2020 Northeast Asian University Peace Exchange Program 2

Report on the 2nd study session
– Learn the past and the present of Zainichi, Korean nationals living in Japan, from the film “Ai tachi no gakko (Korean Schools in Japan)” –

[Original by Tara SATO, an intern on the “Korea Children Campaign,” the Relief Campaign Committee for Children, Japan (December 1, 2020); Translated by H. Ueda/M. Olagoke]

About the Northeast Asian University Peace Exchange Program

This program was started in 2018 by a group of NPO and NGO members and individuals who became acquainted through Children’s Art Exhibitions. The program consists of networking events and study sessions where college students living in Japan learn about peace in Northeast Asia. It is regarded as a pre-training session in preparation for the Japan-DPRK University Student Exchange program to be held every August with students at Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, although postponed this year in fear of the infection spread of COVID-19.

There are two reasons which caused me to take part in the program. One of the reasons comes from Children’s Art Exhibitions, which I’ve been involved with for the past 5 years and made lots of friends in Tokyo, Seoul, and Pyongyang. It’s hard to physically meet with them, given that we live in different countries beyond the sea. Besides that, there is something invisible that stands in our way, preventing us to see each other easily, giving me a sense of a different emptiness. I wanted to know what the barrier is, which I perceived as a child; why the distance between our hearts is longer than the physical distance. The other reason is that my Japanese friends have a feeling of fear against them, although they are quite the same as us, by which I got a really bad feeling as a child. Why do they connect their negative image of the country with its people? Why did the relationship between Japan and Korea become so deteriorated? I had to know the reason, as I have many friends there. That’s why I came to be involved in the program.

“Ai tachi no gakko” and stories talked about by the film director Ko

The 2nd study session was held on July 23 and 30, 2020 in the Kansai and Kanto regions, respectively. The guest for the session was Ko Chanyu, an active Korean journalist living in Japan who directed the film “Ai tachi no gakko.” The students who participated in the program were given a chance to watch the film in advance. In the session, Ko Chanyu explained the reason why he produced the film, its background, his encounter with Korean nationals living abroad, and discrimination against African Americans that he witnessed when he stayed in the US. He further discussed the process of how discrimination is generated.

He said that he produced his film “Ai tachi no gakko” to let the public know the fact that Korean schools located in Japan have been discriminated against from the Japanese Government and to raise the public voice in protest. The Japanese Government has never stopped such discrimination despite the recommendation from the United Nations. Korean schools filed a suit demanding school subsidies for Korean schools in Japan as equally as those given to Japanese schools. However, Korean schools lost the case in Osaka, which means that the court tolerated the discrimination. Triggered by this incident, he produced the film, subtitled also in Korean and English, and released in many locations.

He has supported Korean nationals living in Japan in their cultural and artistic activities. Through his support activities he met Koreans living abroad, like in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China and the US, and gradually realized that the said discrimination happening in Japan reflects the Japanese discriminatory way of thinking. Korean nationals are given preferential treatment in China, which is quite normal. On the other hand, African Americans are discriminated against in the US. In the latest Los Angeles uprising, however, African Americans raided and destroyed stores and shops in Koreatown, triggered by attacks against them by white people. Their actions gave him a sense of strangeness. With such an extreme example of discrimination, he came to have a clear view of the essence of the discrimination against Korean nationals living in Japan. There are lots of things we can learn from the history of discrimination against African Americans in the US. Under the Jim Crow laws (1876-1964) that legalized racial segregation enacted after the Civil War, the civil rights movement came into being, gradually changing people’s awareness of racism in the US.

Racists unexceptionally crush the target people with force to deprive them of their pride and try to make them think that they are helpless. And for those who fight back, racists can establish a law to make the discriminatory actions legal so that they can treat the people as criminals if they resist. When comparing the discrimination against Korean nationals living in Japan with the case in the US, there are clear differences. Thanks to the involvement of the government, no discrimination against African Americans is permitted in the eyes of the law currently in the US. On the other hand, in Japan, hate speech that is covered by civil law is not subject to criminal punishment and is still outside the jurisdiction of the court.

Online study session allowed us to talk with Mr. Ko living in the Kansai region. It would be better to talk in-person, but it was still nice to connect with him remotely.

What I think now

I was shocked and felt pain to learn through talking in the session and by watching the film “Ai tachi no gakko” that my country has a law to allow such inhumane discrimination even today. At the same time, innocent prejudice and preconceived ideas around me might sometimes lead to discrimination, I just thought. As for the word, for example “race education” which came up often in the film “Ai tachi no gakko,” what does it mean to us? Director Ko told us that they should teach Korean children the obvious point that “even in the Japanese society where Zainichi are discriminated, they should respect their identities as Koreans,” and “they should be trained as persons as well as Koreans.” I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t thought that far. Whenever I saw images of people in a video with “ethnic group” or “native tribe” captions, as a child, they looked like uncivilized people living deep in the mountains in an undeveloped land, to us children living in a developed country. With such innocent prejudice based on insufficient knowledge and inexperience, “race education” was something happening in another world or was too unfamiliar and difficult to approach.

Such a deep-rooted notion needs lots of time to be dispelled. That’s why we should go toward the right direction, by learning and sharing the right things little by little, to pass them to the next generation. Whenever we discuss very big issues in the University Peace Exchange Program, I always ask myself if what I do is right. I hope many people will take part in our activities, learn from the past, think of the present, and try to make a future filled with hope.

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