When Korea was liberated from colonial rule with the Japanese defeat in the Pacific War in 1945, Koreans in Japan immediately started to set up “National Language Institutes” to learn their own language, or “uri mal” (“our language” in Korean), which had long been prohibited under strict Japanization policy.
Despite poverty and hardships, Koreans pooled their knowledge and limited resources to provide education for their children. By 1946, a year following the liberation, the number of such language schools exceeded over 500. These schools are the forerunner of Korean ethnic education in Japan.
Since Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, the number of Koreans in Japan gradually increased as a result of colonial policy. In the meantime, Japanese colonial government began to impose restrictions on autonomous education by Koreans.
Particularly after the late 1930s when Japan entered the war against China and the U.S., through forced assimilation policy, Koreans were deprived of language, culture, and even their names. As traditional basis of livelihood were destroyed by the harsh exploitation under the colonial rule, influx of Korean migrants to Japan grew rapidly. Korean people’s attempt to run ethnic education in Japan was also suppressed by the authorities.
By August of 1945, there were estimated 2 million Koreans residing in Japan. As they prepared to return to the liberated homeland, one of the most urgent tasks was teaching Korean language to Japan-born children who had little or no command of their mother tongue. This was the driving force behind the making of “National Language Institutes” throughout Japan.
However, soon after the liberation was achieved, the Korean Peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel, with the US occupying the southern half and the Soviet Union taking charge of the North. The sizzling political tension between the two great powers eventually led to the Korean War in 1950. In addition to the chaos in homeland created by the conflict and Cholera epidemic, with restrictions enforced by the Allied Forces (repatriating Koreans could take 1000 yen of cash and 250 pounds of goods) (repatriating Koreans could take 1000 yen of cash and 250 pounds of goods), a significant number of Koreans decided to remain in Japan for the time being –which ended up being permanent.
Having started with elementary schools, Korean education grew to include junior high schools, senior high schools, and even a university. When Koreans first launched ethnic education in Japan, the homeland governments were unable to provide any means of support, due to the heightening political tension and conflict between the two. Even to this day, the Japanese government has not fulfilled its responsibility for the former colonial subjects as they strive to recover their Korean ethnicity, in which Japan had deprived from.
In summary, Koreans in Japan had to mobilize their own resources to start and sustain Korean education as a way to restore their ethnic identity, which had been denied during the colonial period. In order to teach children their language, culture, and history, they worked tirelessly under the slogan of, “Those physical strength contribute with labor, those with knowledge pool their knowledge and those with money donate money.”