During the late stage of Japanese colonialism in Korea, around 700,000 Koreans were forcefully displaced to Japan to serve as laborers. Today, there are close to 450,000 Zainichi (“resident”) Koreans living in Japan. Hyewon Song describes the struggle against systemic and individual racism and harassment led by Zainichi Korean women today.
If you type the name of Choi Kang-ija, a third-generation Zainichi Korean (Korean “residents” in Japan) woman into a search engine, you will find more than 4.5 million articles about her—most of them defamatory. Choi is the director of Kawasaki Fureaikan, the municipal welfare center in Sakuramoto of Kawasaki City. Before World War II, Koreans were forced to work menial low-wage jobs in the city, and many Zainichi Koreans still reside there. The Kawasaki Fureaikan was established in 1988 to “promote mutual communication between Japanese and non-Japanese residents in Japan, mainly Koreans, under the philosophy of ‘helping everyone to live life to the fullest.’” Zainichi Koreans as well as newly arrived foreign residents, Japanese children, the elderly and people with disabilities use the facility daily.
Beginning in 2016, a Japanese man made around 70 defamatory posts about Choi Kang-ija on Twitter and on various blogs. One such statement reads:
“Japan belongs to us, the Japanese people, not to you! We cannot have a society where foreigners [Zainichi Koreans] can live peacefully, and we will not allow such a society anywhere in the world. Enough of your hubris. You are an enemy of Japan. Go back to your own country at once.”
“Your own country” to go back to no longer exists as such. Japan colonized Korea in 1910 and forced Koreans to accept Japanese citizenship. They were gradually deprived of their indigenous names and language. Many first-generation Korean women and girls, born in Korea and forcibly relocated to Japan, had little education in either country. According to a 1934 survey conducted by Osaka Prefecture, the largest Korean settlement in Japan, more than 95 percent of married Korean women could not read or write in Korean or Japanese.
After Japan’s defeat in World War II, Korea became independent again. The San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, however, stripped Koreans living in Japan of their Japanese citizenship. Without the rights of Japanese nationals, they were considered foreigners by the Japanese Government. All Koreans 16 years of age or older were fingerprinted and required to carry their alien registration card at all times.