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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 11:36 GMT
Identity crisis for Japan's Koreans
Pupils at Korean school in Japan
Parents are demanding a more rounded education

The Kanagawa High school is a little slice of North Korea in the heart of Yokohama, Japan's second largest city.

Twin portraits of North Korea's leaders smile benignly from the classroom walls. Female students wear a uniform based on Korean national costume, and printed slogans extol the need for national unification.


Shuichi Ichikawa is said to have died in North Korea (AFP photo)
Japan's missing
  • Taken in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Eight Japanese said to be dead
  • Five still alive in North Korea
  • The survivors have children in N Korea
  • Kim Jong-il says he has punished the culprits
    See also:

  • But these are difficult times for the schools - and for the 700,000-strong Korean community inside Japan.

    North Korea's admission in September that its secret agents kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 80s to help train North Korean spies has provoked a wave of anger against North Korea.

    No-one believes North Korea's story that eight of them died from natural causes.

    The Kanagawa school has received threatening telephone calls from Japanese nationalists, and students have been insulted and harassed on their way to school.

    A police guard now stands at the gate and girls are advised not to change into their Korean uniforms until they get to school.

    "There's anti-Korean feeling everywhere these days, the students feel anxious and uneasy," says Chung Mal-ryo, who has taught at the school for 20 years.

    Under threat

    For ethnic Koreans who still profess loyalty to North Korea, the September admission also came as a profound shock.

    Waitress at Korean restaurant
    Koreans in Japan are keen to preserve their culture
    Most are the descendants of Korean labourers brought to Japan during World War II. They are used to seeing themselves as the victims of discrimination and exclusion by their Japanese neighbours.

    "We never thought North Korea would do such a thing, it should never have been allowed to happen. Now the Japanese media has over reacted and that's created a very threatening atmosphere," says restaurant owner Kim Jae-hyun, who sends his three children to the Kanagawa school.

    Portraits of North Korea's dynastic rulers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are gradually being removed from classrooms in the Korean schools because of pressure from parents.

    The curriculum is also being changed to provide a more rounded education with less emphasis on ideology.

    The Korean schools used to present North Korea as a paradise on earth. But that is not realistic when everyone knows the regime cannot even feed its own people.

    Shunsuke Miyazaki is a Japanese Korean who learned the hard way.

    His family returned to the North during a wave of nationalist euphoria in the early 1960s. But they soon realised they had made a terrible mistake.


    Increasingly the regime in Pyongyang is seen as a liability and an embarrassment rather than a source of national pride

    "We were kept at a reception camp for the first month and then we were sent to a remote mountain village where the people were very hostile.

    "All the returnees were classified according to their family background and we were put in the lowest class - the very bottom of society with people whose loyalty to the state was in doubt," he said

    Mr Miyazaki watched his parents die in North Korea and by the mid-1990s the whole family was on the brink of starvation.

    "We were down to just one meal a day and the following spring we had to survive on boiled grass and bark from pine trees," he said.

    Mr Miyazaki escaped across the border to China but had to leave behind his wife and children to an uncertain fate. He conceals his true identity for fear of reprisals against them.

    Some Koreans in Japan continue to send money to North Korea to support family members.

    But Korean businesses in Japan no longer provide the economic lifeline that helped the North Korean elite preserve its privileged lifestyle.

    Koreans in Japan are now far more likely to profess loyalty to South Korea. Growing numbers are taking Japanese nationality.

    Increasingly the regime in Pyongyang is seen as a liability and an embarrassment rather than a source of national pride.


    Nuclear tensions

    Inside North Korea

    Divided peninsula

    TALKING POINT
    See also:

    25 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
    14 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
    12 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
    18 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    28 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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