A brief history of the lives of Koreans living in Japan
1 Annexation and the beginnings of racial discrimination
2 Legal changes
3 Social and Cultural changes
4 Political changes
This paper examines the lives of Koreans in Japan since The Treaty of Kanghwa. It examines the legal changes, social and cultural changes, and the political changes that have been made throughout the years and deals with issues of nationality, alien registration and names. Issues of marriage, work, education, accommodation, and voting rights are also discussed.
Finally, it concludes by discussing the changes which have been made since the end of World War II and makes recommendations for the future.
A brief history of Koreans living in Japan
Annexation and the beginnings of racial Discrimination
“There is no doubt that annexation was the decisive event in the history of Japan's Korean minority." (Fukuoka,2000, 4).
Although the unequal Treaty of Kanghwa which was signed between Japan and Korea in 1876 opened the doors to Koreans coming to Japan, it was the 1910 annexation and its dire consequences which left many thousands of Koreans with their livelihoods destroyed and forced them in their thousands to eek out some kind of meager existence on the Japanese mainland.
From the very beginning, racial discrimination was very much in evidence, as can be seen when Koreans were made scapegoats for the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake which resulted in over 6,000 of them being slaughtered in the ensuing witch hunt.
It is now nearly 100 years since the anniversary of the annexation of Korea by Japan and today Koreans in Japan including those who have become naturalized (about 160,000), are close to 800,000 in number (Hicks, 1997, 3), making them a sizeable minority within the country.
This essay will attempt to assess the changes of status of the Korean minority living in Japan since 1945 and show that although the International community has contributed in some ways to the changes, other factors have also played a major role.
Because Japan proclaims itself to be a homogenous society of a unique and distinctive character (Hicks, 1997, 3), and to be Japanese is almost a definition of racial purity (Hicks, 1997, 4), it has been virtually impossible for Japanese to admit to the existence of minorities and, indeed, Japan’s first report to the United Nations after ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1979 stated that “Minorities did not exist in Japan” (Siddle,1997,40).
Under these conditions it has been a long and arduous struggle for the Korean Minority in Japan to gain any change in status or foothold in Japanese society.
The table on the following page shows in chronological order the main citizenship movements by resident Koreans since the end of the war.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
As can be seen, civic rights were the main concern of Koreans after the war. Although in 1945 at war’s end the 2.4 million Koreans in Japan had voting rights, these were abolished in December of that same year, and in May 1947 they were made subject to the Alien Registration Ordinance (Fukuoka, 2000, 11).
On the very day that the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect (April 28th, 1952), the government of Japan stripped the Japan resident Koreans of Japanese Nationality without allowing them to choose between Korean or Japanese Nationality (Fukuoka, 2000, 12).