Understanding the Zainichi position a bit more


I have been a bit worried that my previous article on Doudou Diene’s report may have been seen as being just a bit too negative, so to perhaps redress the balance, I have decided to write this article.

Recently, I have had the pleasure of listening to I Yonbo’s music and talk (sorry, no link – I can’t find anything in English on him!). He has recently become widely known throughout Japan due to him supplying some of the music for the stupidly popular 冬のソナタ, Winter Sonata, a soppy Korean drama starring the soppy Harry Potter-esque Bae Yong Jun.

He is a Zainichi, literally a “living in Japan person”, a term that is used, rather euphemistically, to refer to the almost stateless descendents of Koreans who came (or were made to come) to Japan in the early twentieth century. The whole subject of Zainichis is a complex one, full of many misconceptions, but well worth researching with an open mind. I Yonbo is, of course, just one man and in no way speaks for whatever community he may be seen to support, but personal anecdotes can be useful to humanise the cold statistics.

He says that most of his friends are Japanese, he was born, bred and schooled in Osaka, Japan, and he feels almost Japanese, but… His theme appears to be 反省, hansei, reflection or contemplation. For instance, he broadly supports Prime Minister Koizumi and his government (as I do too, but I’m not to sure on the heir-apparent Taro Aso) but the Prime Minister’s official (despite protestations about them being private) visits to Yasukuni Shrine are particularly hurtful to him. He acknowledges the desire for people to remember their country’s dead, but it should be a private act, and at a less politically-charged venue than that shrine, with its associated unapologetic neo-Imperialistic museum. He wishes that Koizumi would 反省, reflect on how his visits appear to the neighbours. Of course, neither China nor South Korea is perfect, but surely Japan should take the moral high ground?

UPDATE: I also recently heard another Zainichi giving a speech, which was much more to do with what she was doing rather than what she thought the Japanese should do. For some reason this did not resonate with me so much; keeping one’s cultural identity is important, of course (to me too) but not when your identity is in the past. It reminded me of Americans who claim to be Scottish or Irish on tenuous links like once having drunk Scotch or eaten a potato.

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