Koreans had and
sometimes still have a tough time
of it in Japan
I’ve recently finished reading a novel called Pachinko by Jin Min Lee (a Seoul-born Korean American). It’s a family saga which runs from 1911 to 1989 in the life of a Korean immigrant family in Japan. it was difficult to put down. I had previously learned a few things about Korean immigrants in Japan but this opened my eyes a little wider to their experience.
It was really sad to see how some Koreans would be so desperate to hide their Korean ancestry from people as to do what one character does. However, as the author says in her notes at the end, Koreans don’t all want to be seen as victims of the Japanese – they’re a proud people – and, as one or two of her characters point out, Japan has good and bad Koreans and good and bad Japanese. That said, they must have felt severely tested by the fact they were in a kind of limbo situation – they might have called it purgatory! – in that they could not leave Japan without a passport (which would require citizenship which they could not get) if they wanted to come back and if they wanted to go for good, they would have gone back to a Korea which was both very poor and, as time went on, unwelcoming (their nostalgia would probably have been beaten or starved out of them soon enough). They really felt like they did not belong to either country. They could also be deported at the whim of the local authorities. Of course, many Koreans were heavily involved in the Pachinko business which might or might not have lead to Yakuza dealings. Some of the characters involved in pachinko in this book make every effort to stay away from Yakuza and keep their business clean, but the stigma remained. Any sign of criminal activity would obviously have resulted in deportation.
I’m still surprised that up to a point Koreans could not be employed as teachers, nurses or even policemen in Japan. Hard to believe right? It’s like they were not allowed to contribute to society through traditionally respected occupations while being maligned for being a burden or for being criminals even when they weren’t. They had to be kept ‘in their place’.
I recommend the novel – which has a very pretty cover I might add with a typical Korean wedding dress pattern adorning it – for anyone wanting to learn a bit about the experience of Koreans in Japan. Sadly, right wingers who parade their hatred through Korean sections of various Japanese cities still believe Koreans have no business being in Japan, whatever they work as. Worse, hate speech is still not outlawed as far as I know. A sad state of affairs for a country which likes to say how cooperative it is with peaceful ideologies.
Interestingly, the Emperor of Japan who recently abdicated is rumoured to have Korean ancestry. How about that? If that’s true, it’s Korean food for thought : -)
About the novel itself, it was well researched and flowed pretty well though I thought there were a couple of gaps in the stories of certain characters that could have been filled in.