Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien 3-3-6 Kudan-Minami, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0074 Tel: 03 – 3222 5198, Fax: 03 – 3222 5420
Life History Narratives of First Generation Korean Immigrant Women in Japan
March 27, 2002 / 18.30
Jackie J. Kim
This study contextualizes the personal narratives of first generation Korean immigrant women, who came to Japan before WWII. The main reason for their journey was to join their husbands who were already working and living in Japan, but few of them also came as young teenagers in search of work and a hope for a better life, as life in the rural villages of Korea was becoming increasingly unbearable due to widespread impoverishment during the Japanese Occupation of 1910-1945.
The core of this work is to identify the first-generation Korean women in Japan and show a merging of traditional and immigrant selves, amidst a constricting tradition as well as unexpected challenges of Diaspora. Their narratives tell the stories of immigrant women immersed in the multiple dilemmas of their social realities: oppression of a strict patriarchal tradition and society, colonialism, Diaspora, WWII, Korean War, division of the homeland, repatriation, ethnic education, social prejudice, problems of ethnic identity for their children and aging. Within these broad social frameworks the women weave their personal stories concerning elements of their inner world that mattered the most to them – their parents, children, husband and family – as well as external elements of work and life within the Japanese society, religion and political activity.
These women find it necessary to negotiate their tradition and further their own identity in order to adapt and persevere in a new society. Thus, the elements deriving from their embedded definitions of proper womanhood and their circumstances as immigrants fuse into single narratives, which contextualize and epitomize their identity as tradition-bound immigrant women.