There are Korean schools in about 60 different locations in Japan where some 7,000 students are currently enrolled. Students have “South Korean” nationality, “Chosun” nationality (nationality of “united” Korea) and Japanese nationality. Complex upbringing as an ethnic minority in Japan and education in Korean schools contribute to the development of their identity.
Korean school system has a total of 38 kindergartens, 53 elementary schools, 33 junior high schools, 10 senior high schools and 1 university in 64 locations throughout Japan. There are about 7,000 students currently enrolled in those schools. Most of them hold either South Korean nationality or “Chosen-seki” (a nationality of “unified” Korea) while very few students hold Japanese or other nationality.
However, the issue of nationality is quite complicated. First of all, Japanese nationality law follows the principle of blood, which means that one inherits her/his parents’ nationality. If your parents have different nationalities, you may keep dual citizenship up to a certain age. On the other hand, a nationality of “unified” Korea, or known as “Chosen-seki” in Japanese was created in May 1947 under the Alien Registration System and was assigned to those who had Korean heritage in Japan. In other words, all the Korean residents who remained in Japan after the end of the WWII had “Chosen-seki” status in 1947.
South Korean nationality appeared in Japan after 1965 when South Korean and Japanese governments normalized diplomatic relations. Japanese government granted various privileges such as more stable visa status in Japan to the Korean residents in Japan who chose South Korean nationality over “Chosen-seki,” and this has encouraged many to change their nationality over the years. In Korean school communities, too, many school campuses have more students with South Korean than “Chosen-seki” in recent years.
Significantly, Japanese government is not entitled to decide which nationality Korean residents should have whether South Korean, North Korean or “Chosen-seki.” Nationality laws in South Korea and North Korea both define Korean residents in Japan as their overseas nationals. Accordingly, it is possible to interpret that Koreans in Japan have both nationalities.
This complicated situation has had a major impact on the identity politics of Zainichi Koreans. Koreans who were born and raised in Japan often wonder where they belong. Even when they know they are ethnically Korean, they continue to wonder if they feel closer to the North or the South. Many struggle to understand what “nationality,” “ethnicity,” and “national border” mean for them. Those who attend Japanese schools have even more difficulty thinking about these issues and developing their identity in a positive way (See Q14-2).
It is difficult, and yet also liberating to live beyond various borders. Korean residents have intimate feelings toward Japan where they are born and raised, and feel somewhat nostalgic when they visit Pyongyang and Seoul –the cities they have learned through books and television –even though they have never lived there. Educated in the Korean schools, students eventually become aware of their identity, and start believing in and working toward the fundamental principle that no human being should be discriminated against because of her/his ethnicity or nationality.