Monday, March 14, 2011
Koreans in Japan: Shoddy Treatment
A foreigner in her own home
Shoddy treatment of its Korean residents once again deals Japan a black eye
In a part of Kyoto so trusting that vegetables are sold via honesty boxes, a 72-year-old woman hides in her house in fear, she says, of foreigner-baiting right-wing thugs. On March 4th it emerged in parliament that she had donated ¥250,000 ($3,000) over five years to the political funds of Seiji Maehara, whom she befriended when he was a fatherless teenager and who rose to become foreign minister. On March 6th he resigned.
The donation was illegal because she is a resident of Japan who was born in what is now part of South Korea. That makes her technically a foreigner. Mr Maehara says he did not know of her gift, and she says she did not know it was forbidden. Speaking bitterly through the intercom of her home, she says that she came to Japan when she was five, has paid tax and “the highest amount of national health insurance” since she started her barbecued-beef restaurant 37 years ago, and “knows nothing about South Korea”. But because she has never taken Japanese citizenship, she is not allowed to play a role in politics.
Like other of the 406,000 zainichi, Koreans resident in Japan, she has sought to avoid discrimination by adopting a Japanese name (which, mercifully, the press has not disclosed). That would make it hard for any politician to know her nationality. But Shoji Nishida, an opposition lawmaker, heard that a photograph of her and Mr Maehara hung in her restaurant. Barbecue restaurants are often run by zainichi, and Mr Nishida combed the minister’s political-funds report to see if she was a donor. For Mr Maehara, the repercussions were swift.
The incident exposes the unsatisfactory status of Koreans in Japan as descendants of those brought over, often forcibly, during Japan’s brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula. The Democratic Party of Japan has unsuccessfully sought to change the law to allow permanent Korean residents to vote in local elections.
On the one hand, such permanent residents are free to renounce their South Korean citizenship (and roots) in order to secure their political rights, however much they dislike Japan’s historical legacy. On the other, shoddy tactics to expose what looks like a well-meaning woman’s mistake will only make them less trusting of the only place they know as home. ◦
Posted by ProfAHK at 8:51 PM