When we hear the term apartheid, we think of South Africa and its system of racial segregation enforced by the national government. Apartheid is generally associated with discrimination and tension between white and colored people, so most people regard it as a phenomenon particular to places where there have been the practice of black slavery. However I would like to show you that a similar kind of practice exists in a place where we would least expect it to happen: Japan.
Today there are approximately 1 million Koreans living in Japan. The majority are known as “Zainichi Koreans”, the group that traces its roots back to the Japanese colonial era in the early 20th century. During WWII, more than 2.5 million people were forcefully moved to Japan for conscripted labor. Many left Japan as the Empire surrendered to the allied forces in 1945, but some decided to stay because they, aware of the chaotic situation in Korea, thought they would be better off continuing to live in Japan. Were they right?
More than 60 years have passed since the end of WWII, and you would expect the children of these forced migrant workers to naturally enjoy the standing of Japanese citizenship. I’m afraid that is not the case. If you are of Korean descent, you are entitled to Korean citizenship, not Japanese despite the fact that you were born and raised in Japan. Rather, you are given a standing of permanent ethnic Korean resident: Zainichi. This obviously means no voting right whatsoever and highly reduced chance of employment.
One interesting aspect of Japanese discrimination that distinguishes itself from other types of racial segregation is that there is hardly any difference between Japanese and Korean in terms of physiognomy by which to identify who is who. In other words, there is a loophole for a Zainichi to “pass” for a Japanese. Often times this is achieved by adopting a Japanese name as an alias in order to avoid any possible social disadvantage caused by revealing the real name. Just think of how much pain and agony the individual has to bear in choosing a life without discrimination at the cost of falsehood and self-deception! The following youtube clip gives you a better understanding of what is going on.
It is said in the clip that there is a widespread, dominant perception that views Japan as a homogenous society. I believe this lack of appreciation of difference is at the crux of our discussion on citizenship. In line with this concept Shklar argues that there have been “glaring inconsistencies between their professed principles of citizenship and their deep-seated desire to exclude certain groups permanently from the privileges of membership”(Shklar 15), and that “the value of citizenship was derived primarily from its denial to slaves, to some white men, and to all women”(16).
Of course, to say that the condition Zainichi Koreans face in Japan today is similar to that of Ameircan slaves in the 19th century is to speak of nonsense. It is no way near all the sufferings with which they were put up. However, the sense of double-consciousness, of two unreconciled striving – a Korean and a Japanese, permeates into the minds of Zanichi Koreans just as it did into African Americans, and just in the same way, torments their souls with the unimaginable burden.
It is clear that Zainichi Koreans lack sufficient standing within Japanese society, or have none at all. They are allowed to decide for themselves at one point during their lives whether to naturalize in order to seek formal employment and marriage, but such act can be frawned upon by the group of individuals who have decided to remain Korean. So there really is no clean-cut solution to this problem, at least for now. But that is precisely why I am posting this, so as to get different perspectives on what you think about the issue. I am looking forward to hearing your ideas.