Beyond Assimilation and Dissimilation:
Diverse Resolutions to Identity Crises among Younger Generation Koreans in Japan1)

FUKUOKA, Yasunori

Saitama University Review, Vol.31, No.2.


It is estimated that there were approximately 2,300,000 Koreans in mainland Japa n as of 1945, when the Japanese colonial rule over Korea for 35 years terminated upon the unconditional surrender of Japan. Those Koreans took up Japanese resid ence either voluntarily or involuntarily. Some, whose agrarian economic bases in Korea had been devastated by Japanese colonialism since 1910, migrated to Japan in search of jobs. Others, especially those who came towards the end of World W ar II, were involuntary migrant laborers, who were forced to migrate as a result of either formal or informal conscription.

  Soon after the emancipation of Korea from Japanese colonialism, the vast maj ority of Koreans, mostly single forced-migrant-laborers, returned home. However, about 600,000 Koreans had no choice other than to remain in Japan. Those who st ayed on were mostly earlier voluntary migrants who had settled down with their c lose family members and other relatives. Their strong desire for return was inev itably frustrated, for they had already lost their economic bases in Korea. In a ddition, the socio-economic devastation and the political confusion in the Korea n peninsula were about to bring strife and division to their nation. Under such circumstances, their dream of returning to their homeland never came true.

  Currently, the approximate number of Korean residents in Japan who hold Kore an nationality, either South or North, is 700,000. The vast majority of them are of the second, third, and fourth generation. The first generation Koreans had a sort of sentimental attachment to Korea and a wish to return some day. In contr ast with these first-generations, those Koreans born in Japan have different sen timent about Japan. It is not Korea but Japan where they have been born, raised, and perhaps will end their lives.

  Zainichi Koreans (Koreans "in Japan," hereafter Zainichi2) originally and li terally means those who are temporarily resident. Recently, Zainichis have begun to identify themselves as having unique characteristics that they share neither with Koreans in Korea nor with Japanese. This shows how their status as long-te rm residents has come to seem a matter of course.

  Although there are no reasons why Zainichis who have resided in Japan for se veral generations should not take their rightful place in society, they are stil l encountering diverse forms of discrimination and their human rights are far fr om being respected.

I. Identity Crises and Varieties of Resolution

We have conducted in-depth interviews with approximately 150 zainichi youths reg arding their life histories since 1988. Each interview takes from 3 to 4 hours, and focuses on their ethnic identity, as it is subjectively understood by the re spondent him/herself.

  Overall, the following are our two major findings. Firstly, the vast majorit y of zainichi youths we interviewed had an experience of being exposed to some f orms of discrimination and prejudice, either direct or indirect, either overt or covert, against themselves as Koreans by the majority Japanese, and have had or have identity crises. Therefore, we have to be critical of some common statemen ts made by Japanese researchers, which overlook the complexity of the problem by saying that the zainichi youths are relatively smoothly accommodating themselve s to Japanese society. This is in fact true when compared with the first generat ions who had been struggling with feelings of bitterness toward Japan and of nos talgia for their Korean homeland; and the second generations who had been desper ately attempting to establish their economic bases and fighting against discrimi nation and harsh poverty. However, the accommodation to Japanese society of the zainichi youths is far from being free of psychological conflicts.

  Secondly, we have observed a great diversity of zainichi identities. It is t hus inappropriate for us to attribute to the zainichi, a great homogeneity as a minority group than they have in reality. A traditional division of the zainichi identity into a type which strongly maintains its Korean ethnicity and another which loses its Korean ethnicity as a result of assimilation, is in fact too cru de a dichotomy to reflect the present situation surrounding zainichi youths.   A crucial problem hence arises: Why ways by which zainichi youths resolve t heir identity crises vary so much in reality?

  The ascribed "self" of a zainichi youth has dual components, viz., the "assi milated" self and the "dissimilated" self. The assimilated self, on the one hand , emerges in the natural process of growing-up. Without questioning, s/he intern alizes Japanese culture, acquiring and using Japanese as their mother tongue. S/ he has many aspects of culture in common with the surrounding Japanese majority in terms of ways of thinking, ways of feeling, values, lifestyles and so forth. S/he cannot stop being aware of what a "Japan"ized identity s/he has.

  On the other hand, the "dissimilated" self distinguishes him/her from the Ja panese majority in the sense that s/he maintains some elements of ethnic heritag e. The degree of conformity to Korean ethnicity varies depending on individual c ircumstances such as: the degree to which ethnic customs are practiced at home; attendance at ethnic schools; and residence in a zainichi enclave. Nevertheless, whatever the extent to which s/he holds Korean ethnicity, his/her ways of think ing, ways of feeling, values and lifestyles cannot be exactly the same as the do minant Japanese ones.

  It is in Japanese society, one where the myth of society as mono-racial and mono-ethnic is deeply embedded, that zainichi youths live their lives. An enormo us amount of invisible pressure is at work to assert that being "the same as oth ers" is both vital and a matter of course. Even a slight deviation from the norm could render one a potential target of ostracism, bullying, and abuse.

  In this context, the vast majority of zainichi youths regulate their "selves " in accordance with the Japanese majority, and act in a way that is "the same a s others." They adopt Japanese pseudonyms (pass names) instead of Korean ethnic names. They "conceal" their ethnic origins in front of their Japanese peers and neighbors. Such are the examples of a disguise which allow Koreans to "pass" as Japanese. In most cases, "passing" performances go beyond disguise: many zainich i youths incorporate in these performances a sense of negative self-esteem, self -dislike. Some of them wish from the bottom of their hearts that they were Japan ese. Such an attitude can be called the "assimilationist orientation."

  No matter how truly they wish they were Japanese and no matter how well they act Japanese, their existence as being something different is often exposed by the Japanese people around them on diverse occasions. In some cases, Japanese ac quaintances end their friendship upon being informed of their Korean ethnic orig in. In other cases, through their interactions with Japanese friends while in di sguise, they begin to question their own being whilst under this disguise, and f eel that their self-expression is distorted. The reproach against the disguised self is often sublimated to an emancipation of their real selves, i.e., the acce ptance of themselves as different from others as something positive. Such a self -realization can be called the "dissimilationist orientation."

  In a zainichi youth's self, which is composed of both the "assimilated self" and the "dissimilated self", the "assimilationist orientation" and the "dissimi lationinist orientation" crisscross. Such a crisscrossing of opposing orientatio ns is the basis on which the identity crisis of a zainichi emerges.

  In reality, then, how do zainichi youths currently tackle their identity cri ses and go about reconstructing their identities?

  Based on our in-depth interviews with zainichi youths, our findings regardin g the ways in which zainichi resolve their identity crises can be classified int o four major types as follows: 1) the pluralist orientation; 2) the nationalist orientation; 3) the individualist orientation; 4) the naturalization orientation .


Figure 1. Paradigm of Classifying Zainichi Youths' Identity

  Figure 1 indicates these four types and their characteristics. For analyti cal purposes, we can set out the resolved identity types among zainichi youths o n two axes. The vertical axis measures the degree of emphasis they place on the history of oppressed Koreans, whereas the horizontal axis measures their attachm ent to the Japanese communities in which they were born and raised. A given indi vidual rarely fits any type in an ideal way. However, this paradigm is useful in giving an overall picture of the diversity of a zainichi identity.

1) Pluralist Type

The words "mutual cooperation" symbolize the mentality of the pluralist type, wh ose core agenda is the realization of a society based on the recognition of ethn ic differences but free of ethnic discrimination. That is, their aim is to solve the problem of social discrimination through "social change" accomplished at th e local level, starting with their own communities and neighbors.

  One observes the pluralist type primarily among Mintohren3) members. A review of their life histories reveals that most adopted Japanese names whilst at scho ol and, as a result of Japanese prejudice, grew up with a negative image of thei r identity as Koreans in Japan. However, through one form or another, they happe ned to learn about the history of Koreans in Japan, and came to realize that the source of their problems is not the fact that they are Korean but because of Ja panese discrimination, eventually taking pride in their identity as Koreans in J apan.

This pluralist type strongly believe that they do not have a homeland bu t th at their real home is the community in Japan in which they were born and raised. They neither seek to return to their homeland nor advocate complete identificat ion with the Japanese State. However, their degree of attachment to their place of birth in Japan is quite strong.

This type maintain that in order to combat ethnic discrimination, one must u se one's real ethnic name, viewing the use of Japanese pass names as merely a te mporary escape from discrimination, not a solution. Whether intentional or not, individuals who adopt a pass name conceal their Korean identity and lose the opp ortunity to meet with Japanese who show a willingness to understand anti-Korean discrimination.

  A review of their life histories also reveals that many cannot speak Korean and lack a full appreciation of Korean culture. However, they do not view this f act as shameful since it is merely the result of circumstances over which they h ad no control. Still, they believe that it is "desirable" to be able to speak Ko rean and many have made efforts to do so.

  In sum, for the pluralist type there is still no fixed "model" lifestyle. Th ey neither identify with Koreans in their homeland nor with Japanese, but are at tempting to create their own identity and lifestyle as a "Zainichi."

2) Nationalist Type

"Resident foreign national" is the expression which represents the mentality of the nationalist type. Their core agenda is to contribute to the "development" an d "unification" of Korea. Consequently, they do not seek to assimilate into Japa nese society, but hold an awareness as resident foreign nationals, who feel comp elled to support the resident Korean community. They attach tremendous importanc e to the preservation of their organization against Japanese government policies that attempt to violate their rights as foreign nationals. However, having take n this position, it is difficult for them to transcend their position as foreign nationals and demand various rights. Consequently, they generally evidence a st rong element of "self-isolation" in their battle against ethnic discrimination.

  This type can be seen in the young Koreans who compose the active members of Chongryon4). Typically, they attended Chongryon sponsored ethnic schools and col lege where they learnt Korean history, language and culture. As a result they ha ve internalized a strong sense of pride in their Korean roots. In this sense, th ey have not experienced an ethnic identity crisis. Although they are often the t argets of right-wing Japanese when en route to ethnic schools, they are proud, a nd display no self-hate based on their Korean ethnicity.

  This nationalist type assert the unity of Korea. As a result of having learn ed of Japanese aggression against Korea, they are strongly critical of Japan and feel no attachment to it. For them Japan is "merely a foreign country." Their m odel is the native Korean and there are those who say that they will return to K orea when it is unified.

  Through family, community and the media, they have easily mastered the Japan ese language, as well as Korean at ethnic schools. They view the ability of Kore ans to speak Korean as totally natural, regarding those who cannot as "pitiful a nd no longer able to call themselves real Koreans."

  In principle they believe they have only one real name, their given Korean o ne. However, in order to pass in Japanese society and escape the inconvenience t hat a Korean name would impose, several in fact do adopt Japanese names. Believi ng they already possess a strong sense of ethnic consciousness, they do not see the use of Japanese names for the sake of convenience as weakening their self-id entity.

  Those belonging to the nationalist type also have a tendency to restrict the ir activities to the ethnic Korean community. There are even those whose close f riends are only Korean. One youth told us, "Although I have some Japanese acquai ntances, I don't have any close Japanese friends." In work as well, most are emp loyed at organizations and institutions affiliated with Chongryon, and there are many cases where they work for their parents. Believing that it is impossible t o gain employment with Japanese firms, they don't even consider it. Compared wit h the pluralist type, due to this kind of self-isolation from Japanese society, their degree of personal experience of social discrimination is relatively low.

3) Individualist Type

"Success in society using one's ability" best represents the mentality of the in dividualist type, whose core agenda is the realization of self, through assertio n of individualism. Their chosen response to social discrimination is to liberat e themselves through social mobility.

  The bearers of this identity type are mainly young people who aspire to atta in an overseas education in the United States, work for multinational corporatio ns, or achieve an elite life in Japan by going to a first-class university and j oining a first-class company.

  Typically, their life histories resemble those of the pluralist type, in tha t they feel a sense of incongruity at living in Japan as ethnic Koreans, but unl ike the pluralist type they do not embrace a negative self-image, viewing the pr oblem as one of environment. In this sense they are confident in their abilities and believe that they can change their circumstances by travelling overseas or by advancing themselves in Japan. One can probably describe their outlook as "co smopolitan."

  As they aspire social mobility, their sense of community attachment is weak, and they are not particularly concerned with ethnic Korean history. Nor do they feel an attachment to either Japan or Korea in their relationship as individual s to the state. Nor do they pay much attention to the question of whether they s hould use Korean names or Japanese ones. In interpersonal relationships, they fe el a sense of liberation with strong individualists, who are not preoccupied wit h affiliation, but who value individual achievement instead. In terms of languag e, rather than Korean they are passionate about English, believing that masterin g it will help advance their careers and opportunities for social mobility.

4) Naturalization Oriented Type

The word which best describes the mentality of the naturalization oriented type is "naturalization." Their core agenda is to "become Japanese." They believe tha t by assimilating they can exist without experiencing ethnic discrimination.   The bearers of this type are those young people who naturalize. Typically, t hey are raised in an environment surrounded only by Japanese, the entire family itself adopting a Japanese name and concealing their Korean ethnicity. Even at h ome, it is rare that ethnicity is preserved. However as they mature, they begin to internalize the negative image of Koreans embraced by Japanese. They are pain ed when they discover that they are ethnic Koreans. They attempt to cope with th is incongruity by adapting to Japanese society.

  It is a common characteristic that they have close Japanese friends only. Th ey desire to become the same as their Japanese friends and attempt to escape the ir Korean ethnicity, asserting that their home is Japan not Korea. Their attachm ent to their communities is strong. They feel uncomfortable with their Korean na mes, believing their Japanese names to be their own. On the issue of language, t hey feel the fact that they are unable to speak Korean is natural and unavoidabl e, and view the history of Japanese aggression against Korea as a thing of the d istant past about which they can do nothing. They attempt to cope with social di scrimination by eliminating difficulties through adapting themselves to the worl d around them.

II. Case Studies

In this section, I will describe four individual life histories which typically illustrate the aforementioned orientations. Each case clarifies the complex natu re of identity crises among zainichi youth, and their diverse resolutions.

Case 1: Importance of mutual cooperation with Japanese neighbors - a case of the pluralist type

Kim Su-il5) was born in an area of Kawasaki City with a dense Korean population i n 1961. He used a Japanese pseudonym, "Kaneyama Hidekazu," both at home and in t he neighborhood.

  "I can clearly recall the moment I learnt of my nationality. I was a small k id. My elder brother burst out laughing when I told him that I was Japanese."   Su-il attended a Japanese public elementary school. By the time he had reach ed the third grade, he had already developed an extremely negative sense of self -esteem, because of being Korean. "I hated it. I really hated it. I was so sick of the fact that I was Korean. I wished I could become Japanese. In my eyes, the lives of Koreans were full of misery and so disgusting. My family was poor. My father was always drunk, and would become violent. It was terrible."

  His self-dislike as a result of being Korean grew more intense than ever aft er he entered a Japanese junior high school. He was desperate to hide his Korean nationality. "I was very cautious not to give any hint that might make my frien ds notice I was Korean, not to carry a taint of my Koreanness from home to schoo l. I never ate my lunch when it contained kimchi (Korean pickles). When my lunch was wrapped in sheets of Korean newspaper, I quickly unwrapped it under my desk . I did things like that all the time."

  Soon after he entered high school, his homeroom teacher spoke to him, and to ld him of the Korean Problems Study Group in the school. This upset him, because it was so unexpected. Although he had kept his nationality a secret, his teache r knew of it and spoke to him because of it. He even regretted his choice of sch ool. Although his teacher was Japanese, he was somewhat different from other tea chers in the sense that in his class, students thoroughly covered the history of Japan-Korean relations. Despite his initial refusal, Su-il's attitude softened as a result of his teacher's occasional encouragement, and he eventually began t o participate in the Korean club activities.

  In his second year at high school, Su-il declared his Korean name, Kim Su-il , in class, abandoning his Japanese pass name, Kaneyama Hidekazu. Some classmate s reacted with indifference, commenting, "Does it really matter? It doesn't make much difference whether we call him Kim or Kaneyama, does it?" Nevertheless, ot hers understood the importance of calling him by his Korean name, asserting, "We should respect his important decision to live as a Korean, and we must show our respect for his choice by calling him by his Korean name." Su-il recalls, "I wa s very moved by my Japanese classmates who tried to understand what I was trying to do." After that he gained confidence, believing he could live out his life a s a zainichi, using his real Korean name, and fighting against prejudice and dis crimination. "I think it is really great to try to understand each other, and to cooperate with each other, regardless of nationality."

  After he graduated from high school, he got involved in the Seikyusha (the B lue Hill Association)6) movement as a part time volunteer. Seikyusha was establis hed in 1974, and is one of the major organizations under Mintohren. It has two m ain objectives: 1) to encourage zainichi children to use Korean names, and to he lp them learn about Korean culture and develop a sense of self-esteem strong eno ugh to overcome prejudice and discrimination in Japanese society; and 2) to prom ote a society where both Japanese and Koreans mutually respect their differences and cooperate for the well-being of all. At present, Su-il continues to work fo r Seikyusha as a full-time staff member. Interested in traditional Korean cultur e, he took up playing the Korean drum and now he plays well enough to give lesso ns to children.

  In 1988, Su-il married a Japanese woman who had also been involved in the Se ikyusha movement, although he had always believed that he would marry a zainichi . He found it contradictory to officially advocate mutual cooperation extending beyond one's own nationality and ethnic background while at the same time restri cting the nationality of his potential spouse in his mind. "Nationality itself d oes not matter, because some Koreans might not care about their ethnic names. Wh at matters instead is how an individual thinks and acts in life. It was nonsense to refuse to marry a Japanese merely because of her nationality. I decided to m arry a person, whatever her nationality, who understood the zainichi problems an d the things I had been doing to cope with these problems."

  The 1984 amendment of the Nationality Act entitles children to Japanese nati onality not only patrilineally but also matrilineally. Su-il's child was automat ically registered as Japanese on the mother's family registration record, becaus e Su-il, as an alien resident, does not have a family registration record. Throu gh this process it is always the surname on the family registration record which is assigned to the child, in this case the mother's surname. Su-il and his wife filed a claim with the family court to change their child's surname to Kim, and their claim was upheld. They hope that their child will maintain her Korean nam e and identity, although her nationality is Japanese.

  Su-il asserts, "I have neither a native country nor fatherland. No motherlan d either. But my hometown is definitely here in Kawasaki." Su-il's aim is to con tribute with a sense of pride to the development of the local community where he was born and raised.

Case 2: Life as an overseas Korean: a natural strong sense of pride in being Ko rean

Lee Jae-su, born in 1961, was brought up in a small village where approximately 60 Korean families lived segregated from the Japanese residents. From his early childhood, all the friends he played with were Korean. He naturally knew he was Korean. His parents chose to give him a Korean ethnic education and sent him to an elementary school affiliated with Chongryon. He completed his schooling up to the high school level without receiving any Japanese school education.

  In his school days, he frequently had scuffles with Japanese students." We h ad many fights. Well, we were kids, so if they started yelling 'Yah, Koreans!' a t us we would shout back 'What's it to you?' and something would start." In Jae- su's view, Korean school students by no means considered being jeered at by Japa nese school students a humiliating experience or one expressive of prejudice and discrimination. As he had only attended ethnic schools, he had internalized the idea that being Korean was nothing to be ashamed of or to be concealed, but rat her a matter of course and something to be proud of. Japanese student's mockery of Koreans neither hurt him nor resulted in negative self-esteem.

  Jae-su declared that he had never thought being Korean was frustrating or a burden. Concerning his future prospects, he had never been pessimistic because h e was Korean. He did not worry about emloyment opportunities after graduating hi gh school either, even though Koreans' prospects in the Japanese labor market we re unpromising. "Of course, we knew we had to do something for ourselves, becaus e our chances of getting jobs at Japanese companies were very slim. Our parents often told us that we were different and all the people around me were faced wit h the same situation. But I wasn't particularly worried, because I was not the o nly one in that situation." His elder brother advised him to apply for a positio n as a bank clerk at a Korean credit association. He did so and got the job.

  As an ethnic school graduate, he is bilingual. He feels comfortable communic ating both in Japanese and in Korean. He is critical of Zainichis who attend onl y Japanese schools and consequently cannot speak Korean at all. "How can we be d istinguished from other nationals? By blood and language, don't you think ? Even if one's nationality is Korean and one has Korean ancestry, who on earth will a ccept that one is Korean if one cannot speak Korean at all?"

  Jae-su, who has firmly internalized his Korean ethnicity as something self-e vident, unhesitatingly asserted that "Lee Jae-su" was his only name. In fact, he uses this ethnic name most of the time. However, just for convenience, he also uses his Japanese pass name "Kimura Tadashi" for unimportant and temporary occas ions outside the Korean community, such as when he shops at a department store. "I use 'Kimura' not because I want to hide my Korean nationality but because I s imply don't need to use 'Lee'." He knows that occasional usage of his Japanese p seudonym does not have any influence on his stable ethnic identity.

  Almost all his friends are zainichi, because he has never attended a Japanes e school or worked for a Japanese employer. "I don't think I have any close frie nds who are Japanese. I have several acquaintances, whom I doubt I can count as my friends. Somehow, it seems natural for me to make friends only with Koreans." As for marriage, his decision was clear and simple. He married a zainichi in 19 87. It was a matter of course for him to marry a Korean.

  He also describes the relationship between him and his country in a clear an d simple way. For him, his native country, homeland, fatherland, motherland or w hatever it may be called, is Korea as an undivided nation. He thinks of his home town as being in Kyongsan-nam-do which is in the Southern part of the Korean pen insula where his grandfather and father were born before him. In contrast, Japan for him is "merely the place where he happens to live at this moment." The issu e of the unification of Korea is his utmost concern. "We see foreign public opin ions as being very important. It is our task as Korean nationals living abroad t o become influential enough to create a force of public opinion that will strong ly strive for the unification of our country."

Case 3: Individual pursuit of a career at a major Japanese corporation

Kwon Dae-soon was born in 1965. His father did not give him a Japanese name. The refore, unlike many other Zainichis, he has only one name. Although his name had been pronounced "Gon Daijun" in the Japanese way, it obviously indicated that h e was not Japanese. From elementary school to university, he received a Japanese education.

  His family was isolated from other zainichi families and their neighbors wer e all Japanese. Nevertheless, because his name is obviously different from those of his friends, Dae-soon knew he was a zainichi as he grew up. "Well, I was not particularly aware of the meaning of being a zainichi in this society. I knew t hat I was different from other children because my name was so unique, and that' s all."

  His name was sometimes ridiculed by Japanese classmates. According to him, h owever, he was by no means a target of chronic bullying and harassment. "I guess the more thoroughly you hide the fact that you are Korean, the more likely you are to be bullied. I was never bullied just because I am Korean. So my parents' strategy to give me a Korean name only and never to adopt a Japanese name was a good one." When he introduced himself in the first class of junior high school, he made it clear that he was Korean. "I said, 'My name is Gon Daijun. It may sou nd quite unique. It's a Korean name; I'm actually Korean.' Well, I think I said this in a calm tone. But honestly, I was a bit nervous at that moment even thoug h I tried hard to carry it off as calmly as I could."

  Although the classes he took never thoroughly covered the zainichi and other discrimination problems, Dae-soon had heard a lot about them from his father wh o experienced severe job discrimination when he finished university. "I got angr y about discrimination. I felt that it was unfair and didn't make any sense to m e," he said.

  After one failure, Dae-soon entered the University of Tokyo in the year foll owing his high school graduation. What motivated him to study hard to apply for the University of Tokyo rather than any other universities, and to major in law instead of literature which he liked, was the thought that to graduate from the University of Tokyo with a law degree would be "obviously advantageous in later life." Especially in the sense that, in Japanese society, being a zainichi was u sually considered a disadvantage when applying for employment.

  When he advanced to his senior year, he was very keen to find a job in the p rivate sector. His father insisted that it was very difficult for a zainichi to find a job at a Japanese company and enjoy equal conditions and opportunities wi th Japanese employees. However, he started to make contact with various Japanese companies. "I thought it might be worth trying anyway. Otherwise, you never kno w the result. I thought I would definitely regret it, had I not even applied to them." He called up the personnel departments in advance, made it clear what his nationality was when he introduced himself, and visited only those companies th at told him that nationality in itself was no bar to employment and that what co unted most was the applicants' ability. He visited 12 corporations in total. He stopped visiting 6 companies of his own accord. In the case of 3 companies, prel iminaries were broken off. Eventually, he got job offers from 3 companies, and c hose to work for a major high-street bank.

  When he joined the bank, he altered the pronunciation of his name from the J apanese pronunciation "Gon Daijun" to the Korean pronunciation "Kwon Dae-soon." Although he had not particularly been aware of the significance of using a Korea n name in Japanese society, he explained, "Well, I thought that then I would be regarded and treated as a Korean by others more often than I had been while I wa s a student, and in a more official way. So, a name pronounced in the Korean fas hion suited me better because I wanted to be as open as possible about my Korean origin." In his office, he never felt that others were treating him more circum spectly because his background was different from that of other workers. As for promotion, "I was told that I was an executive-track employee when I got the job offer. So far, I'm quite sure that I have been treated in exactly the same way as the Japanese employees."

  He visited Korea for about three weeks when he was a junior at university. " There, nobody treated me as a Korean. 'You cannot even speak a word of Korean!' Everybody was stunned. I feel ashamed of course, but I can study it if I really want to. Honestly, I'm not at all desperate to master Korean, because I won't ha ve any problems no matter how bad my Korean is. There will be no need for me to learn it unless I go back and settle in Korea."

  When we asked him which country he thought was his homeland, he said, "Altho ugh I'd like to say Korea was my homeland, I don't feel that way. There's a sort of affinity of course, but I never want to go and live there. For me, frankly, Japan is where I live. Then if I ask myself whether Japan is my homeland, I have to say it isn't either."

Case 4: Being naturalized - a life as a Japanese

Tokumizu Mitsuo, born in 1963, attended Japanese schools as far as high school a nd is currently working in the printing business owned by his father. Together w ith his parents and his brother, he was naturalized in 1987.

  Mitsuo's family, using Japanese pass names only, live in a neighborhood wher e no other Koreans live. Therefore, it was as late as grade 5 or 6, when he hear d for the first time that his family was Korean. His elder brother who was a mid dle school student told him. As a child, he had seen Korean dolls and Korean-sty le chests of drawers in his relative's home and had attended traditional Korean wedding ceremonies, concerning which he "might have felt something different." N evertheless, though he was vaguely aware of it, he could not have admitted his c onnection with something Korean.

  After he became aware of his nationality, he "desperately hid the fact." He recalled, "All my neighbors and friends were Japanese and I didn't want to be di fferent from everybody else." However, he was asked if he was Korean by his clas smates a few times. Feeling very uncomfortable, he dodged the issue by smiling i t away. When his friends were speaking ill of Koreans in general, he did not say anything.

  Mitsuo speculates that his friends at high school "vaguely knew" he was Kore an. But nobody directly asked him if he was Korean. To his very close friends, t hose with whom he "wanted to be on really close terms for life," he confessed hi s nationality. "I just let them know it. This kind of thing cannot be kept secre t forever." His friends reacted to his confession simply by saying, "Oh, yeah?" and their attitudes towards him didn't change, which made him feel relieved.

  It was his elder brother and he, who proposed that the family be naturalized , just before he graduated from high school. He explains the reasons why he wish ed to obtain Japanese nationality as follows: "Anyway, it's in Japanese society that we had been living. We had never been aware of ourselves as Koreans. So it seemed far more convenient in general, and far less problematic than sticking wi th a Korean nationality. We would absolutely never, ever, go back to Korea."

  When he was 24, the family's naturalization was approved. He thought this wa s just "great," for he "had long wished to become a Japanese citizen." His compl ex relating to his Korean origin and the "foreign elements" that he sensed in hi mself became less intense than before naturalization. He considers that the psyc hological effects of naturalization on him were positive. "Of course, our blood remains Korean even though we now have Japanese nationality. But I think I have become much closer to the Japanese than before. Perhaps, I may be 90 percent Jap anese, and the remaining 10 percent of me still maintains my Korean origin."

  He has no knowledge of the Korean language, but this is by no means a proble m. For him, his Korean name, "Chang Kwang-ung," was merely a name that happened to be recorded on his certificate of alien registration. In his mind, his own na me has always been his Japanese one, "Tokumizu Mitsuo." As for Japanese colonial ism and its harsh policies in the past which imposed suffering on many Koreans, he asserts, "It has nothing to do with me, because I haven't experienced it in r eality. To be too concerned with the past can itself cause difficulties." He is "not interested in" the Korean unification issue either.

  Now, he wants to live here in Japan where many of his old friends live, as o rdinarily as possible. "I really don't care. Neither the condemnation of Japanes e colonialism nor the unification of Korea is of my concern," he says. "I really don't want to leave here. All my friends are working in this country."

Conclusion - What is implied by Identity Crises among Zainichi Youths

So far, I have outlined different identity crises among zainichi youths and thei r various methods of resolution. In this concluding section, I will discuss what these problems imply for the majority of Japanese. Our major concern here is th e majority-minority relations at an individual level rather than policy implicat ions.

  To begin with, the way the majority of Japanese may interact with zainichi o f each different orientation discussed in Section II needs to be explored. First ly, in the case of Zainichis who are orientated toward a pluralist society, Japa nese residents' contact with them is based on mutual respect and understanding. Secondly, in the case of those who choose to live as foreign nationals, interact ion rarely occurs and each community continues to be segregated. With regard to the third category - those who pursue individual careers; both majority and mino rity groups share the value of meritocracy, based on achievement rather than asc ription. And finally, for those who are naturalized, the interactions between th e majority and the minority are only latent, because the largely invisible minor ity groups become further invisible.

  Then, what future prospects are there for each possible interaction? I will add some explanations regarding each type in reverse order, beginning with inter action with the "naturalization orientation."

  In response to minority groups who try to pass as non-minorities, the majori ty group tend to act as if the minority groups' ethnic origins and their cultura l differences were invisible. This process makes minority groups dissolve into t he majority, at least superficially; and thus the minority problem becomes unimp ortant. In other words, the minority problem is made to appear not to exist, and the society is freed from any problematic minority groups.

  However, adopting such an attitude is only possible when it inherently attac hes stigma to those who are different in some way from the majority, particularl y to those who are of different ethnic origins. It is by attaching such negative values to different ethnicities that minority groups' existence can be consider ed something that should be kept "invisible" and "untouchable."

  Since the "invisibilization" of minority groups is based on negative values that the majority unanimously attach to groups with foreign elements, such an at titude cannot be broadly applied as a solution of minority problems. To be more precise, it would not establish any positive relationship between the majority a nd the minority members who are "visible" or apparently foreign, or who appeal f or their different existence in society to be accepted. Unless minority groups m ake their best efforts to be as close as possible to the ways of the majority, t hey will continue to be despised, ostracized, or discriminated against. Even tho se who firmly internalize the majority's ways of thinking and acting would have to endure a life of endless "passing," concealing their ethnic origins.

  Meritocracy, or achievement evaluation can also be adopted in majority-minor ity relations to a certain extent. This attitude allocates societal resources an d rewards solely based on one's ability and achievement rather than one's ascrip tion to such things as ethnic origin or nationality. This would seemingly resolv e minority group discrimination, for it obviously is an improvement on the past ubiquitous discrimination against certain ascribed status groups - race, ethnici ty, gender or whatever. This may appeal particularly to those who try to redefin e the nature of the relations between the majority Japanese, and the minority za inichi.

  Nevertheless, meritocracy cannot deal with the fundamental problem of resolv ing the unjust relations between the majority and the minority. Within the inter action based on meritocracy, only a limited segment of zainichi elite would gain a comfortable position in society. Although Zainichis' living standards in gene ral have improved owing to the rapidly-growing Japanese economy in the 1960's, t he present zainichi community is highly stratified and we cannot overlook the fa ct that there are many people whose life is hard and miserable at the bottom lev el of society. These lower class zainichis have had no chance to accumulate for themselves the cultural capital which would make it possible to improve their ch ildren's education and employment prospects. The lower the social stratum one co mes from, the harder one has to struggle for survival in a competitive social sy stem based solely on meritocracy.

  What would be the possible result of majority-minority relation that is high ly segregated? When the majority and the minority groups are thoroughly segregat ed, each community exists in parallel and inter-group interactions rarely occur. In this sense, segregation could, in practice, reduce inter-group fractions and conflicts. For instance, the harassment of Korean ethnic school students by Jap anese passers-by could not happen if both groups did not have the chance of bein g in the same place at the same time.

  However, segregation no more resolves the majority-minority problem than "in visibilization" does, in the sense that no interaction merely prevents the probl em from becoming visible or intense rather than seeking a fundamental, progressi ve solution. Furthermore complete segregation is impractical, because the vast m ajority of Zainichis do not live entirely secluded from Japanese society.

  It would be more appropriate, then, to promote those majority-minority inter actions which frequently occur, reduce the imbalance of power and help to disman tle the persisting discrimination. Therefore, good relationships based on mutual understanding and cooperation have great potential for resolving the zainichi p roblem, and establishing a truly pluralist society where structural assimilation has been achieved, while cultural diversity is openly acknowledged. For minorit y youths, any positive values that are attached to those cultural traditions tha t are different from the mainstream ones would be crucial in shifting from a neg ative sense of one's ethnicity to a positive one.

  When the majority Japanese realize that the myth of a mono-ethnic society is wrong, difficult as this will be, and begin to interact with people from divers e racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, accepting differences as something po sitive, the minority zainichi's overall attitude to coping with the Japanese maj ority will, in turn, alter. When the majority's attitude and behavior changes an d interaction is based on mutual understanding and respect rather than a denial of minorities, the zainichi can rebuild their relationship with the dominant Jap anese society, no matter what orientation the zainichi adopt in resolving identi ty crises in the larger societal context.

  Our findings are useful in bringing out the complicated nature of majority-m inority relation problems in a society without pluralist traditions, although ou r methodology has limitations in regard to its external validity. We located our respondents using a diversity of means, either on an individual basis or throug h ethnic organizations, using a snowball sampling method. Given that the zainich i are mostly invisible because of their use of pass names and that the issue of their identity is a delicate one even among themselves, our method was probably the most efficient at this exploratory stage.

For future research, we need to engage in quantitative research, as well as conducting comparative studies with other minority problems within Japanese society. It would be relevant, as well, to carry out cross-cultural studies.


  1. This paper is the part of a research project entitled "A Sociological Study of the Problems of Koreans in Japan," supported by a 1988-1989 Grant-in-Aid for Co -operative Research from Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Japan. An d this paper was translated by Young-mi Lim (Graduate student, Department of Soc iology, Queens College of the City University of New York) and James M. Raeside (Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Keio University, Japan).
  2. Jae-il is the equivalent expression in Korean. Given the fact that the vast ma jority of Koreans in Japan cannot understand the Korean language, I have adopted the Japanese expression in this translation.
  3. Minzoku Sabetsu to Tatakau Renraku Kyogikai (National Council for Combatting E thnic Discrimination).
  4. North Korean ethnic association in Japan.
  5. Korean and Japanese names are given in traditional East Asian order, family na me first.
  6. Seikyu (blue hill) is pronounced chong-gu in Korean which also means "Korea."


Fukuoka Yasunori
Faculty of Liberal Arts
Saitama University, JAPAN
Tel. & Fax.:+81-(0)48-858-3070