The Japanese dream?
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 22, 2009
THE NISHINIPPON SHIMBUN is running a multi-part feature examining the approaching centenary of the Japan-Korea colonization/merger next year. One article this week focused on 81-year-old Kim Yong-un (金容雲), who was born and grew up in Japan and first set foot in his ancestral homeland at the age of 17.
This introductory paragraph is directly under a photograph of Prof. Kim.
The Koreans Who Came to Japan
“An estimated 2.10 million Koreans were in Japan when the war ended in 1945. Most of them had come to Japan voluntarily looking for work after the merger. Of those, 90% were from the southern part of the peninsula. Some of them were subject to the citizen mobilization of 1944.”
The following is the text of the article. It is unclear whether this is a synopsis of an interview or whether Prof. Kim wrote it himself. In either event, since Prof. Kim is fluent in Japanese, it is likely that nothing was lost or modified in translation.
My father came to Japan on the Shimonoseki-Busan ferry in 1917, after the Japan-Korea merger. To use a modern expression, you might say he had the Japanese Dream; he dreamt of succeeding in Japan.
He was a landowner in a farming village in South Cholla, but the village was impoverished and didn’t produce much. A Japanese man who settled there discovered that the land was suited for the cultivation of pears and peaches, however, and he successfully created a fruit orchard. This inspired my father, who came to believe that he might be able to accomplish something in Japan, so he moved there.
He worked at first as a laborer in Shinagawa, Tokyo, but he later operated a small casting foundry. He seems to have had leadership ability, and he brought some relatives over from Korea to work in the plant. He got on well with the local police, and easily received their authorization for his relatives’ passage.
I was born in Tokyo in 1927, so that made me a zainichi kankokujin (Korean resident in Japan). When the name-change program came into effect in 1940, my father was reluctant, but he thought a Japanese name would make things easier. The Japanese name he adopted (Kanemitsu 金光) was convenient for business, and I didn’t have to continually explain my background at junior high school.
As far as I was aware, there was no great opposition to the name change program among Koreans in Japan at the time, even though they came from a different country.
But I was subject to some discrimination as a primary school student, which might have been the reason for the effort to hide our origins. We knew that some Japanese mothers didn’t want to have Korean children seated next to their children in the classroom, and that would hurt a child’s feelings. I didn’t particularly like it when my mother came to sports day dressed in the chima chogori, the traditional costume for Korean women.
Our family returned to Korea after the war. Eventually I began lecturing in mathematics and the theory of civilization, and I became a professor at Dankook University.
Actually, I was slightly acquainted with Kim Dae-jung, the hero of Korean democracy. We shared a similar world view, and I was asked to serve on the committee that drafted his speech when he assumed the presidency in 1998.
It is true that in his autobiography, he says that the period of Japanese rule “was filled with humiliation and hardship”. That might have been the case for his generation who stayed in Korea, but for me, I think it was evenly divided between the bad and the good.
Postwar Korean textbooks that deal with the name change program say that our names were taken from us by force. For the Koreans in Japan, however, it wasn’t as one-sided as that, as you can see from what I previously said. The same is true of the land survey from 1910-1918, which the textbooks treat as the ultimate thievery. In this operation, the Japanese took the land whose ownership was unclear and developed it. Before we went to Japan, my mother lamented that our land holdings were reduced because part of my father’s land was converted into dykes.
But at that time, the land next to ours was managed by one family group, and no registration papers (were needed). It is a fact that the land was left undeveloped because the ownership was unclear.
Were those bad times, or were they not? That question is tantamount to asking “if…” about historical matters, and simplistic judgments are not possible.
* Prof. Kim is the author of 醜い日本人 「嫌韓」対「反日」をこえて (The Ugly Japanese: Transcending hatred of Korea and anti-Japanism), which is published in Japanese. There are reports he will publish a new book this month in both Japan and South Korea claiming that his research shows the Korean language is derived from the old Silla language, and that the Japanese language is derived from the old Baekche language.
* The card on the lectern in the photograph of Prof. Kim reads, “Korea-Japan Exchange Symposium”.
* Japanese sources suggest the 1940 name change program was optional based on Japanese law.