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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

"What is Ideal Zainichi? The Social Construction of Korean-ness by Koreans in Japan"

20. Januar 2000

Youngmi Lim, City University of New York

This paper examines how ideal Korean-ness has been constructed by resident Korean intellectuals and activists. I will focus on the transformation of Korean-ness within Japanese social and language contexts during the past three decades (the 1970s – the 1990s). By tracing the changes of the meanings attached to the purpose of Korean education in opinionated essays authored by resident Koreans in Japanese language, I will analyze the ways in which resident Korean intellectuals have adapted their visions of Korean-ness.

The major objective of this paper is to illustrate the shifting visions on Korean-ness, attentive to the term minzoku and its connotation of race, nation, ethnicity, depending on the contexts. I treat the expression of the Korean’s own ideas on Korean education inside Japan as an operationalization of their strategies to form both collective and individual identity. I will discuss the notions of Korean education authored by resident Koreans in the Japanese language. A variety of popular texts (subjective essays, such as the works of Kim Shi-jon, Kim Chan-jong, Kim Yang-ki, and Ko Yon-I) concerning how Japan-born, younger generations ought to be educated as Koreans living in Japan are examined.

Responding to their solidified permanent presence in Japan and the accelerating Japanization of their younger generations, resident Korean authors are increasingly substituting the quote;ethnicquote; for the quote;nationalquote; when they argue the significance of Korean education. Resident Korean double consciousness, arising from their existence as former colonial subjects and the circumstance of their descendents residing in Japan which they are not fully part of, seems to have immense potential to present alternatives that resist Japanese social structures and Japanese cultural hegemony. Paradoxically, the pragmatic ethnicization of Korean-ness turns their collective identity apolitical. Only in a tamed way that does not conflict with Japanese social and political institutions, is Korean-ness thriving.