American Sociological Association, 92nd Annual Meeting (August 9-13, 1997, Toronto, CANADA)

455 Regular Session: Discrimination and Resistance: Korean Residents in Japan


The Identities of Young Koreans in Japan 1


Yasunori Fukuoka (Saitama University, Japan)


Life-history interviews

From 1988 to 1993 I conducted interviews with over 150 Japan-resident Koreans, most of them of the younger generation. The interviews focused on life-histories, with particular reference to ethnic identity.

 My interviewing style was not particularly polite: it quite simply consisted of asking whatever I wanted to know. I generally started by asking how the subject's grandparents came to arrive in Japan, and then went on to inquire about the lives of his or her parents and immediate family, before focusing on the subject's own various experiences and thoughts from birth to the present day. The interviews generally lasted three or four hours.

 I believe I asked questions about quite a number of topics that my subjects would not normally like to discuss with an outsider. I also believe that by discussing these topics with them, I brought back painful memories of the experience of discrimination and the bitter thoughts associated with it.

 Even so, I often received letters of thanks from young Koreans who were the subjects of interviews a few days afterwards, thanking me for listening to their troubles, apologizing for accepting hospitality from me and so on. One of these letters reads as follows:

 "If you are still researching the problem of discrimination in 20 years' time, we sincerely hope you will listen to what our children have to say. It is a pleasure just to imagine how our children will feel about us, and what sort of life we might be leading then."

 When the interviews were at the planning stage, I was warned that Koreans would not easily open their hearts to a Japanese researcher. However, once I commenced the project I found that although a few people did indeed refuse to be interviewed, the vast majority were extremely cooperative in discussing even strictly private matters.


Caught between assimilation and differentiation

The findings obtained from these interviews may be condensed into two extremely simple themes.

 Firstly, my findings dramatically problematize Japanese conventional wisdom regarding young ethnic Koreans, which has it that with two or three generations of forbears already living in Japan they feel relatively little conflict in their lives within Japanese society. The fact is that the great majority of them have experienced suffering and conflict.

 Japanese conventional wisdom has tended to divide the ethnic Korean population roughly along the following lines: First generation, resentful of Japan and nostalgic for the motherland; second generation, disheartened by experiences of discrimination and poverty, and determined to establish the foundations for a successful life in Japan; third generation, well enough adjusted to Japanese society to get by without too many problems.

 I do not deny that there are some young Koreans who are well enough adjusted to get along both in Japanese society and with fellow Koreans, and who live their lives without experiencing very serious conflicts. For example, one young Korean woman who routinely uses her Japanese name in everyday life confidently told me that "to date I have had absolutely no experience of discrimination". She went on: "I somehow seem to have two selves. When I'm with my Japanese friends I feel as if I'm Japanese myself, or at least I don't feel that I'm at all different. When I'm with people like my cousins -- well, in the end Koreans are Koreans. I seem to have drawn a dividing line between the two selves." Asked if this division was a conscious process, she said no -- "it feels as if I just naturally respond to the atmosphere in each situation." She would appear to have developed a kind of switching mechanism.

 However, closer questioning revealed that this woman did think it possible that she might suffer discrimination if her Japanese friends found out that she was ethnically Korean: a certain sense of threat had been internalized. She was not unaware of racial discrimination in Japanese society; rather, one discerns an unwillingness to think deeply about her own position within it. One might call it an unconscious refusal to confront the problem. In this sense it seems fair to classify this case as one of 'conflict avoidance' rather than one where conflict is absent.

 As a straightforward matter of fact, the great majority of young Koreans in Japan do experience discrimination to greater or lesser degree; do feel the sting of the contemptuous gaze of the Japanese; and do have experiences which subject them to conflicts of identity. Uncertain how to go about their lives, they are in a state of confusion with no way out. Conflict is the experience of all Koreans in Japan, not just one part of the population. This is the thrust of my first set of findings.

 My second main point is that the casually used term Zainichi Kankoku-Chosenjin ('Japan-resident Koreans') conceals a great variety of realities and forms of consciousness among young ethnic Koreans. Most Japanese, however well-educated, have merely distinguished between those Koreans who determinedly maintain their ethnic identity and those who tend to assimilate into Japanese society. In fact, however, the ways in which young Koreans grope toward their identity in Japan show far greater variety than this crude distinction would imply. I will discuss this second set of findings later in this paper.

 Conflicts of identity; diversity of identity. Why has this state of affairs arisen?

 The identity which young Koreans in Japan are 'given' is composed of two main sets of elements. One set is Japanese: they grow up within Japanese society, using Japanese as their mother tongue, and acquire Japanese culture through a sort of natural process. Aspects of their lives such as ways of thinking, ways of feeling, values and lifestyles, have much in common with those of the Japanese people around them. This set of elements may be called the 'assimilated self' -- assimilated to Japanese society, that is.

 But however deeply these people may be submerged in Japanese society, a second set of elements, based on the ethnic Korean inheritance, will always be present. The strength of ethnic awareness varies greatly according to each individual's living environment: the degree to which ethnic culture is maintained within the household; whether or not one has been brought up in a Korean district; whether or not one has attended a Korean school. It remains correct to say that in ways of thinking, ways of feeling, values and lifestyles, Japan-resident Koreans always have something about them which differs from the surrounding Japanese population. This something may be called the 'differentiated self' -- again in relation to Japanese society.

 A similar dichotomy may be observed in the way young Japan-resident Koreans express their aspirations for the future. Some wish to be the same as those around them (i.e. the Japanese), and may be said to 'aspire to assimilation'. Others do not mind being different from those around them, or wish to be different from those around them, or even have to be different, and may be said to 'aspire to differentiation'.

 The reason I use this cumbersome turn of phrase, as I will explain in detail later, is to make the point that opposition to assimilatory aspirations takes several forms, and does not necessarily imply the kind of raised ethnic consciousness vis-a-vis the mother country which is often described simply as 'ethnic pride'. Hence my use of the more widely encompassing expression, 'aspiring to differentiation'.

 Feelings of contempt, avoidance and discrimination toward ethnic Koreans remain deeply ingrained in Japanese society. In the course of their personal development, most young ethnic Koreans are made to internalize the negative image which Japanese people hold toward them. This negative image constitutes a powerful magnetic field around which contradictory self-images of assimilation and differentiation co-exist, creating an intricate mixture of assimilatory and differential aspirations. It is here that we may locate the basis of their identity conflicts.

 Let me explain in a little more detail.

 In the case of the great majority of third-generation ethnic Koreans, who attend Japanese schools and use Japanese names, people who are free from identity conflict are very much the exception. When, in infancy, they are first told by parents or relatives that "although you are living in Japan, you are not Japanese but Korean," they do not have any negative feelings about it. But around the time that they reach the final years of elementary school and move on to junior high school, just when they are entering puberty, many young Koreans have exceedingly painful experiences which make them unbearably ashamed of their own ethnic identity.

 This is when the impact of discrimination and prejudice from Japanese people experienced from preschool age onward begins to be keenly felt. For instance, one of my female informants recalled telling a good friend of her ethnic identity and finding that from the very next day the friend would no longer talk to her. Another recalled overhearing her best friend's mother saying "that child's Korean, so you mustn't play together". A third reported the experience of being shamed before the whole class by another child who revealed that "she isn't Japanese, she's Korean". Through a succession of incidents like these, the negative image of ethnic Koreans held by Japanese ends up being internalized by the Koreans themselves.

 Rendered unable to have confidence in themselves as they are, they become more desperate than ever to be the same as the Japanese people around them. They make up their minds that no-one must ever know that they are not Japanese, and conclude that they must keep the shameful fact a deadly secret. However, the more strongly they yearn to assimilate, the higher the wall preventing their assimilation becomes. Until recently, ethnic Koreans had to submit to being fingerprinted on reaching their 16th birthday, under the Alien Registration Law2 -- a humiliation which none of their friends had to endure. It was a painful reminder that they were different from all those around them.

 Those who respond to all this by recognizing that they can never be the same as those around them, and decide to pay more heed to their own ethnic roots, face another wall. It is a wall which they find within themselves. Brought up in Japan, they do not know their own people's language. They have not acquired their own people's culture. The perception that they have 'lost their identity' inflicts further suffering upon them.

 As they grow up, ethnic Korean youths find themselves torn between the powerful and conflicting desires to assimilate to Japanese society and to maintain their Korean identity. As they waver between the two, they inevitably encounter a host of conflicts and troubles.


Conflicting impulses

At this point I would like to add a few words of explanation toward defining the opposition I have outlined between the 'assimilatory impulse' and the 'differential impulse'.

 In writing that treats of ethnic identity, the meaning and usage of the term 'assimilation', and its Japanese equivalent, do-ka, is already well established. It denotes the process by which individuals or groups of people obliged to deal with a dominant alien culture, whether by migration or conquest, adopt the dominant culture and learn to conform to it.

 I too define 'assimilation' in the conventional way, as the process by which members of an ethnic group living as a minority in a host society come to conform to the dominant culture. When the dominant authorities of the host society develop policies to promote the assimilation of ethnic minorities, I define those policies as 'assimilatory policies'. The pressure stemming from behavior and attitudes on the part of members of the majority which consciously or otherwise encourage members of a minority group to assimilate, I define as 'assimilatory pressure'.

 In contrast, I define the 'assimilatory impulse' as a form of consciousness among members of the minority group by which they positively hope to become homogeneous with the majority culture. Whether the assimilatory impulse is in fact a straightforward response to assimilatory policies and assimilatory pressure is a question that I will put to one side for the present.

 Turning now to the 'differential impulse'3, this I define as a subjective consciousness on the part of minority group members which does not desire homogeneity with the majority culture. In other words, I define it only as the absence of the impulse to homogenization with the majority group. Note that I do not intend any strong definition, such as 'possession of firm ethnic consciousness' or 'affirmation of the undisguised self'. In which direction the differential impulse becomes oriented is an open question.


A taxonomy of identity formation

When people experience conflicts of identity, they start to look around for ways to overcome conflict and reconstruct their own lifestyle and identity in ways that will enable them to get on with life. Sometimes the process starts with the subject's parents, who anticipate conflict and attempt to pre-empt it by socializing their children in ways which will eliminate conflict.

 Let us ask, then, what kind of identity Japan's young ethnic Koreans are searching for or constructing.

 As I mentioned earlier, it will not do to define the options confronting them as a simple dichotomy between tenaciously clinging to their ethnic identity or assimilating to Japanese society and 'turning Japanese'. The quest for identity among the young Koreans whom I met took on a far greater variety of forms. My honest impression was that every single one of them was truly individual in his or her approach.

 However, that will not suffice to depict the consciousness of young Japan-resident Koreans as a whole. Only by establishing certain broad categories can we begin to sketch a profile of the overall group.

 In my mind's eye, the faces of each and every one of the young Koreans I interviewed floats before me. And as I recall them, they form groups -- groups differing from each other in the ways they pursue their identity. I will now attempt to draw up categories of identity derived from the lived reality of the actual people in question.

 I believe that four identity types can be deduced from characteristics observable in lifestyle choices, and that they can be arranged in a quadrant schema. I propose to label the two axes 'Interest in the history of Korean subjugation' and 'Attachment to a Japanese hometown'. I further propose to label the four types generated by these two axes the pluralist, nationalist, individualist and naturalization-oriented types, respectively4.

 I do not deny that these labels are short on theoretical abstraction and have little analytical power as patterned variables. They are merely attempts to clarify impressions that emerged in the course of a gradual accumulation of interview material. I thought of organizing my data in terms of all sorts of different variables, but at present this four-part taxonomy is the only one that comes to mind into which the data will fit without being forced.

 This paradigm of ethnic Korean youth identity may be expressed by the diagram given in Figure 1.


Interest in the history

of Korean subjugation


              II. Nationalist     I. Pluralist


Attachment to Low High

a Japanese hometown

             III. Individualist      IV. Naturalization-oriented


Figure 1: Classificatory framework for the construction of

identity by young ethnic Koreans in Japan


 Although as I say this paradigm emphasizes observed reality rather than theoretical consistency, the fact remains that like any diagram, it simplifies the chaos of reality as far as possible. Similarities between types have been played down and differences made much of. Naturally I do not claim that each individual, with their own unique personality, will fit neatly into one of the four quadrants. That would be impossible.

 Nevertheless, I believe that this kind of categorizing procedure does help us to see the overall distribution of young Koreans' positions on the identity question. The characteristics of each type are as follows.


The pluralist type

"Living together in harmony" is the key phrase expressing the nature of the pluralist type. Their overriding concern is to rid Japanese society of ethnic discrimination and thereby create a society in which people of different ethnic origins can live together on the basis of respect for differences between their respective positions. In short, they look to social reform for a solution to the problem of social discrimination. They have a strong tendency to put down roots in the district of their birth and upbringing, and seek to change society starting with their own immediate surroundings.

 The pluralist tendency may chiefly be observed in the members of an organization called Mintoren. Mintoren was founded in 1975, growing out of the movement focused on the Hitachi Employment Discrimination Trial of the early 1970s5. It was a networking organization modeled on citizens' movements6.

 Looking at the life histories of the original Mintoren leaders, who were in their late 30s when interviewed, most of them used Japanese names, attended Japanese schools, and came up against Japanese discrimination and prejudice in their childhood. These experiences gave them a negative image of themselves as Japan-resident Koreans. At some point in later life, however, the opportunity arose to study the history of the Korean minority in Japan, and they came to the realization that the conflicts they were experiencing stemmed not from their own Korean identity but from the discrimination inherent in Japanese society. They went on to shape a new identity as Japan-resident Koreans who could live with pride in Japanese society.

 Among the second generation of Mintoren members, in their 20s when interviewed, some may be observed who are relatively free of internalized negative images compared with the leadership generation. This may well reflect the fact that they have been brought up from childhood with positive examples of ethnic Korean lifestyles from which to learn.

 There is a strong tendency among these younger pluralists to replace the idea that they have no mother country to call their own with new thinking that views their place of birth and upbringing in Japan as their hometown. They do not predicate their identity on affiliation to a state, whether by clinging to the Korean 'motherland' or attempting to merge with the host country, Japan. Instead they show a powerful affiliation to the regional society of their upbringing.

 Their choice of a lifestyle that combats racism implies the attachment of great importance to using their original ethnic Korean name. Using a Japanese name may afford some temporary relief from discrimination, but it will not solve the problem of discrimination itself. Using a Japanese name has the effect -- whether intended or not -- of concealing one's ethnic origins, and also rules out any meeting of minds with Japanese who show some understanding of Japan's ethnic Korean problem. Pluralists place great weight on relations with people who will share their anti-racist struggle, irrespective of whether such people be ethnic Koreans or Japanese.

 Factors in their educational history mean that many of these people cannot speak Korean. Likewise many have inherited relatively little Korean ethnic culture. They do not usually feel any shame at their inability to speak their own mother countrys tongue. As they see it, this is no more than a condition left to them by their personal history. However, Korean-speaking ability and understanding of ethnic culture are viewed as desirable attributes, and many pluralists are making efforts to pick up the language and culture, however slowly.

 To sum up, young pluralists have no pre-existing model on which to base their lives. They do not identify themselves with 'Koreans in Korea', or with Japanese. Instead it would appear that they are trying to forge a distinctive new lifestyle for themselves as 'Zainichi' -- 'ethnic Koreans in Japan'.


The nationalist type

Nationalist types view themselves as 'overseas nationals', typically of a North Korea which they hope will eventually be re-unified with the South. Key issues for them are the development and reunification of the motherland. Consequently they have no wish to assimilate with the Japanese society in which they live, and are concerned rather to maintain the society of Japan-resident Koreans in the spirit of an expatriate community.

 They also show a fierce determination to defend themselves and their organizations from assaults by the Japanese government on their rights as overseas nationals of North Korea. This determination gives rise to a number of issues. However, it is rather difficult for this group to make demands which go beyond the position they have adopted as overseas nationals of North Korea. For example, pluralist-type Koreans sometimes demand that foreigners permanently resident in Japan should be given the right to participate in politics, at least at the local level. But nationalist types have arrived at a critical interpretation of this demand, regarding it as 'interference in the domestic affairs of a foreign country' and as a step toward assimilation.

 Similarly their stance toward racism in Japanese society places heavy emphasis on the principle of self-help. On the issue of housing discrimination, for instance, a test case in Osaka7 was supported by Mintoren, but nationalist types took little interest in the case. Generally their view is that there is no point in trying to get a fair deal out of a Japanese landlord in the first place. Instead, they prefer to avoid the problem by activating self-help networks among fellow Koreans when looking for housing.

 The nationalist tendency is chiefly to be observed among Korean youths who locate themselves within a social sphere centered on Chongryun8. A look at their life histories shows that typically they have attended Chongryun-affiliated ethnic Korean educational institutions, at their parents' behest, all the way from elementary school to high school or university. There they have learned the language, history and culture of Korea -- and internalized ethnic pride in their Korean identity.

 To that extent they have not experienced the conflict of ethnic identity suffered by most other Koreans in Japan. They may be subjected to harassment by Japanese on their way to school, but they have the strength to resist it. No amount of harassment will make them ashamed of their Korean identity.

 They refer to their motherland or homeland as "one Korea". They have learned all about Japan's invasion of Korea and as such have a powerfully critical view of Japan. Accordingly they feel little sense of attachment to the country of their birth and upbringing. Some of them even feel that Japan is "just another foreign country". They try to live their lives upon the principles of Kim Il Sung to the extent possible in their very different environment, and some speak of returning to the motherland once reunification has been achieved.

 These youths are nearly all bilingual, picking up Japanese from their everyday surroundings and Korean from school. To them it is only natural that Koreans should speak Korean; those who cannot are viewed as pathetic specimens who hardly qualify as Koreans at all.

 In principle they use only their ethnic Korean name. In practice, they will occasionally use a Japanese name simply to avoid trouble in their transactions with Japanese society. Imbued as they are with ethnic pride, they do not feel their identity in any way threatened by the use of a Japanese name for the sake of convenience.

 They also display a strong tendency to restrict their living space to the confines of ethnic Korean society. It is not rare for their entire circle of intimate associates to be fellow Koreans. In employment likewise, they tend to work for one of the various bodies associated with Chongryun, or to take over a family business from their parents. In many cases they will not even consider seeking employment with a Japanese company, believing that they have no chance of being taken on anyway.

 Thus the young nationalists separate themselves from Japanese society, with the result that they tend to experience less discrimination than those of the pluralist type.


The individualist type

The key phrase summing up Koreans of this type, though it is not one they use themselves, is 'self-expression'. Their chief concern is to get themselves established, in a strictly individualist sense. They are often after personal success, which in effect means escaping from discrimination under their own steam, through upward social mobility. This is the way they have chosen to respond to social discrimination.

 Individualists are often to be found among the ranks of young Koreans whose aim is to study abroad -- often in America -- or graduate from a high-ranking Japanese university, and then to gain employment with a foreign company or a prestigious Japanese one.

 The common thread running through their life histories is an upbringing which has given them a degree of confidence in their own ability. This means that even if they do experience the discomfort and conflict of living as ethnic Koreans in Japan, they are spared the trauma which might otherwise result from those experiences. They do not hold a negative image of themselves; rather they take the view that any problems they experience pertain purely to the circumstances in which they have been placed. Accordingly they attempt to change those circumstances, either by going abroad or by rising to a higher position in Japanese society. Their ideal is the cosmopolitan lifestyle.

 Their desire for mobility means that they feel relatively little attachment toward the region of Japan where they had their own upbringing; on the national level too, they seldom feel much devotion to Japan or to any version of Korea. Similarly their emphasis on the individual precludes any deep interest in the history of the Korean ethnic group in Japan. It matters little to them whether they use a Korean or Japanese name, and they would rather learn English than Korean as they believe the former will work to their advantage in career terms.

 In personal relations they pay little attention to ethnicity or nationality, but feel a sense of liberation in relations with people who share their respect for individual achievement.


The naturalization-oriented type

These are Koreans whose basic desire is to 'become Japanese'. They attempt to become the same as Japanese in any way possible, hoping that by identifying with the host people they can escape from ethnic discrimination. This attitude is chiefly to be found among those young Koreans who actually do take on Japanese nationality.

 Their life histories often start with a childhood in which theirs was the only Korean family in an otherwise wholly Japanese neighborhood. Members of their own family would use Japanese names and conceal their ethnic origins. Few elements of Korean ethnic culture would be maintained in family life. Consequently many of them did not even discover that they were not Japanese until quite a late stage in personal development.

 Moreover, they would internalize the negative image of Koreans held by Japanese people in the course of development. Hence the discovery that they were Korean themselves tended to come as a great blow. Thus they chose to try and expunge the discomfort of ethnic minority status by 'adapting' to the surrounding Japanese society.

 The circumstances of their upbringing tend to mean that their closest friends are all Japanese. In their desire to become the same as their friends, they increasingly distance themselves from their Korean ethnic identity. They often say that 'their country' is Japan, not Korea. They feel a powerful attachment to the region of their upbringing. They do not feel comfortable with their Korean surname, though on paper at least it is their official name9, and they feel that their Japanese name is much more their own. Born and bred in Japan, they see their inability to speak Korean as something which can't be helped and doesn't much matter anyway. Likewise they see no point in making a fuss about Japan's history of colonialism in Korea -- to them, it's all water under the bridge.

 Thus in all sorts of ways, people of this type seek to dissolve conflict through an individual response that deals with social discrimination by adjusting to their surroundings.


The ethnic solidarity type

I have now outlined the basic characteristics of the four types delineated in Figure 1. However, there is one other group which has a degree of influence among young ethnic Koreans that is not covered by any of these types. I refer to those youths who join the Mindan10-affiliated Zai-Nihon Daikanminkoku Seinen-kai, officially translated as the Korean Youth Association in Japan and usually known by its Japanese acronym, Seinenkai.

 It is hard to place the principal members running the Seinenkai anywhere on the grid in Figure 1. Their identity appears to lie somewhere between the pluralist and nationalist types. Let us call them the 'ethnic solidarity type'.

 The key concern of these people is mutual assistance among fellow Japan-resident Koreans. They aim to defend the rights and improve the treatment of their comrades, and thereby win recognition of the Korean minority as a legitimate entity. They also seek to improve Korean language skills, increase awareness of Korean culture and encourage the use of Korean names.

As I mentioned, the pluralist type sees neither Japan nor Korea as a homeland, but is attached to his or her place of upbringing within Japan; while the nationalist pays respect to a Korea he hopes to see re-unified and sees Japan as merely a foreign country. The ethnic solidarity type often feels an attachment both to the Republic of Korea, as the motherland, and to Japan as the country of residence.

 Pluralist types value relations with people of any ethnic background, Korean or Japanese, who will join them in the struggle against racism. Nationalist types construct a living space that has almost no room for relationships with anyone other than fellow Koreans. It is not uncommon for them to have no Japanese friends at all, though they may have a few Japanese acquaintances. In the case of ethnic solidarity types, their principal relationships before becoming involved in Seinenkai activities were with Japanese friends. But whereas Mintoren carries out various activities in consort with Japanese sympathizers, the Seinenkai only allows Korean youths to take a central role in its activities. As they take a bigger part in those activities, Seinenkai members tend to find relationships with fellow ethnic Koreans gradually taking on more importance in their personal lives.


 At this point, allow me to add a couple of extra points regarding Figure 1 above.


Styles of resistance

The first concerns the various styles with which people respond to the various problems which impinge upon their lives as Japan-resident Koreans. The three types in the top half of the diagram -- the pluralist, nationalist and ethnic solidarity types -- all take part in organized collective movements to campaign against discrimination, defend human rights, and demand payment of war reparations from Japan. There are, however, striking differences between the three types in their stance toward the various problems and campaigning styles adopted.

Pluralists define the various issues as problems of Japanese society, and often campaign in partnership with Japanese activists. Ethnic solidarity types define them as problems for the Korean community to sort out, and rarely engage in joint action with Japanese. In effect they tend to rely upon government-level negotiation between the Republic of Korea and Japan for solutions to problems. Nationalist types view the problems of the Korean minority as diplomatic issues between the governments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Japan. They take their cue from Pyongyang in organizing movements, and the main roles in them are invariably taken by fellow Koreans rather than Japanese11.

 Despite these very significant differences, the three types just discussed have in common a tendency to undertake a group response to the various problems confronting Japan-resident Koreans. In contrast, the two types on the bottom half of Figure 1 -- the individualist and naturalization-oriented types -- adopt an individual response to those problems. Individualists seek to escape from the stigma of 'alien ethnicity' via achievements which will win them a positive reputation on meritocratic terms. The naturalizers seek the same end by approximating as closely as possible to the Japanese majority in hopes that their ethnicity will pass entirely unnoticed.


Definitions of ethnicity and nationality

My second point relates to definitions of ethnicity and nationality. Nationalist types have a very strong awareness that their identity is founded on ethnic pride. They also have a strong belief that ethnicity and nationality should be coterminous. They would not dream of applying for Japanese nationality. Their attitude is by and large shared by the ethnic solidarity types.

 Naturalization-oriented types take exactly the opposite view to the nationalist types. To them Korea is no more than a country where their grandparents happened to be born. Having been born and bred in Japan, they see it as a desirable thing to adopt Japanese nationality. In so doing, they believe that they can 'become Japanese'.

 Individualists differ from both nationalists and naturalizers in that they reject the whole principle of affiliation in favor of individual meritocracy. They long to cast off the chains of ethnicity and nationality alike; they long to soar high above these mundane affiliations, free as birds on the wing.

 Pluralists also show a relativistic view of ethnicity and nationality, but whereas individualists would like to be above ethnicity and nationality, pluralists aim to operate within these constructs.

 In a sense, ethnic origins do matter to pluralists. They seek to acknowledge difference and use it as the basis for harmonious multicultural life rather than ethnic strife. The concept that 'ethnicity = nationality', once accepted as an objective truth, is also starting to be relativized. Pluralists do not aspire to Japanese nationality under the present Japanese naturalization system. They are, however, beginning to think that the right to choose one's nationality freely should be recognized -- that the Japanese government should ease naturalization procedures and admit the concept of the Japanese national who is distinctively Korean in ethnic terms. Mintoren used to have a sub-group called the 'Society for Winning Back Ethnic Names' whose members included people who had become Japanese nationals through naturalization or being the offspring of mixed marriages.


The magnetic field of minority status

As I shall now demonstrate, it is possible to reduce the two-dimensional diagram of Figure 2 to a one-dimensional diagram laid out in terms of the inversely proportional factors of ethnic consciousness and assimilatory consciousness.

 Imagine a diagonal line running through the second and fourth quadrants of Figure 1. Label the top-left pole 'Koreans in Korea'. Label the bottom-right pole 'Japanese'. Note that these terms are in inverted commas because they refer not to actual people but to the images of those people in the minds of Japan-resident Koreans -- the imagined Korean admired by nationalists and despised by naturalizers, the imagined Japanese despised by nationalists and admired by naturalizers12.

 The diagonal then signifies the spectrum of ethnic/assimilatory consciousness, and the five types I have described may be ranged along it as shown in Figure 2.


       'Koreans in Korea'



               Nationalist  Ethnic Solidarity   Pluralist



               Individualist         Naturalization-oriented


                                          ★ 'Japanese'


Figure 2: Types of Japan-resident Koreans related to ethnic consciousness


 Reducing the picture to one dimension reminds us of one very important point: namely, that for all their attitudinal variety, all these young people live in a sort of magnetic field defined by their status as Japan-resident Koreans. All of them are branded, if you like, as 'marginal people'.

 Admittedly, as the graph shows, in varying degrees these youths have internalized ethnic consciousness or assimilatory consciousness. The fact remains, though, that even the most fervently nationalist types can never attain their ideal of 'being Korean' in the way they imagine the people of North Korea to be. Because of their upbringing in Japan, they have inevitably assimilated to a foreign culture to some degree. At the other extreme, even those who yearn for naturalization can never quite succeed in 'being Japanese' in total conformity to their conceptual model. Even if they succeed in acquiring Japanese nationality, the pervasive discriminatory consciousness of Japanese society will always classify people of different ethnic origins as 'non-Japanese'. As they move through Japanese society, they will always have within them some awareness of being different.


 In this paper I have attempted to map out the overall range of responses by young ethnic Koreans in Japan to the problem of their identity, based on material gathered through personal interviews. I have divided those responses into five broad 'types' -- pluralist, ethnic solidarity, nationalist, individualist and naturalization-oriented.



1. This paper was translated by Dr. Tom Gill (Kyoto Bunkyo University, Japan).

2. In 1992 the Alien Registration Law was amended so that people classified as 'permanent residents' (eijusha) or 'special permanent residents' (tokubetsu eijusha) would no longer have to be fingerprinted. The great majority of ethnic Koreans are in these two categories. However, all Koreans who reached the age of 16 before the reform have been fingerprinted, including all those interviewed for the present study.

3. The 'differential impulse', is a rough translation of i-ka shiko, a Japanese term that I have coined myself in contradistinction to do-ka shiko, the assimilatory impulse.

4. Hutnik (1986) has proposed a schema to categorize the identity of second-generation Indian immigrants in Britain that shows interesting similarities and differences to the one outlined here. His subjects are at once British citizens and of Indian ethnic origin, and he schematizes the range of identities using a pair of axes indicating 'degree of identification with the minority group' and 'degree of identification with the majority group'. This produces the four-part paradigm for "strategies of ethnic identity management" (Hutnik 1986:153) shown in Figure 3.

Hutnik labels the first of these four states of consciousness assimilation, which he defines as abandonment of ethnicity in favor of total identification with the majority group. The second state he labels acculturation, in which "the minority becomes more akin to the dominant group although it continues to exist as a separate entity". People in this group, he says, "identify with both the ethnic minority group and the majority group". The third state he labels dissociation and defines as deliberate distancing from the majority group and association with the minority group. Finally the fourth state is marginality, where the individual is caught in a dilemma in which he can identify with neither the majority nor the minority.


Degree of identification

with the majority group


             1. Assimilation     2. Acculturation


Degree of identification Low High

with the minority group

             4. Marginality      3. Dissociation



Figure 3: Hutnik's classification of ethnic identity


Certain interesting problems arise if one attempts to apply this theory-driven model to Japan-resident Koreans.

One problem arises with the axis labeled 'identification with the majority group'. Many ethnic Koreans feel an affection for the Japanese neighborhood in which they were born and brought up, but hardly any of them have such positive feelings for the nation-state, Japan, which has consistently subjected them to oppressive policies.

The second axis, 'identification with the minority group', is no less problematical, since ethnic Koreans in Japan are divided along political lines reflecting the division of their motherland. Some identify with South Korea, others with North Korea, yet others with neither. When the 'ethnic minority group' itself is so resistant to definition, the axis becomes a far less effective tool.

Yet a third problem stems from Hutnik's treatment of the third quadrant, 'marginality', which he implies to be a problem category with this reference to an earlier work on the American Oriental: "He belongs neither to America nor to the Orient. He cannot identify himself completely with either civilisation. There is no easy road for him out of this dilemma." (Stonequist, 1937:105, in Hutnik 1986:153). But can there not be more positive ways of living, which are not constrained by concepts of nationality and ethnicity? The appearance of theoretical consistency of the Hutnik model is tarnished by the fact that this one quadrant is labeled as a condition of involuntary failure while all the other three imply volition, or in Hutnik's terminology, 'strategy'.

5. This trial arose after Park Chong-Seuk, a second-generation Korean born in 1951, applied for a job with Hitachi, the major consumer electronics company. He took the Hitachi employment examination under his Japanese alias and was informally offered a job. However, when the company learned of his Korean identity, it abruptly withdrew the offer. In December 1970, Park filed suit against Hitachi at the Yokohama District Court for wrongful dismissal.

Park's argument was that being highly assimilated to Japanese society he was no different to a Japanese person, so that Hitachi had no grounds to refuse him employment just because of his non-Japanese nationality. He was not supported by either Mindan or Chongryun, both organizations believing that employment with big Japanese corporations was just another step toward assimilation. However, Park did get support from various ethnic Korean and Japanese youths, and won a complete victory when the verdict was finally announced in 1974. Meanwhile, some of his supporters helped to launch Mintoren.

It is worth mentioning that Park is still working for Hitachi today, and using his Korean name. The trial proved to be a learning experience for him, from which he emerged with a stronger sense of his ethnic identity. This suggests that fears among the Korean community that the trial represented a step toward assimilation were groundless.

6. The official English name adopted by Mintoren was the National Council for Combatting Discrimination Against Ethnic Peoples in Japan. In 1995 Mintoren changed its name to Zainichi Korian Jinken Kyokai, officially translated as the Human Rights Association for Koreans in Japan. At the same time the group's informal networking style of organization was replaced by one with a strong central executive. Some members were unhappy with these changes, and are now hoping to rebuild the old Mintoren. Thus Mintoren has effectively split into two different groups.

7. This case arose from an incident which occurred in Osaka in January 1989, when Bae Keun-Il, a second-generation Korean born in 1950, tried to rent an apartment in Osaka. He told the real estate agent that he was a South Korean national and was told this was not a problem; he paid a deposit and signed a provisional contract. However, when the landlord learned that his prospective tenant was Korean, he refused to accept him. Negotiations broke down and in April 1989 Bae filed suit against the landlord and the real estate agent at the Osaka District Court, alleging unfair discrimination and demanding that the contract be recognized as valid and compensation paid. He also sued the Osaka prefectural government, for negligence in failing to meet its obligation to issue administrative guidance against discrimination in tenancy agreements. The verdict, handed down several years later, recognized that cancellation of the provisional contract because of the tenant's Korean nationality constituted discrimination, although the suit itself was rejected on a technicality.

8. The official English name of Chongryun is the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which is supported by the government of North Korea.

9. Many assimilation-minded ethnic Korean parents give their children Japanese personal names. However, for legal purposes they are obliged to keep their Korean surnames. On their alien registration documents the Korean surname is entered as the official name with the Japanese surname added as an alias. These documents do not specify the pronunciation of the characters used to write the name. Hence an ethnic Korean child could be given a Japanese personal name, such as 'Koji', but if he later applied for a South Korean passport the same name would be entered with its Korean pronunciation ('Haeng-Yi').

Ethnic Koreans who adopt Japanese nationality nearly always adopt a Japanese-sounding name, usually the one previously used as an alias. There is no legal requirement for this, but using a Japanese name used to be described as "desirable" in official naturalization guides, and since the decision on whether or not to permit naturalization is entirely in the hands of the Minister of Justice, it is still seen as the prudent choice by the vast majority of ethnic Korean applicants.

10. The official English name of Mindan is the Korean Residents Union in Japan, which is supported by the government of South Korea.

11. It may be worth noting that whereas naturalized Japanese Koreans are in principle excluded from nationalist-type groups associated with Chongryun, the Seinenkai does allow them to participate, but only as associates, not as fully-fledged members. There could be no clearer indication of how this organization positions itself between the nationalist and pluralist positions. Hence my use of the fifth term, 'ethnic solidarity oriented', to describe its position.

12. Sometimes these images are very far from reality. Koreans seeking naturalization often try to conform to a bureaucratic standard of 'Japanese-ness' which is never stated but which is thought to be required of applicants for Japanese citizenship. I have heard of one couple who dressed up in kimono and had themselves photographed standing in front of the household Buddhist and Shinto altars in their attempt to convince officials of the Legal Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Justice that they were 'suitable to be Japanese'. The ethnic symbolism was several decades out of date.



Hutnik, Nimmi, 1986. 'Patterns of ethnic minority identification and modes of social adaptation' in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol.9, No.2, 150-67.

Stonequist, E.V., 1961 (1937). The Marginal Man: A Study in Personality and Culture Conflict. New York: Russell & Russell.