Pirate-chan called me out on my last post:
Piratechan: while the sushi talk is making my mouth water, i got stuck on how a “North Korean” who is “Japan born and raised” can be “North Korean”. Isn’t this partly what NLUTE is all about? Where you are born and live is a greater shaper of your culture than your ancestry?
Yes, where you are born and raised determines who you are to a great degree. Koreans are in many respects Japanese, that’s why I said my friends sushi was exceptionally good. She’s Japanese in many ways. But Koreans in Japan–particualrly Zainichi Chosenjin–go to great lengths to maintain their identity. The fact that the Japanese government marginalizes them compounds to the situation.
Many of the parents and grand parents of my friends were brought over from Korea during WWII. When Japan colonized Korea, the Japanese govt. went to great lengths to have both citizens “intermingle.” Many Japanese went to Korea and Manchuria–the govt. provided incentives, I think. I presume the J-govt. thought that by populating these countries with Japanese, it would somehow make these occupied areas look and feel like “Japan”. My grandparents, in fact, went there, and my unlce was born in Korea. This was okay if you’re Japanese, I suppose, but many of the Koreans were froced in to labor in Japan. From what I understand many of these Koreans never really wanted to remain in Japan–indeed, this is the argument that many right wing Japs and stupid foreigners always bring up: If you don’t like Japan, go home, reminiscent of our own redneck expression, “America: Love it or leave it”. Unfortunately for these Koreans, if they went home they had to deal with the brewing Korean war, the subsequent communist regime, and the ultimate economic and social failure of No. Korea. How were these Korean’s going to go back? It would have been going to certain hardship and suffering. Who would go? How could Japan send people back to such a situation when it was them who brought the Koreans to Japan in the first place? No compassion…
Also, no citizenship. I believe the J-govt. offered citizenship to Koreans, but they had to turn “Japanese”. Unlike the “melting pot” of America where we try to promote diversity and celebrate different cultures within the American culture, Japan demands total immersion. They could only go to schools approved by the Japanese Ministry of Education. This means that Koreans would no longer have the opportunity to learn their own traditions… but then I don’t remember getting Japanese history lesson in elementary school. But I did get Japanese language lessons. If these Koreans went to regular J schools, there would be no Korean language at all. And if they go to Korean schools? Since they are not approved by the MOE, the diplomas they earn will not be recognized by universities, and so cannot gain admission.
Perhaps most significantly, they would have to change their name. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but I have been told by many–Japanese and Koreans alike–that those who “naturalized” took names that were similar to their Korean ones. The name Kim, for example, is read Kane in Japanese, so names such as Kaneko, Kaneyama, etc. find their roots in Korea. But really, I could never imagine having to change my name to Smith or Jones, or–closer to Onigiri–Oneill.
The Koreans-in-Japan (KIJ) situation might be similar to my own life as described in NLUTE. Many of the KIJ are a true hybrid in everything except their passport. Language and customs are blurred. My friends son–Matt I’m lookng for the business card of her restaurant–is incredibly Japanese in attitude and behavior. His Japanese is impeccable as is obvious. He talks to his mother and sister in Japanese. The only time he speaks Korean is when his father is around–you know those old school East Asian males. But if asked about his cultural heritage, he would adamantly say he is North-Korean, even though he has never been there, doesn’t really want to go there, and everything from his language to taste in music is far more Japanese than Korean. To make it worse for him–in my opinion–is that he looks like the Japanese. I and my JA/AA buds look distinctly different from Mr. White America. They see us approaching, we know we are being watched. We do not melt into the background–unless your in Chinatown, J-Town or K-Town. But he looks no different than anyone else in Japan, and yet if and when he decides to go to college or get a job, he will have to confront the kind of discrimination reserved for us AAs here: Yeah, you’re smart, you capable, but you’re just not one of us. (I might mention that my step-son is half North Korean–Musubi-chan’s late husband was North Korean, and Unagi-kun looks llike any other FOB from Japan.)
I wait for the day when we can all be equals. There are many young white people indeed who want this to happen–Capt.Gaijin certainly has been open about his opinion about this. But this is not the reality. Even now. And there are certainly many young whites who show no desire to change the status quo, and there are many young Japanese in Japan who don’t even realize that there’s a problem.
As for me, I am an American. I know that without a trace of doubt or regret, as I have tried to convey in NLUTE. But I still have to deal with the situation, the reality of our current society. Just as my Korean friends who struggle for recognition in Japan must face theirs.