North Korean Schools in Japan: To fund or not to fund?

During Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century, Koreans were brought over in droves to provide labor to support Japan’s expanding war effort. After hostilities ceased in 1945, many stayed, but their official status and social position has been contentious ever since. Now, most people of Korean decent go to regular Japanese schools, speak Japanese at home and eventually take on Japanese citizenship, having nearly no ties to their ancestral homeland. Most, while proud and aware of their status as an ethnic minority in Japan, lives their lives as would people of Chinese or Japanese decent in the United States.

However, a particular faction of the Zainitikankokujin (people of korean decent who reside in Japan) support and recieve benefits from the North Korean government. The Chongryon , an official support group for Korean residents in Japan, even operate schools within Japan’s borders which actively promote North Korea’s repressive and, arguably, reprehensible government. The curriculum is taught entirely in Korean and propagates for the DPRK and the “dear leader.” Historically, these schools have received funding from local governments, and North Korean schools have served as indoctrination points for overseas support of the DPRK, despite Japan’s difficult relationship with North Korea.

As Japan’s economy continues to shrink, however, questions of the ability to fund any number of government projects have been brought to the fore. The question of funding schools which do not prepare students for life in Japan, and which promote a political ideology greatly at odds with Japan’s have been a significant part of political and societal discourse for the past few elections cycles. Supporters of the North Korean schools and of the Chongryon itself cry racism and call efforts to defund DRPK schools a violation of human rights and free expression. This is after several high profile raids of Chongryon connected offices and decades of ethnic marginalization of Koreans in general.

Given the recent attacks on South Korea by the DPRK, the Kan government has come out strongly and indicated that it will not fund North Korean schools. Japan provides subsidies for other private schools. This is likely to anger many residents who remember the incredibly poor treatment of Koreans in Japan. When I was in Kamagasaki (a community of largely homeless and itinerant laborers)over the summer, the issue of Korean schools was a focal point in issues of marginalized populations in general, with many publicly stating that the defunding of schools was yet another slap in the face of all ethnic minorities in Japan.

Personally, I find the larger poor treatment of North Koreans in Japan to be troubling. Violent acts by Japanese right wingers against female students has occurred in the past and will likely continue. However, realistically, government support of schools which do not prepare children for life in their country of birth and which profess an belligerent ideology (along support for a government rife with human rights violations) counter to that of Japan can’t be justified. Libya cannot set up schools in the United States and expect that local governments provide money to run them. Obviously, freedom of expression must be preserved and the right of ethnic and political minorities protected. How this difficult situation plays out in the future, remains to be seen.

Here’s a documentary on a member of the North Korean team which participated in the World Cup. There’s factual errors, but it’s good for what it is. It’s kind of odd to see people continue to support the DRPK despite the fact that people go hungry there, while Mr. Jong rides around Osaka in a Hummer. He obviously has no clue about the realities of North Korea nor about world politics in general. :

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

4 responses to “North Korean Schools in Japan: To fund or not to fund?”

  1. Ferunando-Sama says :

    When will you write about the Hikikomori public health implications?

  2. Pete Larson says :

    I thought that’s what grad school was about, except for brief outings to academic conferences.

  3. Ferunando-Sama says :

    Good point.

  4. chosunmafia says :

    School should separate themselves with politics.

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