their homeland. However, between 500,000 and 600,000 Koreans remained in Japan, because they had no other choice.

It is often said that those Koreans in Japan today are those who were forcib ly brought to Japan as laborers and their descendants. Even though there are som e such Koreans, this does not apply to the majority of Koreans in Japan today. T he vast majority of Koreans who were forcibly brought to Japan from 1939 to 1945 returned to Korea. The Koreans in Japan today are mainly the descendants of tho se who came in search of employment before the Imperial Japanese government star ted forcibly bringing Koreans to Japan.

For the Koreans who were forcibly brought over, Japan must have been nothing more than a country against which to bear a grudge. Imagine being separated fro m your family against your will and brought to Japan. In Japan, they had no free dom, and were forced to work under severe conditions in coal mines, military pla nts, construction sites for airports and dug huge tunnels for military use. They saw many of their countrymen die one after another. Furthermore, they had been unable to contact their families in Korea, and they believed that their families were eagerly awaiting their safe return. There must have been no reason for the m to remain in Japan.

On the other hand, those Koreans who had come to Japan earlier were differen t. As a result of their life bases in Korea having been demolished by Japanese c olonial policy, they made the choice to come to Japan and start over again. At f irst, they were single migrant laborers. Gradually, this pattern transformed as they brought their families from Korea to settle in Japan. Although the Japanese discriminated against them in wages and in working conditions, they somehow man aged to make a living. When Korea was emancipated by Japan's defeat in WWII, the se Koreans also would have liked to return to Korea. However, their families wer e in Japan now, and they had lost their economic bases in Korea. It must have be en very unlikely that they could return and start over again in Korea. It must h ave been a difficult decision, weighing up the natural dream to return, yet know ing that it was unlikely that they could lead a quality life at home. Between 50 0,000 and 600,000 Koreans decided to remain in Japan. Other factors such as soci al and economic disorder in Korea and the division of Korea into two countries f ortified this decision.

Negation of both rights as Japanese citizens and as foreigners

How did the Japanese government treat Koreans compelled to remain in Japan after WWII? They treated Korean residents in as absurd a way as with their previous c olonial policy [Mintohren 1989]. The post-war Japanese government negated both K orean rights as Japanese citizens and as foreigners.

For example, Korean schools were established in many places in Japan after t he end of WWII. They were built by Korean parents who wanted their children to l earn Korean language, history and culture in preparation for their future return to Korea. However, Japanese authorities suppressed these Korean schools, statin g that it was not appropriate that Korean children were educated as foreigners s ince they were Japanese citizens.2

On the other hand, the Japanese government stripped Koreans residing in Japa n of their right to vote in December 1945. In 1947, Koreans residing in Japan be came subject to the Alien Registration Ordinance. The grounds for this treatment were that Koreans who did not have their "koseki" (family registration) in Japa n were not seen as "true" Japanese, even though they were Japanese nationals. Even after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was effectuated in 1952, the Japan ese government still treated unrepatriated Koreans outrageously. When the treaty came into effect on April 28, 1952, the Japanese government unilaterally stripp ed Korean residents of their Japanese nationality. They did not even give Korean residents a choice between a Japanese, or a Korean nationality.

Moreover, as it obtained independence from the Allied Nations' control, the Japanese government awarded compensation to war veterans and the families of tho se who died. However, it was not awarded to those Korean veterans who were force d to become Japanese soldiers during WWII, nor to their families. This was on th e grounds that they were not Japanese nationals when the laws were established, even though they had been Japanese nationals during wartime.

In addition, Koreans conscripted into the Japanese army were given orders to abuse captives of the Allied Forces by their superiors. These Koreans were pena lized and executed as war criminals even after they had their Japanese nationali ty stripped. The Japanese government and the Japanese Supreme Court rejected Kor ean protests relating to this unfair treatment, stating that despite the fact th at they were no longer Japanese nationals, those Koreans forced to commit war cr imes would be found guilty as "Japanese nationals", and there would be no exempt ion from punishment [Utsumi 1982].

Japanese policy: not assimilation but oppression

It is often said that the post-war Japanese government continued their assimilat ion policy toward Korean residents in Japan. However, there are some doubts conc erning this. There are four possible theories in regards to the nature of Japanese policy adopted after the end of WWII toward Korean residents:

  1. A policy to respect their human rights;
  2. An assimilation policy;
  3. An exclusion policy; or
  4. An oppression policy.
I would like to examine these four possible theories in order to conclude wh ich policy the Japanese government might have actually adopted.

Firstly, if a policy based on human rights had been adopted, the Japanese go vernment would have regretted pre-war Japanese colonial policy in Korea. Further more, they would have avoided destroying and covering up pertinent documents, an d conducted a thorough investigation into the Japanese colonial policy in Korea, the forced labor issue and the "comfort women" issue. In addition to this, the Japanese government would have apologized and provided appropriate compensation to the Koreans whose lives were lost or ruined as a result of Japanese policy. T hey would have paid full wages for forced labor regardless of whether the Korean s had been forced to work in private companies, or for the Japanese Imperial gov ernment.

Two choices should have been available to Korean residents: either to return home, or to remain in Japan. The government should have taken full responsibili ty by providing financial support for those Koreans who wished to return to Kore a. For the Koreans who wanted to remain in Japan, the Japanese government could have protected their basic human rights, and should have authorized and financia lly supported Korean schools in Japan. They should not have stripped the right t o vote from Korean residents, at least until they lost their Japanese nationalit y in 1952. Finally, the Alien Registration Law should never have been applied to them.

In 1952, the government should have given Korean residents in Japan a choice of nationality. Permanent residency should have been awarded to those Koreans w ho did not want Japanese nationality, allowing them to go abroad and re-enter Ja pan without restriction and be free from the threat of deportation. Koreans shou ld not have been forced to have their fingerprints taken, or obliged to carry th eir Alien Registration Certificate at all times. There should have been no diffe rence between Japanese nationals and Koreans in voting rights, in social welfare , and in recruitment for public posts. The Japanese government should have encou raged a program to prevent discrimination against Koreans in marriage, employmen t, and housing. However, all evidence clearly shows that the Japanese government did not adopt any such policy of respecting Koreans' human rights.

Secondly, if the Japanese government adopted an assimilation policy, surely Korean residents would have been encouraged to adopt Japan as their country, and become Japanese in both ethnicity and nationality.

The Japanese government continued to create conditions which disadvantaged K oreans who wanted to maintain their ethnic identity. They continued to suppress Korean schools and Korean antagonism towards Japan continued to increase. In eff ect, the Japanese government executed an assimilation policy that promoted the d estruction of Korean ethnic identity altogether. It also restricted conditions b y which Korean residents could willingly identify themselves with the Japanese. Moreover, the Japanese government discouraged Korean naturalization by establish ing strict qualifications for applicants to obtain Japanese nationality. They de manded submission of numerous troublesome documents and conducted investigations and hearings which could have been considered harassment towards Koreans. All i n all, the Japanese government adopted neither a consistent nor a wise assimilat ion policy at all.

The third hypothesis that I shall examine is a government adopted exclusion policy. This could be defined as a policy intended to rid the problem of Korean residents altogether by deporting all of them from Japan. In order to exclude Ko reans from Japan smoothly, it would have been necessary to make conditions unple asant for them to stay in Japan, and to then facilitate their return to South or North Korea. The irony here is that Korean residents were only in Japan as a di rect result of Japan's earlier colonial policy in Korea.

The Japanese government should have prepared appropriate conditions so that those Koreans who wanted to return home could easily do so. However, in fact, Ja panese authorities restricted the amount of assets which Koreans could carry out of Japan. Also, for those Korean children born in Japan who were intending to r eturn to Korea, fluency in Korean would have been imperative. The Japanese gover nment, however, suppressed Korean schools. Overall, the Japanese government poli cy disadvantaged Korean residents, but did not facilitate for their return to Ko rea. Again, a policy inconsistent and unwise if the exclusion of Koreans from Ja pan was desired.

The above evidence demonstrates that the Japanese policy adopted was neither that of human rights, assimilation, nor exclusion. The last possible theory is that of oppression, and the supporting evidence is overwhelming. The oppression of ethnic schools, the fingerprinting, the denial of rights, the general regard for Korean residents as nothing but "trouble" lead us to believe that the aim of the Japanese government was to oppress.

The Japanese government has never attempted to improve the treatment of Kore ans in Japan to respect their human rights. It did, however, grant permanent res ident status to South Korean nationals in the agreement between Japan and South Korea in 1965. This was a mere "token" action on behalf of the Japanese governme nt, in an attempt to normalize relations between Japan and South Korea. In 1981, the Japanese government also granted permanent residency to North Korean nation als and accepted applications for social security and welfare from them and othe r foreign residents. But this was a measure which the Japanese government had to take in accordance with Japan's ratification of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

In 1991, the Japanese government awarded special permanent residency to thos e who lost Japanese nationality in accordance with the Peace Treaty in 1952 and their descendants. In 1992, permanent residents were exempted from fingerprintin g which was associated with foreign registration. Most of those who benefited fr om these new measures were Koreans in Japan. Although the Japanese government's treatment of Koreans in Japan has improved, it was not done of the government's own accord. The treatment of Koreans in Japan improved rather as a result of the movement against fingerprinting in the mid 1980s. The increasing importance pla ced on the protection of human rights internationally and the Japanese governmen t's consideration of its diplomatic relationship with South Korea have been cont ributing factors.

The Japanese government still persists in the restriction of nationality in recruitment for all levels of government service, though it is not actually stip ulated in law. This policy is problematic for some local governments who support employing foreign residents. Even in the recruiting of teachers for public scho ols, the Japanese government discriminates against foreign residents even though they have come through the same school system as Japanese nationals.

Koreans in Japan today

Japan as their permanent home

In 1993, I conducted a survey of the ethnic consciousness of young South Koreans born in Japan in cooperation with Myung-soo Kim of Osaka University and members of the Korean Youth Association in Japan [Fukuoka & Kim, forthcoming]. The rese arch was conducted on South Korean nationals whose ages ranged from 18 to 30. Th e number of valid samples were 800 (47%). One limitation of this research is tha t young North Korean nationals were not included. However, I have attempted to m ake up for this limitation, with data from another set of interviews which I con ducted with approximately 150 young Koreans in Japan since 1988. These interview s included both South Korean and North Korean nationals and young Koreans who ha ve naturalized [Fukuoka 1993].

In the survey conducted, 73.2% of the young Koreans responded that they feel an attachment to Japan; 6.7% responded that they feel no attachment to Japan; a nd 20.1% remained undecided. On the other hand, 38.1% responded that they feel a n attachment to South Korea; 24.4% responded that they feel no attachment to Sou th Korea; and 37.5% remained undecided.

Today, the majority of young Koreans in Japan are the third generation. Whil e most of them do feel attached to Japanese society, not many of them feel an at tachment to South Korea. When the majority of Koreans in Japan were the first ge neration, they considered Japan as merely a "temporary home" and wished to event ually return to Korea. However, Japan has become a "permanent home" for the subs equent generations. The transformation of Korean perceptions demonstrates their increasing attachment to Japan, and is evidence that young Koreans are gradually losing their Korean ethnicity. Below, I would like to discuss the issues of the ir language, name, marriage and the sense of inferiority they feel.


Whilst I was travelling in Korea with some young third-generation Koreans, the n ative Koreans described the young Koreans who had been brought up in Japan as lo oking completely Japanese, judging from their hair style, clothes, expression an d attitude. However, the fact that most of the young Koreans could not speak Kor ean seemed to be influential in this judgement.

According to our investigation conducted in 1993, 40.4% of the young Koreans responded that they had no knowledge of Korean; 30.4% responded that they knew only a few Korean words; 14.6% responded that they knew a few greetings; 6.0% re sponded that they could exchange greetings in Korean according to situations; 6. 7% responded that they could speak and understand Korean in daily life; and 1.9% responded that they could discuss complicated issues in Korean. If the research had included young North Koreans, the percentage of those who have knowledge of Korean would increase, because more young North Koreans have studied at Korean schools in Japan. Nevertheless, the vast majority of young Koreans in Japan do n ot understand Korean.

It should be noted that it is very rare that the issue of Koreans in Japan i s covered in Japanese schools. Thus, most young Japanese are ignorant of issues regarding Koreans in Japan. For example, I asked university students in my lectu res how they would behave if Koreans in Japan were present in the room. Many stu dents answered that they would make an effort to become friends if the Koreans c ould speak Japanese [Fukuoka 1992]. As illustrated in this example, young Korean s in Japan sometimes have experiences of being praised by Japanese who say to th em, "Your Japanese is good. Where did you learn Japanese?". As they have been ra ised in Japan, there are no young Koreans who have difficulty in communicating, reading or writing in Japanese. On the contrary, the majority of young Koreans i n Japan do not understand Korean. Most Korean children in Japan study in Japanes e schools, except a few who are sent to Korean schools. In Japanese schools, Kor ean children are treated as being Japanese, and few Japanese schools are engaged in ethnic education for Korean children. In addition, Japanese is the only lang uage used in most Korean homes. Information from mass media is all in Japanese. The native tongue of young Koreans in Japan is, therefore, Japanese. Korean is o nly the language of their "nation".

On the other hand, young Koreans who are fluent in Korean are mostly those w ho have studied at Korean schools in Japan. As of 1993, Soren (Chongryon), the l argest organization of North Korean nationals in Japan, runs one university, 12 high schools, 57 junior high schools and 81 primary schools. There are Korean sc hools run by supporters of South Korea as well. These schools number one in Toky o, one in Kyoto, and two in Osaka. According to a study in 1986, there were 150, 000 Korean students in Japan. Among them, 130,500 (86%) were studying in Japanes e schools, 19,500 (13%) were studying in schools run by Soren and 1,600 (1%) wer e studying in schools run by South Korean supporters.

There are other young Koreans who learn Korean in language institutions affi liated with universities in South Korea, or actually study at universities in So uth Korea. Presently, there are nearly 200 young Koreans studying in South Korea each year.

Others learn Korean through a variety of ways, including Korean courses offe red on TV, radio, or at language schools in Japan. Some learn Korean from their grandparents and even though the level of their listening comprehension is good, they often have difficulty in speaking Korean. Sometimes their knowledge is limited to Korean dialects spoken only in the regi ons where their grandparents are from and they also have little knowledge of hon orific terms.3


The vast majority of foreign residents in Japan are Koreans. Nevertheless, many Japanese university students say, "I have never met a Korean". Although Koreans live in close proximity, they remain invisible to Japanese. One reason is that t here is hardly any physical differences between Japanese and Koreans in Japan. H owever, the main reason is that most Koreans in Japan use Japanese names, rather than their Korean names in daily life.

In our investigation in 1993, 35.3% of the young Koreans responded that they use their Japanese name only; 30.3% responded that they use their Japanese name mostly; 12.6% responded that they use their Japanese name more often than their Korean name; 5.7% responded that they use their Japanese and Korean names equal ly; 3.8% responded that they use their Korean name more often than their Japanes e name; 6.0% responded that they use their Korean name mostly; and 6.4% responde d that they only use their Korean name. The respondents who use Japanese and Kor ean names equally are most likely to use the Japanese name when talking with Jap anese people and their Korean name with their countrypersons. It is assumed that over 80% of young Koreans pass as Japanese in their daily life by using Japanes e names, except when they tell their secret to close Japanese friends.

Koreans who use their Korean name the majority of the time number very few. Those young Koreans who use Korean names generally have one of the three charact eristics outlined below. Firstly, there are those who have been sent to Korean s chools by their parents. Secondly, there are those Koreans who are involved in m ovements for the protection of Korean human rights, or issues relating to post-w ar compensation, such as Korean "comfort women". The third pattern regards Korea ns who are independent from the Korean network in Japan, but have been influence d by their parents who strongly conceive themselves as being Korean. There are a lso parents who give their children Korean names only to begin with. These Korea ns tend to consider it natural that Koreans only have a Korean name.

It has long been said that Koreans in Japan use Japanese names in their life to avoid Japanese discrimination. However, our investigation in 1993 revealed a different reason why young Koreans use Japanese names. Being asked whether they agree or disagree to the opinion that Koreans inevitably use Japanese names to avoid discrimination, 26.2% agreed; 43.2% disagreed; and 30.6% remained undecide d. On the other hand, being asked about the opinion that it is natural to live w ith a name which one is accustomed to, whether it may be Japanese or Korean, 71. 3% agreed; 9.5% disagreed; and 19.2% remained undecided. From this data, it can be concluded that the main reason why most young Koreans use Japanese names is n ot to avoid being discriminated against, but because they are more accustomed to their Japanese names. Many Korean parents are afraid that their children will e xperience discrimination if they do not have a Japanese name. It may be true tha t Korean parents have given Japanese names to their children to protect them fro m discrimination. However, Korean parents themselves have always used Japanese n ames in their life and have called their children by their Japanese names. This process must have influenced their children to become more accustomed to their J apanese names, which were supposed to be mere "passing" names. Instead, their Ko rean names have become foreign to them.


At the time when first and second generations made up the majority of Koreans in Japan, it was expected that Koreans should marry their countrypersons to mainta in their "Korean blood". It was also a taboo among Japanese to marry Koreans. Ac cording to a statistic from the Japanese government, among the 6,892 marriages o f Koreans registered in 1970, 56.3% were with their countrypersons and 42.4% wer e intermarriages with Japanese.

However, in 1991, amongst the 11,677 Korean resident marriages registered, 8 2.5% were intermarriages with Japanese and only 16.8% were with their countryper sons. Korean intermarriages with Japanese are partly influenced by a social phen omenon that Japanese men have difficulty finding partners among young Japanese w omen. The statistic thus should include certain numbers of marriages between Jap anese males and Korean females who were born in Korea. However, it is clear that the number of marriages between Koreans in Japan and Japanese have continued to increase in recent years.

Marriages with Koreans are still a taboo among Japanese, although such taboo s are weaker compared with the previous generations. Even some young Japanese te nd to avoid marrying Koreans. Those young Japanese and Koreans who are free from such taboos often have parents that are very likely to disagree to intermarriag e. There are many cases in which intermarried couples separate as a result of fa iling to understand each other's experiences and situations, even though they lo ve each other.

Nevertheless, the number of intermarriages between Japanese and Koreans is c ertainly increasing. Amongst the young Koreans in our investigation in 1993, 15. 0% responded that they want to marry their countrypersons; 20.0% responded that they want to marry their countrypersons if possible; 31.4% responded that they d o not prefer their countrypersons; and 33.7% responded that they do not prefer t heir countrypersons at all.

Inferiority complex

The above descriptions may have given an impression that young Koreans, especial ly the third generation, accommodate themselves to Japanese society without diff iculty. However, this is not true. Although the results of our investigations ce rtainly indicate a high degree of assimilation, assimilation can also involve ps ychological conflicts.

In 1993, 11.7% of our respondents stated that they have very often experienc ed a dislike toward the fact that they are Korean; 15.7% responded that they hav e often had such an experience; 36.3% responded that they have sometimes had suc h an experience; 22.0% responded that they have hardly ever had such an experien ce; and 14.2% responded that they have never had such an experience. In short, o ver 60% of young Koreans have experienced negative self-images in the process of their growth. This is due to an inferiority complex in terms of ethnicity. Acco rding to our multi-regression analysis, the factor which is most influential in the development of their inferiority complex are their experiences of being expo sed to discrimination (Beta=.28). Many Japanese tend to think that Korean childr en are born with inferiority complexes. However, statistical analysis of our dat a proves that Japanese discrimination and prejudice are the primary reasons whic h cause inferiority complexes in Korean children.


In this essay, I have described the historical background and the present situat ion of Koreans in Japan. I have presented four new perspectives that are differe nt from those that have conventionally and inappropriately been illustrated on t his issue. Namely, they are:

(1) Today, residents of Korean descent compose approximately 1% of the popul ation in Japanese society. It has conventionally been said that ethnic Koreans a re those who were forcibly brought to Japan during the colonial era and their de scendants. Needless to say, the formation of the community of Koreans in Japan w as a result of Japan's colonial rule over Korea. Historical facts prove that the majority of Koreans who remained in Japan after the war were in fact not those Koreans who were forced laborers. Rather, they were those who came to Japan in s earch of work before Japan started forcibly bringing Koreans to Japan, because t heir life bases in Korea had been destroyed as a result of Japan's colonial rule .

These historical facts lead to the necessity for a comparative study of the formation of Koreans in Japan, or "old comers", and the problem of the influx of foreign laborers to Japan in recent years, or "new comers". It has been a commo n belief that Koreans in Japan were forced to come to Japan whereas current fore ign laborers have come to Japan voluntarily to work for a short period. However, this is not necessarily true. Although there is a difference between the two gr oups in their reason for migrating to Japan, there should be many similarities i n their process of settling in Japanese society.

(2) Conventionally, Japan's colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945 has b een covered most among the issues regarding Japan's absurd treatment of Korea. H owever, I would like to emphasize the fact that the Japanese government continue d to deny the human rights of Koreans who remained in Japan even in the post-war , so-called "democratic" period. Theoretically, Koreans possessed Japanese natio nality until the San Francisco Treaty came into effect in 1952. However, the Jap anese government denied the rights of Korean residents as Japanese nationals. Th e Japanese government did not respect their rights as foreigners, instead they c ontinued to oppress Korean human rights even after 1952, declaring "post-war dem ocracy" whilst hiding the truth. The Japanese should recognize that not only the Japanese government, but also Japanese individuals should take responsibility f or the difficulties imposed on Koreans in Japan.

(3) The appearance of foreign laborers, or "new comers", is remarkable in Ja panese society today. They are in the streets, on the transit system and especia lly apparent in restaurants where they are engaged in customer service. However, Koreans in Japan are invisible though their population in Japan is greater than that of the "new comers". Koreans in Japan are virtually indistinguishable in p hysical appearance. Most of them were born and have grown up in Japan, and their mother tongue is Japanese. However, the main reason for their invisibility in J apanese society is that most of them use Japanese names, not Korean names, to pa ss as Japanese.

It has been said that it is inevitable that Korean residents use Japanese na mes in order to avoid discrimination. However, the reason that Koreans in Japan use Japanese names can be further explained by a hypothetical process consisting of three steps which are described below. The first step is the enforcement of Japanese names on them during the colonial period. The second step is that Korea ns voluntarily used Japanese names to avoid discrimination, despite the fact tha t they recognized Korean names as being their real ones. The third step is that today's young Koreans in Japan are more accustomed to Japanese names than Korean ones, even though Japanese names were originally their passing name and Korean names were supposedly their real name. Of course, there are still some Japanese who are friendly only as long as a Korean resident uses his/her Japanese name. R elationships can turn sour quickly when a Korean starts using his/her Korean nam e. Nevertheless, more and more young Koreans in Japan feel unfamiliar with their Korean names, and have difficulty in recognizing Korean names as their real nam e even before they are faced with Japanese discrimination.

One's name is a significant component which forms the core of one's ethnic i dentity. Thus, it seems that Koreans in Japan should more enthusiastically advan ce a movement to encourage the use of Korean names by Koreans. To establish a so ciety in which Koreans and Japanese can live together by respecting the differen ces between them, it is necessary for Koreans to use their Korean name. On the o ther hand, it is vital on the part of the Japanese to take the proper attitude, and respond positively to those Koreans who use their Korean names.

(4) The majority of current young Koreans are of the third generation. Most of them can speak only Japanese and have not mastered Korean. The Japanese gover nment is greatly responsible for this situation, as they did not ensure the avai lability of ethnic education for Koreans. It is also a fact that Korean ethnicit y is gradually being lost as generations pass by. In reality, Koreans in Japan f eel less attachment to Korea and feel more attachment to Japan where they were b orn and have grown up. Intermarriages between Koreans and Japanese have also bee n rapidly increasing.

The facts above may give the false impression that young Koreans in Japan ac commodate themselves in Japanese society without internal conflict. Many of them experience an inferiority complex as a result of their ethnicity and have had n egative self-images of themselves because of Japanese discrimination and prejudi ce.

In my interviews with young Koreans, many of them seemed to have experienced identity crises. Hence, how do young Koreans overcome their identity crises and lead a prosperous life? I would like to discuss this issue in another of my wor ks, "Beyond Assimilation and Dissimilation: Diverse Resolutions to Identity Cris es among Younger Generation Koreans in Japan".

  1. This work was translated by A-kwi Seo (Graduate student, University of Toronto ), Steven Bouley (Undergraduate student, York University) and Paul Larsen (Excha nge student, Monash University - Saitama University).
  2. By definition, Koreans were Japanese citizens until the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Japanese government and the Allied Nations.
  3. In Japan and Korea, to display respect to one's elders, one must use honorific terms when addressing the older generation.


Fukuoka Yasunori
Faculty of Liberal Arts
Saitama University, JAPAN
E-mail: fukuoka@post.saitama-u.ac.jp
Tel. & Fax.:+81-(0)48-858-3070
Web: http://www.kyy.saitama-u.ac.jp/~fukuoka/index.html