"Korean Japanese"

Author: Eika Tai


Until recently, resident Koreans in Japan, former colonial subjects and their offspring, have had only two options for staying in Japan: naturalization, which required assimilation and the adoption of a Japanese identification, or zainichi status, which meant remaining Korean nationals and keeping their own ethnic identity. Choosing the zainichi option was a way for resident Koreans to express their resistance to Japan's naturalization system, which they saw as a legacy of assimilationist colonial policy. In the early 1990s, however, greater numbers of resident Koreans began to seek naturalization. In part, this was because they were beginning to redefine ethnicity as separate from nationality. Thus, they thought, they could retain their Korean identity even after naturalization. This development, coupled with the rise of a multiculturalism movement in Japan, set the stage for the recent emergence of a third option for staying in Japan, “Korean Japanese,” that is, Japanese nationals with Korean ethnic identification. By analyzing articles written by Sakanaka Hidenori, an influential immigration official who has expressed support for the Korean Japanese option, this article demonstrates that this new identity option as presented by government officials is actually in line with the earlier colonial discourse of ethnic hierarchy and assimilation. While cautioning against an easy acceptance of the government's calls for the Korean Japanese option, the author explores its potential for revitalizing the political presence of resident Koreans in Japan.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan | Korea

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September 2004
© 2002 ILO/Crozet M.