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Discrimination against Koreans in Japan

zainichi Koreans

Zainichi Sabetsu: Discrimination against Koreans in Japan

By Ryoji Shimada

There are about 2.5 million foreigners living in Japan as of 2017, of which about 500,000 are Koreans. Before World War II, the number was over 2 million. This is because many Koreans (Kankoku-jin and Chhosen-jin) were working in Japan during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The number of Koreans in Japan has decreased since the end of the war due to their return to their home countries or naturalization, but they still account for one fifth of all foreigners living in Japan.

Changing their name to avoid discrimination

Koreans and Japanese look almost the same. I am often told by Koreans that I look like a Korean, but there are Koreans who look like Japanese, and vice versa. In other words, it is hard to distinguish between them by appearance. However, if you look at their names, you can tell. “Kim, Park, Han…” These surnames are unique to Korea. So, if you become a naturalized citizen, you can change your name. If you do this, your name will become more Japanese, and you will be less likely to be discriminated against. However, most Korean residents in Japan do not naturalize because they want to preserve their roots and have obtained permanent residency instead of naturalization to Japanese.

Types of discrimination

Now, what does discrimination mean against Koreans in Japan? It is often referred to as discrimination in employment and marriage, but it basically means being treated as a stranger, and it can take many forms. There is a huge company in the pachinko industry called Maruhan, which has sales of over one trillion yen as of 2021. The founder of the company is a Korean living in Japan, and his motivation for founding the company was that he could not find a job anywhere after the graduation of Hosei University.

Also, in terms of marriage discrimination, I have a Japanese female friend who got married to a Korean living in Japan. I was invited to her wedding, but most of her relatives were not present. In fact, before the wedding, she asked me for advice. She told me that her relatives were opposed to her marrying a Korean living in Japan because it would hurt their family lineage. As I have many Korean friends, I was surprised. I advised her not to worry about it, but she was even told that the relatives would cut off ties if she got married.” In the end, she decided to go ahead and ended up marrying him.

Misinformation about the areas of Koreans neighborhood

Tsuruhashi's Korea Town
Tsuruhashi’s Korea Town

There are also rumors that the places where they live are dangerous. It is said that the places where they live are dangerous, like a slum in a foreign country. For example, there are many Koreans living in the south side of Kyoto station and Tsuruhashi district in Osaka. I don’t know how it used to be. However, when I talked to a Japanese colleague who currently lives in the area, he said, “It’s not dangerous at all.” The company I used to work for was located on the south side of Kyoto Station, and I never felt unsafe there. Also, Tsuruhashi has the largest Korean town in Japan. I like the place a lot. There are many Korean restaurants and shops. It is like a real Korean town. So I have been there many times, but instead of feeling dangerous, there are many warm and friendly people. And the service is good, plus it’s cheap! Why are these misconceptions created? People who believe in this kind of misinformation have never actually come into contact with Koreans or visited Korean neighborhoods, and they can’t get rid of their bad stereotypical image.

Interacting with one another is a key

"Green Book" depicting the friendship between a white man and a black man
“Green Book” depicting the friendship between a white man and a black man

I have foreign friends, but probably Koreans are the most. I have been to South Korea more than ten times. Of those I’ve visited there three times to attend my friend’s weddings. Not only are they close to Japanese in their way of thinking, such as Confucianism and the importance of hierarchy, but they are also very humane and personable. If someone did something for them, they try to return the favor. If you get to know them directly as a human being, you will surely be able to get rid of their bad image.

As one psychologist said, “Misunderstandings can be cleared up when people actually interact with each other.” In the movies “Green Book” and “American History X,” the white protagonist who hated black people so much changed his mind after they actually interacted with black people.

Masayoshi Son, the president of Softbank Group, one of Japan’s leading companies, was once a Korean living in Japan. Although he is now a naturalized Japanese citizen, he still uses his Korean-derived name, Son. He says it is because he wants to preserve his identity. He is the richest person in Japan now with an asset of more than 44 billion US dollars. It is true that there are some Japanese who do not think well of him because his roots are in Korea even though he is Japanese.

Now is the time for us to open our hearts to each other and spend time together. I believe that breaking down mutual distrust through such exchanges will be the first step in eliminating discrimination.

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