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Koreans in Japan

Koreans in Japan
Total population
(515,570 with permanent resident status, 284,840 naturalized Japanese citizens)
Regions with significant populations
Tokyo (Ōkubo· Osaka
Japanese · Korean (Zainichi Korean)
Buddhism · Christianity · Irreligion
Related ethnic groups
Korean people
Terms for Koreans in Japan
Holding Japanese nationality
Hangul 한국계 일본인
조선계 일본인
Hanja 韓國系日本人
Revised Romanization Hangukgye Ilbonin
Joseongye Ilbonin
McCune-Reischauer Hangukkye Ilbonin
Chosŏngye Ilbonin
Kanji 韓国系日本人
Rōmaji Kankokukei Nihonjin
Chōsenkei Nihonjin
Holding North Korean nationality
Hangul 재일조선인
Hanja 在日朝鮮人
Revised Romanization Jaeil Joseonin
McCune-Reischauer Chae'il Chosŏnin
Kanji 在日朝鮮人
Rōmaji Zainichi Chōsenjin
Holding South Korean nationality
Hangul 재일한국인
Hanja 在日韓國人
Revised Romanization Jaeil Hangugin
McCune-Reischauer Chae'il Hankukin
Kanji 在日韓国人
Rōmaji Zainichi Kankokujin
Regardless of nationality (in Korea)
Hangul 재일동포/재일교포
Hanja 在日同胞/在日僑胞
Revised Romanization Jaeil Dongpo
Jaeil Gyopo
McCune-Reischauer Chae'il Tongpo
Chae'il Kyopo
Regardless of nationality (in Japan)
Kanji 在日コリアン
Rōmaji Zainichi Korian

Koreans in Japan are the ethnic Korean residents of Japan. They currently constitute the second largest ethnic group in Japan. The majority of Koreans in Japan are Zainichi Koreans, often known simply as Zainichi (在日, lit. "(non-Japanese) residing in Japan"), who are the permanent ethnic Korean residents of Japan. The term "Zainichi Korean" refers only to long-term Korean residents of Japan who trace their roots to Korea under Japanese rule, distinguishing them from the later wave of Korean migrants who came mostly in the 1980s,[1] and from pre-modern immigrants dating back to antiquity.

The Japanese word "Zainichi" itself means "staying in Japan" and implies temporary residence.[2] Nevertheless, the term "Zainichi Korean" is used to describe settled permanent residents of Japan, both those who have retained either their Joseon or South Korean nationalities, and even sometimes includes Japanese citizens of Korean descent who acquired Japanese nationality by naturalization or by birth from one or both parents who have Japanese citizenship.[1]


  • Statistics 1
  • History 2
    • Pre-modern 2.1
    • Origins 2.2
    • During World War II 2.3
    • Loss of Japanese nationality 2.4
    • Division between Chongryon and Mindan 2.5
    • Newcomers 2.6
  • Repatriation to Korea 3
  • Integration into Japanese society 4
    • Assimilation 4.1
    • Registration of residents 4.2
    • Right to vote and government employment 4.3
    • Korean schools 4.4
    • Legal alias 4.5
    • Controversies over Chongryon 4.6
  • See also 5
    • Other ethnic groups in Japan 5.1
  • Footnotes 6
  • External links 7


Restrictions of passage from Korean peninsula (April 1919-1922), 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, restrictions of passage from Busan (October 1925), opening of independent travel service by Koreans between Jeju and Osaka (April 1930), Park Choon-Geum was elected for the House of Representatives of Japan (February 1932), removal of restrictions of civil recruit from Korean peninsula (September 1939), public recruit from Korean peninsula (March 1942), labor conscription from Korean peninsula (September 1944), the end of WWII and the beginning of repatriation (1945), Cheju Uprising (April 1948), the Korean War (June 1950), the Home-coming Movement to North Korea (December 1959-1983), Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea (1965), (1977-1983), Japanese ratification of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1982), 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, 1997 Asian Financial Crisis

According to statistics from the Immigration Bureau of Japan, there were 565,989 Koreans in Japan in 2010. This figure does not include those who have adopted Japanese citizenship.

The 2005 figures are as follows:[3]

  • Those with permanent resident status (general and special categories): 515,570
  • Naturalized Japanese citizens: 284,840
  • Long-term visitors: 82,666
  • Korean students in Japan: 18,208
  • Total: 901,284



People from the Korean peninsula have immigrated to Japan since prehistory, but pre-modern immigrants do not form a separate group.

In the ice age,[4] Japan was connected to mainland Asia by at least one land bridge and was peopled by nomads from the mainland (see History of the Japanese people). In late prehistory, in the Iron Age Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD), Japanese culture shows some Korean influence, though whether this was accompanied by immigration from Korea is debated (see Origin of the Yayoi people). In the later Kofun period (250–538) and Asuka period (538–710) there was some flow of people from the Korean peninsula, both as immigrants and long-term visitors, notably a number of clans in the Kofun period (see Kofun period#Korean migration). While some families today can ultimately trace their ancestry to the immigrants, they were absorbed into Japanese society and are not considered a distinct group.

Trade with Korea continued to the modern day, with Japan also periodically receiving missions from Korea, though this was often limited to specific ports. In the Edo period (17th–mid-19th centuries) trade with Korea occurred through the Tsushima-Fuchū Domain in Kyūshū, near Nagasaki.


Modern Zainichi Koreans can trace their diaspora to the early 20th century under Imperial Japanese rule. In 1910, as the result of the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty, all Korean people became the nation of the Empire of Japan.

Koreans claimed that Japanese land and production confiscation initiatives against Korean farmers during the 1910s caused a wave of forced migrants during the 1920s, while Japanese claim that Japanese colonisation kick-started Korea's defunct feudal economy and that majority of immigration was due to voluntary immigration seeking better economic opportunities. During World War II, a large number of Koreans were also conscripted by Japan. Another wave of migration started after South Korea was devastated by the Korean War in the 1950s. Also noteworthy was the large number of refugees from the massacres on Jeju Island by the South Korean government.[5]

The statistics regarding Zainichi immigration are scarce. However, in 1988, a Mindan youth group called Zainihon Daikan Minkoku Seinendan (재일본대한민국청년회, 在日本大韓民国青年会) published a report entitled "Father, tell us about that day. Report to reclaim our history" (アボジ聞かせて あの日のことを—我々の歴史を取り戻す運動報告書) The report included a survey of first generation Koreans' reasons for immigration. The result was 13.3% for conscription, 39.6% for economics, 17.3% for marriage and family, 9.5% for study/academic, 20.2% for other reasons and 0.2% for unknown.[6] The survey excluded those who were under 12 when they arrived in Japan.

During World War II

In 1939, labor shortages due to Karafuto Prefecture (present-day Sakhalin, now part of Russia)) for civilian labor. Those who were brought to Japan were forced to work in factories, in mines and as laborers, often under appalling conditions. Koreans were better treated than were laborers from other countries, but about 60,000 are estimated to have died between 1939 and 1945.[7] Most of the wartime laborers went home after the war, but some remained in Japan, while 43,000 of those in Karafuto, which had been occupied by the Soviet Union just prior to Japan's surrender, were refused repatriation to either mainland Japan or the Korean peninsula, and were thus trapped in Sakhalin, stateless; they became the ancestors of the Sakhalin Koreans.[8]

Loss of Japanese nationality

Dates of entrance or birth of Korean residents in Japan as of the end of 1958

Immediately following the end of World War II, there were roughly 2.4 million Koreans in Japan; the majority repatriated to their ancestral homes in the southern half of the Korean peninsula, leaving only 650,000 in Japan by 1946.[9]

Japan's defeat in the war and its loss of sovereignty over the Korean peninsula and Taiwan left the nationality status of Koreans and Taiwanese in an ambiguous position in terms of law. The Alien Registration Ordinance (外国人登録令, Gaikokujin-tōroku-rei) of 2 May 1947, ruled that Koreans and some Taiwanese were to be provisionally treated as foreign nationals. Given the lack of a functional nation on the Korean peninsula, Koreans were provisionally registered under the name of Joseon (Korean: 조선, Japanese: Chōsen, 朝鮮), the old name of undivided Korea.

In 1948, the northern and southern parts of Korea declared independence individually, making Joseon, or the old undivided Korea, a defunct nation. The new government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) made a request to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, then the occupying power of Japan, to change the nationality registration of Zainichi Koreans to Daehan Minguk (대한민국, 大韓民國; Japanese: Daikan Minkoku, 大韓民国), the official name of the new nation. Following this, from 1950 onwards, Zainichi Koreans were allowed to voluntarily re-register their nationality as such.

The Allied occupation of Japan ended on 28 April 1952 with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, in which Japan formally abandoned its territorial claim to the Korean peninsula, and as a result, Zainichi Koreans formally lost their Japanese nationality.[10]

The division on the Korean peninsula led to division among Koreans in Japan.

  • 君が代丸
  • FCCJ (The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan) Mr. Suganuma of former Public Security Investigation Agency tells it about Zainichi Korean (Japanese, English)
  • South Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) (Korean, Japanese, English)
  • History of Mindan (English)
  • Online Newspaper covering Zainichi Korean and Mindan (English)
  • The Federation of Korean Associations, Japan (Korean, Japanese)
  • North Korean Residents Union in Japan (Joseon Chongryon) (Korean, Japanese)
    • Selection of articles on Koreans in Japan from pro-DPRK "People's Korea"
  • The Han World - a site for Korean residents in Japan.
  • The Self-Identities of Zainichi Koreans - a paper on Zainichi.
  • MINTOHREN: Young Koreans Against Ethnic Discrimination in Japan
  • Panel discussion in San Francisco Nichi Bei Times Article
  • Testing Tolerance: Fallout from North Korea's Nuclear Program Hits Minorities in Japan article from The Common Language Project
  • Japan Times: "Young 'Zainichi' Koreans look beyond Chongryon ideology"
  • "From Korea to Kyoto; Chapter One of Community, Democracy, and Performance: the Urban Practice of Kyoto's Higashi-Kujo Madang
  • Migration patterns of Korean residents in Ikuno ward-Osaka ―Japanese Journal of Human Geography― 人文地理

External links

  1. ^ a b Hester, Jeffry T. (2008). "Datsu Zainichi-ron: An emerging discourse on belonging among Ethnic Koreans in Japan". In Ertl, John; Tierney, R. Kenji. Multiculturalism in the new Japan: crossing the boundaries within. Berghahn Books. p. 144–145.  
  2. ^ Fukuoka, Yasunori; Gill, Tom (2000). Lives of young Koreans in Japan. Trans-Pacific Press. p. xxxviii.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The Origins of the Japanese people". Wa-pedia. Retrieved 2015-07-12. During the last Ice Age, which ended approximately 15,000 years ago, Japan was connected to the continent through several land bridges, notably one linking the Ryukyu Islands to Taiwan and Kyushu, one linking Kyushu to the Korean peninsula, and another one connecting Hokkaido to Sakhalin and the Siberian mainland. In fact, the Philippines and Indonesia were also connected to the Asian mainland. This allowed migrations from China and Austronesia towards Japan, about 35,000 years ago. These were the ancestors of the modern Ryukyuans (Okinawans), and the first inhabitants of all Japan. The Ainu came from Siberia and settled in Hokkaido and Honshu some 15,000 years ago, just before the water levels started rising again. Nowadays the Ryukuyans, the Ainus and the Japanese are considered three ethnically separate groups. We will see why. 
  5. ^ Title:"Diaspora without Homeland: Being Korean in Japan"|Author:Ryang, Sonia & Lie, John|Publication Date:04-01-2009 [4]"The same threat hung over thousands more who had arrived as refugees from the massacres that followed the April 3, 1948, uprising on Jeju Island and from the Korean War"
  6. ^ 1988 在日本大韓民国青年会 『アボジ聞かせて あの日のことを -- 我々の歴史を取り戻す運動報告書 -- 』「徴兵・徴用13.3%」「その他20.2%」、「不明0.2%」「経済的理由39.6%」「結婚・親族との同居17.3%」「留学9.5%」
  7. ^ Rummel, R. J. (1999). Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1990. Lit Verlag.  
  8. ^ Lankov, Andrei (2006-01-05). "Stateless in Sakhalin". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  9. ^ a b c Ryang, Sonia (2000). Koreans in Japan: Critical Voices from the Margin. United Kingdom: Routledge. 
  10. ^ United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (September 26, 2000): "E. Korean residents in Japan 32. The majority of Korean residents, who constitute about one third of the foreign population in Japan, are Koreans (or their descendants) who came to reside in Japan for various reasons during the 36 years (1910-1945) of Japan's rule over Korea and who continued to reside in Japan after having lost Japanese nationality, which they held during the time of Japan's rule, with the enforcement of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (28 April 1952)."
  11. ^ Yonhap news, May 17, 2006.
  12. ^ (Japanese) Abe Shunji, The Home-coming Movement Seen from North Korea: An Interview with Mr. Oh Gi-Wan, the Former Member of the Reception Committee for Japan's Korean Returnees, Bulletin of Faculty of Education, Nagasaki University. Social science, Nagasaki University, Vol.61(20020630) pp. 33-42. ISSN 03882780
  13. ^
  14. ^ 寺尾, 五郎 (April 1959). 38度線の北. 新日本出版社.  
  15. ^ Morris-Suzuki, Tessa (2005-02-07). "Japan's Hidden Role In The 'Return' Of Zainichi Koreans To North Korea". ZNet. Retrieved 2007-02-14. The motives behind the official enthusiasm for repatriation are clearly revealed by Masutaro Inoue, who described Koreans in Japan as being "very violent,"[6] "in dark ignorance,"[7] and operating as a "Fifth Column" in Japanese society. ... Inoue is reported as explaining that the Japanese government wanted to "rid itself of several tens of thousands of Koreans who are indigent and vaguely communist, thus at a stroke resolving security problems and budgetary problems (because of the sums of money currently being dispensed to impoverished Koreans) 
  16. ^ a b Morris-Suzuki, Tessa (2007-03-13). "The Forgotten Victims of the North Korean Crisis". Nautilus Institute. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  17. ^ NOZAKI, Yoshiki; INOKUCHI Hiromitsu; KIM Tae-Young. "Legal Categories, Demographic Change and Japan’s Korean Residents in the Long Twentieth Century". Japan Focus. 
  18. ^ "'"Spy's escape from North Korean 'hell. BBC News. 2003-01-06. Retrieved 2007-03-16. 
  19. ^ "2006 Sundance Film Festival announces awards for documentary and dramatic films in independent film and world cinema competitions" (PDF) (Press release). Sundance Film Festival. 2006-01-28. Retrieved 2007-03-20. 
  20. ^ "1970,South Korea refused forced displacement of Korean residents in Japan who perpetrated a crime" (Press release). Yomiuri Shimbun. 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  21. ^ SHIN Eunju (申銀珠). "ソウルの異邦人、その周辺一李艮枝「由煕」をめぐって (Portrait of a Foreigner's World in Seoul: Yuhi by Yi Yangji)" (PDF). Niigata University of International and Information Studies. 
  22. ^ Tsutsui, K., & Shin, H. J. (2008). Global Norms, Local Activism, and Social Movement Outcomes: Global Human Rights and Resident Koreans in Japan. Social Problems, (3). 391. doi:10.1525/sp.2008.55.3.391.
  23. ^ a b Min, Ganshick. Zainichi Kankokujin no Genjou to Mirai (Present lives and Future of Zainichi Koreans). Tokyo: Hirakawa Print Press, 1994.
  24. ^
  25. ^ 過去10年間の帰化許可申請者数,帰化許可者数等の推移 (Japanese).
  26. ^ In order to naturalized to Japanese citizens, Zainichi Koreans had to go through multiple, complex steps. In order for Zainichi Koreans to do that, they had to collect the information about their family and ancestors that are ten generations ago. They could’ve collect these information if they paid money to an organization such as Mindan, however the cost was really expensive, so many of them couldn’t afford it. However, these processes became much easier as time passes and today, it is quite easy for Zainichi Koreans to naturalize to Japanese citizens
  27. ^ 日本の厚生労働省の調べによると、2006年だけで、韓国・朝鮮籍所有者と日本国籍者の間で結ばれた婚姻件数は8376件を数える。調査を開始した1965年の1971件に比べ、およそ4倍で、日本国内全体の婚姻件数73万971件のうち、約1%を占めている。在日韓国・朝鮮人女性と日本人男性間の婚姻件数が最も多かったのは90年の8940件。91年以降は6000件前後に留まっており、06年末現在では6041件を数えた。 半面、韓国・朝鮮人男性と日本人女性間の婚姻件数は06年末現在で2335件。1984年に2000件を超えて以来、ほぼ横ばい状態だ。
  28. ^ "Moves to legislate on "suffrage" in Japan condemned". Korean Central News Agency. 2000-03-22. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  29. ^ Review and Prospect of Internal and External Situations, 2010, 14p
  30. ^ Ed-Info Japan News from September, to December 2003
  31. ^ Zainichi (Koreans in Japan): Diasporic Nationalism and Postcolonial Identity. John Lie. University of California Press, 15 Nov 2008
  32. ^ (2001/03/23)
  33. ^ Kimpara, S., Ishida, R., Ozawa, Y., Kajimura, H., Tanaka, H. and Mihashi, O. (1986) Nihon no Naka no Kankoku-Chosenjin, Chugokujin: Kanagawa-kennai Zaiju Gaikokujin Jittai Chosa yori (Koreans and Chinese Inside Japan: Reports from a Survey on Foreign Residents of Kanagawa Prefecture), Tokyo: Akashi Shoten.
  34. ^ Japanese Alias vs. Real Ethnic Name: On Naming Practices among Young Koreans in Japan. Yasunori Fukuoka (Saitama University, Japan). ISA XIV World Congress of Sociology (July 26 - August 1, 1998, Montreal, Canada)
  35. ^ FM Spokesman Urges Japan to Stop Suppression of Chongryon.
  36. ^ Gov't defends police raid on Chongryon head office (Japan Policy & Politics, December 3, 2001)
  37. ^ CORRECTED: Pro-Pyongyang group rules out link to abduction (Asian Political News, November 18, 2002)
  38. ^ Friday, April 7, 2006; Volume 02, Number 14 of the Japan Considered Podcast.
  39. ^ N Korea ferry struggling against the tide (BBC News Online, June 9, 2003)


Other ethnic groups in Japan

See also

In May 2006, Chongryon and the pro-South Mindan agreed to reconcile, only for the agreement to break down the following month due to Mindan's distrust of Chongryon. North Korea's missile tests in July 2006 have deepened the divide, with Chongryon refusing to condemn the missile tests, expressing only its regret that the Japanese government has suspended the operation of the Mangyongbong-92. Outraged senior Mindan officials joined mainstream Japanese politicians and media in sharply criticizing Chongryon's silence over the matter.

[39] The operation of the

In March 2006, police raided six Chongryon-related facilities in an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the June 1980 disappearance of one of the alleged abductees, Tadaaki Hara. Police spokesman said that the head of Chongryon at the time is suspected of co-operating in his kidnapping.[38]

In 2002, Shotaro Tochigi, deputy head of the Public Security Investigation Agency told a session of the House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee that the agency is investigating Chongryon for suspected illicit transfers of funds to the North.[37] The image of Chongryon was further tarnished by North Korea's surprise 2002 admission that it had indeed abducted Japanese nationals in the 1970s, as it had been categorically and fiercely denying for many years that the abductions had ever taken place and dismissing rumors of North Korean involvement as an allegedly “racist fantasy.” Some of the recent drop in membership of Chongryon is thought to be attributed to ordinary members of Chongryon who had believed the party line feeling deeply humiliated and disillusioned upon discovering that they had been used as mouthpieces to deny the crimes of the North Korean government.

In December 2001, police raided Chongryon's Tokyo headquarters and related facilities to investigate Chongryon officials' suspected role in embezzlement of funds from the failed Tokyo Chogin credit union.[36]

For a long time, Chongryon enjoyed unofficial immunity from searches and investigations, partly because authorities were reluctant to carry out any actions which could provoke not only accusations of racism but lead to an international incident. Chongryon has long been suspected of a variety of criminal acts on behalf of North Korea, such as illegal transfer of funds to North Korea and espionage, but no action was taken. However, recent escalating tensions between Japan and North Korea over a number of issues, namely North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals which came to light in 2002 as well as its nuclear weapons program, has led to a resurgence of public animosity against Chongryon. Chongryon schools have alleged numerous cases of verbal abuse and physical violence directed against their students and buildings, and Chongryon facilities have been targets of protests and occasional incidents. The Japanese authorities have recently started to crack down on Chongryon, with investigations and arrests for charges ranging from tax evasion to espionage. These moves are usually criticized by Chongryon as acts of political suppression.[35]

Controversies over Chongryon

During the Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup, a Mindan newspaper conducted a survey regarding their use. Fifty percent stated of those polled said that they always only use an alias while thirteen percent stated they use their original name. Thirty-three percent stated that they use either depending on the situation.[32] In another survey, over 90% of ethnic Koreans in Japan have a Japanese sounding name in addition to a Korean one.[33] Eighty percent used their Japanese names when in Japanese company and 30.3 percent used it "almost exclusively".[34]

Registered aliens in Japan are allowed to adopt a registered alias (通称名 tsūshōmei), often abbreviated to tsūmei (通名), lit. "common name", as their legal name.[31] Traditionally, Zainichi Koreans have used Japanese-style names in public, but some Zainichi Koreans, including celebrities and professional athletes, use their original Korean names. Well-known ethnic Koreans who use Japanese names include Hanshin Tigers star Tomoaki Kanemoto, pro wrestlers Riki Choshu and Akira Maeda, and controversial judoka and mixed martial artist Yoshihiro Akiyama.

Legal alias
Japanese name
Kanji 通名
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl 통명
Hancha 通名

Legal alias

Another issue is an examination called the High School Equivalency Test, or daiken, which qualifies those who have not graduated from a regular high school to apply for a place in a state university and take an entrance exam. Until recently, only those who have completed compulsory education (i.e. up to junior high school) were entitled to take daiken; this meant pupils of ethnic schools had to do extra courses before being allowed to take the exam. In 1999 the requirement was amended so that anyone over a certain age is qualified. Campaigners were not satisfied because this still meant graduates of non-Japanese high schools had to take daiken. In 2003, the Education Ministry removed the requirement to take the Equivalency Test from graduates of Chinese schools, Mindan-run Korean schools and international schools affiliated with Western nations and accredited by U.S. and British organizations. However, this did not apply to graduates of pro-Pyongyang Korean schools, saying it could not approve their curricula. The decision was left up to individual universities, 70% of which allowed Korean school graduates to apply directly.[30]

One of the issues is funding. The schools were originally set up and run with support from the North Korean government but this money has now dried up, and with dropping pupil numbers, many schools are facing financial difficulties. The Japanese government has refused Chongryon's requests that it fund ethnic schools in line with regular Japanese schools, citing Article 89 of the Japanese Constitution, where use of public funds for education by non-public bodies is prohibited. In reality the schools are in fact partly funded by local authorities, but subsidies are given in the form of special benefits paid to the families of pupils, as opposed to paying the schools directly, in order to avoid a blatant breach of Article 89. It is also much less than the amount received by state schools.

The pro-Pyongyang Chongryon operates 218 Korean schools (Korean: 조선학교/우리학교, Hanja: 朝鮮學校, Japanese: 朝鮮学校) across Japan, including kindergartens and one university. All lessons, and all conversations within the school are conducted in Korean. They teach a strong pro-North Korean ideology and allegiance to Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-un. The textbooks include an idolized depiction of the economic development of North Korea and Songun policy of Kim Jong-Il.[29] They are not classified as regular schools under Japanese law as they do not follow the national curriculum, but rather as "miscellaneous schools" alongside driving schools. This has led to many discrepancies with regular Japanese schools which Chongryon calls discriminatory.

Korean schools

However, the Japanese Diet has not yet passed a resolution regarding this matter despite several attempts by a section within Mindan-affiliated Zainichi Koreans presses for voting rights in Japan, they have very little interest in becoming a voting bloc in South Korean politics. Chongryon for its part opposes moves to allow Zainichi Koreans to participate in Japanese politics, on the grounds that it assimilates Koreans into Japanese society and thus weakens Korean ethnic identity.[28]

There have also been campaigns to allow Zainichi Koreans to take up government employment and participate in elections, which are open to Japanese nationals only. Since 1992, Mindan has been campaigning for the right to vote in elections for prefectural and municipal assemblies, mayors and prefecture governors, backed by the South Korean government. In 1997, Kawasaki became the first municipality to hire a Korean national. So far, three prefectures - Osaka, Nara and Kanagawa - have supported voting rights for permanent foreign residents.

Over the decades, Zainichi Koreans have been campaigning to regain their Japanese citizenship rights without having to adopt Japanese nationality. The right to claim social welfare benefits was granted in 1954, followed by access to the national health insurance scheme (1960s) and state pensions (1980s). There is some doubt over the legality of some of these policies as the Public Assistance Law, which governs social welfare payments, is seen to apply to "Japanese nationals."

Long-term ethnic Korean residents of Japan who have not taken up Japanese nationality currently have the legal status of Tokubetsu Eijusha ("Special Permanent Residents") and are granted special rights and privileges compared to other foreigners, especially in matters such as re-entry and deportation statutes. These privileges were originally given to residents with South Korean nationality in 1965, and were extended in 1991 to cover those who have retained their Joseon nationality.

Right to vote and government employment

Japan used to take fingerprints as part of the registration process for foreign residents, a subject of much controversy, especially among resident Koreans, as many of them are born in Japan. After many years of campaigning, the requirement was abolished in 1992 for those with "Special Permanent Resident" status. In 1999, the Alien Registration Law was further amended to eliminate fingerprinting of foreign residents in general. Mindan expressed disappointment, as it did not eliminate the requirement that foreign residents carry their registration cards at all times, and Koreans protested in Tokyo alongside Thais, Filipinos and Brazilians dressed in traditional attire of their homelands.

Registration of residents

The latest figure from Mindan showed that the total population of Zainichi was 598,219 in 2006 and 593,489 in 2007; only 8.9% married another Zainichi in 2006. There were 1,792 births and 4,588 deaths resulting in a 2796 natural decrease. On top of that, there were 8531 naturalisations, which resulted in a total decrease of 11,327 in 2006 (1.89%).[3]

In December 1995, "Gendai Korea" (Modern Korea) published "20 years after the Sakanaka Paper" to assess further development. Sakanaka pointed out that in the 1980s, 50% of Zainichi Koreans married Japanese and in the 1990s, the rate was 80%. (In fact, he quoted only 15%-18% Korean marriage during 1990 to 1994.) He also pointed out the change in the law in 1985, which granted Japanese citizenship to a child with either parent being Japanese. (Previous laws granted citizenship only to a child with a Japanese father.) In practice, this would mean that less than 20% of Zainichi marriages would result in Zainichi status. As naturalisation is concentrated among the younger generation, the Zainichi population is expected to collapse once the older generation starts to die out in two decades.

In 1975, Hidenori Sakanaka (坂中 英徳 Sakanaka Hidenori), a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Justice, published a highly controversial document known as the "Sakanaka Paper". He stated that the assertion by both Mindan and Chongryon that Zainichi are destined to eventually return to Korea is no longer realistic. He further predicted that Zainichi would naturally disappear in the 21st century unless they abandon their link between Korean identity and Korean nationality. He argued that the Japanese government should stop treating Zainichi as temporary residents (with a special status) and start providing a proper legal framework for their permanent settlement as "Korean Japanese".

During post-World War II period many Zainichi Koreans married with other Zainichi Koreans and it was a rare case for them to marry with Japanese citizen. This was because Japanese citizens had a racial prejudice against Zainichi Koreans such as they were poor, uneducated, etc. Therefore, Japanese citizens, especially the parents were refusing the marriage with Zainichi Koreans. Also, when Japanese women married with Zainichi Koreans, their nationality will change to Korean too, so there was a huge risk behind the marriage between Zainichi Koreans and Japanese. However, there were also some problems about marriage between Zainichi Koreans too. As it stated in the previous section, Zainichi Koreans were hiding about their identity and living as a Japanese citizen at that time. Because of this, it was very hard for Zainichi Koreans to know about the people who has same nationality with them. They were married mostly by arranged marriage supported by Mindan.[23] Tong-il Ilbo (통일일보) or Tōitsu Nippō (統一日報), a Korean Japanese newspaper, reported that according to statistics from the Japanese Health and Labour ministry, there were 8376 marriages between Japanese and Koreans. Compared to 1971 marriages in 1965, when the statistics begin, the number has roughly quadrupled and it now constitutes about 1% of the 730,971 total marriages in Japan. The highest number of marriages between Japanese men and Korean women was 8,940, in 1990. Since 1991, it has fluctuated around 6000. On the other hand, there were 2335 marriages between Korean men and Japanese women in 2006. It has been stable since the number reached 2000, in 1984.[27]

Though there are a few cases of celebrities who naturalize with their Korean name, the majority of them formally choose a name that appears and reads ethnically Japanese. This means that the rate of naturalisation can be taken as a rough measure of assimilation. [26] One of the most pressing issues of the Zainichi community is the rate of


During the post-World War II period, Zainichi Koreans faced various kinds of discrimination from Japanese society. Due to the San Francisco Peace Treaty,the Japanese government created laws to support Japanese citizens by giving financial support, providing shelters, etc. However, after the treaty was signed, Zainichi Koreans were no longer counted as Japanese citizens, so they were unable to get any support from the government. They were unable to get an insurance certificate from the government, so it was difficult for them to get any medical care. Without medical insurance, Zainichi Koreans were unable to go to hospital since the cost of medication was too high. Another problem caused by this treaty was that the Japanese government created a law which stated that Korean residents in Japan had to be fingerprinted since Zainichi Koreans had two names (their original name and a name given by the Japanese government). Under this law, Zainichi Koreans had to reveal their identity to the public because when they visited the city hall to provide their fingerprints, their neighbors found out that they were Zainichi Koreans. Therefore, Zainichi Koreans were forced to reveal their identity to Japanese and faced discrimination from them directly. This made their lives even more difficult. In order to protect themselves, many Zainichi Koreans protested against this law by holding posters and marching in a group. Mindan and many Zainichi Koreans opposed this law, but the law wasn’t repealed until 1993. So until this law was repealed, Zainichi Koreans could not escape from the social discrimination which they had faced in Japanese society.[22] Furthermore, it was hard for the Zainichi Koreans to get a job due to discrimination. Especially, it was very hard for Zainichi Koreans to become public employees since Japan only let Japanese nationals become public employees at that time. Since many Zainichi Koreans couldn’t get a proper job, they began to get involved in illegal jobs such as “illegal alcohol production, scrap recycling, and racketeering.” (Min). As a result, many Zainichi Koreans ended up living in slums or hamlets since Japanese real estate agents refused to let Zainichi Koreans rent houses.[23] Zainichi today have established a stable presence in Japan after years of activism. Through Ainu, Burakumin, Ryūkyūans, Uilta, Nivkhs and others), and sympathetic Japanese, they have improved the social atmosphere for Zainichi in Japan. There are also Koreans living in Japan who try to present themselves as Japanese to avoid discrimination.[24] Most younger Zainichi now speak only Japanese, go to Japanese schools, work for Japanese firms and increasingly now marry Japanese. Most naturalization occurs among the young during the period when they seek formal employment or marriage. Those who have already established their life often choose to retain their South Korean or Joseon nationality as part of their heritage.

Marriage of Koreans in Japan
Numbers of birth, death, and naturalization of Koreans in Japan

Integration into Japanese society

Some Zainichi Koreans have also gone to South Korea to study or to settle; for example, author Lee Yangji studied at Seoul National University in the early 1980s.[21]

Following a Seoul High Court ruling in 2010, it is no longer possible for holders of Chōsen-seki (i.e., North Korea-affiliated Koreans) to enter South Korea.

Despite the fact that 97% of the Zainichi Koreans originated from the southern half of the Korean peninsula, the North was initially a far more popular destination for repatriation than the South; however, as word came back of difficult conditions faced in the North, and with the 1965 normalization of Japan-South Korea relations, the popularity of repatriation to the North dropped sharply, though the trickle of returnees to the reclusive communist state continued as late as 1984.[17] In total, 93,340 people migrated from Japan to North Korea under the repatriation programme; an estimated 6,000 were actually Japanese migrating with Korean spouses. Around one hundred such repatriates are believed to have later escaped from North Korea; the most famous is Kang Chol-Hwan, who published a book about his experience, The Aquariums of Pyongyang.[16] Though repatriates in general faced social discrimination and political repression, with as many as 10,000 being imprisoned in concentration camps, some rose to positions of power in the North Korean government; one returnee who later defected back to Japan, known only by his Japanese pseudonym Kenki Aoyama, worked for North Korean intelligence as a spy in Beijing.[18] The repatriations have been the subject of numerous creative works in Japan, due to the influence they had on the Zainichi Korean community; one documentary film about a family in which the sons repatriated while the parents and daughter remained in Japan, Dear Pyongyang, won a special jury prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.[19][20]

Repatriation of Zainichi Koreans from Japan conducted under the auspices of the Japanese Red Cross began to receive official support from the Japanese government as early as 1956; a North Korean-sponsored repatriation programme with support of the Chōsen Sōren (The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) officially began in 1959. In April 1959, Gorō Terao (寺尾 五郎 Terao Gorō), a political activist of the Japanese Communist Party, published a book "North of the 38th parallel" (38度線の北), in which he idolized North Korea for its rapid development and humanitarianism;[14] numbers of returnees skyrocketed. The Japanese government was in favour of repatriation not only as a way to reduce the number of welfare or other public assistance recipients in a time of economic difficulty, but also as a way to rid the country of ethnic minority residents regarded as incompatible with Japanese culture[15] Though the United States government was initially unaware of Tokyo's cooperation with the repatriation programme, they offered no objection after they were informed of it; the US ambassador to Japan was quoted by his Australian counterpart as describing the Koreans in Japan as "a poor lot including many Communists and many criminals".[16]

Repatriation of Koreans from Japan, January 1960

Repatriation to Korea

Since the 1990s, there is a new group of Koreans from South Korea who reside in Japan. Their affiliated residence association is called the Association of South Korean Residents in Japan (재일본한국인연합회, 在日本韓國人聯合會).[13]


Well into at least the 1970s, Chongryon was the dominant Zainichi group, and in some ways remains more politically significant today in Japan. However, the widening disparity between the political and economic conditions of the two Koreas has since made Mindan, the pro-South Korean group, the larger and certainly the less politically controversial faction. 65% of Zainichi are now said to be affiliated to Mindan. The number of pupils receiving ethnic education from Chongryon-affiliated schools has declined sharply, with many, if not most, Zainichi now opting to send their children to mainstream Japanese schools. Some Chongryon schools have been closed for lack of funding, and there is serious doubt as to the continuing viability of the system as a whole. (Mindan has also traditionally operated a school system for the children of its members, although it has been always been less widespread and organized compared to its Chongryon counterpart, and is said to be nearly defunct at the present time.)

Pro-North Zainichi who maintained their Joseon nationalities have been called "North Koreans in Japan" in English by writers such as Sonia Ryang. While this term is technically correct, it is somewhat misleading. Zainichi Chōsenjin, as they are called, in the vast majority of cases settled in Japan before the modern state of North Korea was instituted, and in most cases originate from the south of the Korean Peninsula. Their status as "North Koreans" is based almost entirely on their historical ideological loyalties.

  • Operation of about 60 ethnic Korean schools across Japan, initially partly funded by the North Korean government, in which lessons were conducted in Korean. They maintain a strong pro-North Korean ideology, which has sometimes come under criticism from pupils, parents, and the public alike.
  • Discouraging its members from taking up Japanese citizenship.
  • Discouraging its members from marrying Japanese.
  • Chongryon-operated businesses and banks to provide the necessary jobs, services, and social networks for Zainichi Koreans outside mainstream society.
  • Opposition to Zainichi Koreans' right to vote or participation in Japanese elections, which they saw as an unacceptable attempt at assimilation into Japanese society.[11]
  • A home-coming movement to North Korea in the late 1950s,[12] which it hailed as a socialist "Paradise on Earth". Some 90,000 Zainichi Koreans and their Japanese spouses moved to the North before the migration eventually died down.

Out of the two Korean organizations in Japan, the pro-North Chongryon has been the more militant in terms of retaining Koreans' ethnic identity. Its policies included:

Division between Chongryon and Mindan

In 1965, Japan concluded a Treaty on Basic Relations with South Korea and recognized the South Korean government as the only legitimate government of Korea.[9] Those Koreans in Japan who did not apply for South Korean citizenship kept Chōsen-seki which did not give them citizenship of any nation.

The second Kobe riots in 1950


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