Korean Schools to Be Excluded from a Policy for All

Report from Japan

Last summer, there was a change of government here in Japan, from the Liberal Democratic Party to the Democratic Party. From the leftist perspective, it is difficult to see any substantial difference between the two, aside from the extra word in the name of the former, but the new administration does employ some new rhetoric. A keyword here is fraternity (the gender insensitivity is one of the things that have not changed).

The fraternal spirit is decorated with some modest socialist policies. One of them is to make high school education “free of tuition.” If things go as planned, there will be no tuition for all public schools, starting April; all private schools, international schools included, will receive government subsidies so that they will be a little more affordable. I just used “all” twice, because that is what the government and the ruling parties had been telling us until very recently. Then some weeks ago, Hiroshi Nakai, a cabinet member, showed up out of nowhere and opened his mouth. He wants to exclude Korean schools as part of the economic sanctions against North Korea.

Thank God we have Yukio Hatoyama, who who believes in fraternity, in power now. One would expect him not to listen to such racist nonsense and go ahead with the plan, the plan for all. As it turns out, however, the prime minister is also inclined to make an exception to “all.”

The politicians have been trying hard to come up with justifications so that the exclusion may appear to be the result of an application of some general principle, not of discrimination. Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea (but neither does Japan with Taiwan, and yet the schools affiliated with that country are not excluded); the government has no means to verify that Koreans schools meet high school standards (but they publish their curriculum on the Internet and some of the students are accepted by prestigious universities around the country after graduation). The list goes on like the borrowed kettle joke, but as kscykscy points out on his blog, it is clear that the government is targeting Korean schools; the racist motive is all the more conspicuous because of the comedic efforts to invent excuses.

An international reader might wonder why there are Korean schools in Japan. There is an historical context. In the nineteenth century, Japan started aggression against Korea and annexed it in the early twentieth century. Under colonial rule, a lot of Koreans were taken to Japan for forced labor. Others had to migrate there because of the economic mess created by the invaders. In 1945, the Empire of Japan was defeated, and Koreans were liberated. Then the Cold War broke out, which was so hot on the Korean Peninsula between 1950 and 1953 that some chose to flee. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of permanent residents of the Korean origin in Japan, most of whom are second, third, forth, and fifth generations. Since the defeat of the Empire failed to amount to a significant break with the past, Japan still is a racist society, hostile to non-Japanese residents.

On the other hand, as early as just after the liberation, some Koreans decided to set up their own schools, teaching their own children their own culture in their own language. From the very beginning, their efforts were met with the government suppression: thousands were arrested, a young protester killed, the schools closed down. And yet they chose not to give up. Korean schools do still survive in this racist nation, a testament to their struggles. Ordinary public schools not only fail to provide a proper modern history education but even force their students, Japanese or otherwise, to sing “Kimigayo,” the national anthem, a prayer for the eternal reign of the Emperor, in ceremonies. Just to remind you, the former Emperor Hirohito, is a Japanese equivalent of Adolf Hitler, and the Japanese went to war in his name, committing crimes against humanity around the Asia-Pacific region. Japan took Korean’s land and tried to turn the people into second-class Japanese, attempting to deprive them of their language. The exclusion of Korean schools from the new policy is a continuation of this colonialism; as all the other schools are included, it will function as a financial weapon, pressuring Korean parents to send their kids to Japanese schools. Before, the Japanese used guns; now we use economic blackmail for the same purpose.

In his policy address earlier this year, Hatoyama said he wants to “protect life” and argued “we must guarantee all children ways of life in which each and everyone of them can drink healthy water and enjoy basic education free from discrimination and prejudice with their human rights protected.” Well said. In light of the recent events, however, Myungsoo Kim suggests a revision to his statement: Hatoyama should have said, “I want to protect life, except that of Koreans.”

A lot of permanent residents of Korean origin in Japan — along with some Japanese and other foreign residents — are outraged. Korean students and alumni are collecting signatures, handing out leaflets, holding meetings, and expressing their opinions on the street, calling against discrimination. The head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement, warning that the exclusion could be a breach of the Constitution and a number of international conventions ratified by the government. This is about human rights, and human rights do not amount to anything if an exception is tolerated.

Speaking of an exception, a right-wing extremist group attacked a Korean elementary school in Kyoto in December last year, destroying its properties and shouting racist chants. The police were called but did little to stop them. No arrest has been reported since, although it would be easy to identify the perpetrators as they uploaded a video of the event on YouTube. The discrimination against Korean schools by the government hints that these extremists are not so extreme; after all, they are not an exception but are representative of a segment of Japanese society.

I hope the international community will take interest in this issue and start to participate in the calls against the exclusion of Korean schools. Write letters of protest to Hatoyama; also write letters of solidarity to Korean high school students, who against all odds are standing up for their rights.

Yujiro Tsuneno is currently underemployed and lives in Tokyo. He contributed a chapter on his experience as a former dropout to 不登校、選んだわけじゃないんだぜ! (Rie Kido and Yujiro Tsuneno, Rironsha, 2005). He blogs in English at Ideology Japan. He also has a Japanese blog. Read other articles by Yujiro.