[ED. Susan, a Korean-American born, raised and educated
in the States, spent some time in Korea, both teaching English
and learning about Korea. This essay is based on experiences not only of her own, but also of her many friends who shared
their experiences, opinions, and views with her. In particular, Susan wants to share in this essay the observed differences
between the ethnic Koreans born and raised in America and those born and raised in Japan. Susan has majored in History
and Liberal Arts at SUNY-New Paltz and is planning to pursue her graduate study in the Korean Studies. Susan is a member
During my time at the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei University,
I was fortunate to meet many young people from
Japan. Until then, my primary interest in Japan had been its history with Korea. But the majority of students at KLI were
from Japan. Many were born to Japanese parents, but there was an equally large number who like myself (born and raised
in the US), are Korean but had been born and raised in Japan and continue to live there. I became close friends with
many of these Japanese students, spending countless days and nights together, talking and enjoying each other's company.
It is the Korean-Japanese friends whose situation I find most interesting; I feel they are the true victims of the contentious
relationship between Korea and Japan.
Among the Korean-Japanese I came to know, I found widely diverse
views regarding their relationship with Japan. Some
of them were angry with Japan while others fully accepted their country of birth. Many wavered between the two extremes.
But to an outsider like myself, coming from America where people of all nations are characteristically welcomed equally, I
felt my Korean-Japanese counterparts were forced to lead what appeared to me to be highly complex personal lives.
Many of my KJ friends do not even like the English words "Korean-
Japanese". They feel that since "Japanese" is included
in the wording, it implies that they have some Japanese blood when they are in fact totally of Korean origin. Many of their
parents had immigrated to Japan for a better life, as my parents had to America, resulting in their being born in Japan. In
other cases, some were second or third generation of Koreans living in Japan. Instead of the English words
"Korean-Japanese", they prefer the Korean title, che-il-kyopo, the ethnic Koreans (kyopo) in Japan (che-il).
[Korean-Americans, in this vein, would be che-mee-kyopo].
All of my KJ friends were born in Japan and raised there.
The language they speak at home is Japanese, the food they eat is
essentially Japanese. They were all educated in Japan, attending public schools and colleges. Most of their friends are
Japanese, and they date primarily Japanese people. Essentially, the culture they identify most closely with is Japanese.
Why their situation is so interesting to me is because the nature
of their bias and/or prejudice they experience begins from their
government. Many of my KJ friends, as stated, are second or third generation. Only a small fraction of their parents could
even speak Korean. And yet, although they and their parents were born in Japan and lead full lives there, they are not
considered Japanese citizens and therefore are denied citizen rights.
My friends who have lived in Japan their entire lives would like
to be Japanese citizens, but do not feel the sacrifice necessary
for citizenship is worth it. For them to gain Japanese citizenship, they would have to renounce their Korean nationality.
Anything that would identify them as Korean would have to be sacrificed. Names would have to be changed to Japanese,
erasing any Korean sounding names.
Furthermore, many of my friends held two first and last names,
one-Korean and one-Japanese. Most used and were
comfortable with their Japanese name, because it is what they had used since birth. Some had told me if they had used
their Korean name, they would have encountered prejudice on a daily basis. Since they could not be identified as Korean
by appearance, they felt without a Korean name to distinguish them, the subject of origin would not become an issue to
friends, classmates, neighbors, teachers, and employers. Also, they felt that if they used a Korean name when applying for
a job, they might be immediately rejected without further consideration.
I asked my KJ friends how their Japanese friends felt about their
actually being Korean. A surprising answer was that it had
not become an issue because their friends never knew they were of Korean descent. My friends and their families consciously
lived no differently than the Japanese families that surrounded them. This deception is based mainly on their need and desire
to lead normal lives without any unnecessary conflict. An easy challenge because their daily habits and lives mirrored those around them.
Because of the close proximity of the two countries, there are
many Japanese living in Korea and many Koreans living in
Japan. And within Japan, there are tight-knit communities of Koreans who are protected from prejudice to some degree
because of their strength of their numbers. Schools do exist for international students which KJ attend and where they find
camaraderie among others like themselves. And I was told that there is pressure to choose between KJ friends or Japanese
friends in this tight-knit community. As a result of these complex relationships, some KJ who have spent their entire lives in
Japan feel as much hatred for their adopted home as do Koreans living in their native country who remember the ugly
history of their two countries and have never so much as visited Japan.
This is a problem deeply imbedded in Japanese society, affecting
every area of life, its culture, and its government. One of the
most contentious issues has centered around the textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education for use in teaching history
in middle and highschool throughout Japan. School districts are permitted to use any of the books on the
government-approved list, but the list consistently includes large number of texts that distort 19th and 20th century history,
and only a small number that are more inclusive of events deemed painful to the Japanese. The Korean and Chinese
governments have objected strongly to this practice, arguing that the version of history being read and taught in most
of these textbooks is deliberately misleading. They feel that most of the Japanese texts are not truthful, failing to include
verified information about events that took place in the decades of Japanese occupation of their countries. Obviously, this is a
very delicate and complex issue, but it exemplifies the profound problems that still persist between Japan and its neighbors in
East Asia. For young people of Asian descent growing up in Japan, they continue to rouse painful emotions. The Korean
government has threatened to take action against Japan if it fails to correct the textbook material adequately. Thus far the
efforts have been limited to restricting Japanese imports on some items, and a few other economic reprisals. Many Koreans
are convinced that the failure of the Korean government to take meaningful action has resulted in perpetuating prejudices in
Japan against them.
The Japanese government has remained steadfast in its decision
not to alter most of the texts that are taught to its youth. The
youth in Korea however are fully aware of their country's history and what their ancestral nation was subjected to by the
Japanese. They are taught at home of the horrors of annexation, the murderous suppression of opposition within Korea,
the terrible suffering endured by its young men and women, and, above all, the endless Japanese efforts to suppress every
trace of Korean culture within Korea for nearly half a century. This is another challenge and tangible face of prejudice that
KJ within Japan have to deal with as part of their struggle. I can imagine it leaves them with a profound sense of anger,
confusion, and sadness for the country they call their home.
During my stay in Korea I taught young Korean students ESL.
Some of these students had read of the horrific events their
country had survived at the hands of the Japanese and had consequently developed a hatred for their eastern neighbor.
Japan is of course an extremely powerful country, particularly in Asia. Its close proximity to Korea gives it great influence
in that country. It is also a powerful force in the world economy through its investments and its presence in world economic
bodies. To many in the world, Japan represents Asia. Korean-Japanese often feel that Japan should act as a model in the
region by disavowing her wartime behavior through heartfelt governmental apology. They argue that they cannot completely
feel part of Japan until Japan herself acknowledges the sins of her past in meaningful ways.
Every country faces problems with its neighbors, but this
particular relationship is unfortunate for so many reasons. These
two countries are but two hundred miles away from each other, a mere two-hour plane ride. They share a tumultuous and
hurtful past, and are constantly facing a challenging present and future. Their struggles against one another no longer have
to do with land and military superiority, but their conflict continues within the hearts and minds of the youth of both nations.