2020 Northeast Asian University Peace Exchange Program 1

Study Group 1 Kickoff Report

[Original by Yuna TAMAMURA, an intern on the Korea Children Campaign (October 13, 2020); Translated by S. Young]

Hi, I’m Yuna Tamamura, an intern on the Korea Children Campaign. This is my first blog post, but I’ve written it hoping that it reaches the hearts of lots of people.

Today I’m going to report on the first Study Group for the Northeast Asian University Peace Exchange Program.

About the “Japan-DPRK University Student Exchange” Program

Since 2001 JVC and other NGOs have run a project called “Children’s Art Exhibitions”. This has allowed children in the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and Japan to exchange pictures and messages.

Building on that, in 2012 JVC started a project called the “Exchange Program for University Students from Japan and DPRK”. This was an exchange program for Japanese students and the those who study Japanese in the DPRK. First, by taking part in activities together they have been able to get to know one another. And in workshops they actively exchanged opinions with each other on selected topics.

This exchange program was relaunched in 2018 as the “Northeast Asian University Peace Exchange Program”. This program is centered on exchanges between University Students from Japan and the DPRK. The goal is to develop young leaders who will be able to contribute to building peace in North East Asia. It also includes exchanges between students from Japan and South Korea.

In a typical year, students would plan the exchange and travel as a group from Japan to the DPRK in August. But this year the trip to Pyongyang had to be cancelled due to COVID-19.

So, on the first of June, we kicked off this year’s program with an online study group held within Japan. Being online there were also some students who could participate from Okinawa.

Students who took part in the 2019 “Japan-DPRK University Student Exchange” exchanging messages. Due to COVID-19 it’s difficult to meet this year.

Theme of Study Group 1

Part of the agenda was a discussion of the documentary “Dear Pyongyang”, which participants watched beforehand. We also had Yuri, a 3rd-generation Zainichi Korean, join as a guest speaker.

[Note: “Zainichi Korean” is a term for ethnic Koreans living in Japan who emigrated, or whose parents emigrated, before 1945.]

Lee Akinori, a lecturer at Kwansei Gakuin University, provided an introduction into the issue of the nationality of Zainichi Koreans. Yuri then told her life story which prompted many questions from the students.

About “Dear Pyongyang”

This is a documentary made over 10 years by Yang Yong-hi, a 2nd-generation Zainichi Korean, about her family.

One of the students shared this impression:

The warmth of Yang’s parents, the portrayal of Yang coming to terms with her own identity, her father, such a typical man from Osaka, the scenes of the mother packing endless cardboard boxes full of goods to her relatives living so far away, Yang’s daughter’s identity conflict… It’s something that anyone can relate to, and in one way their family seems like the most normal of families. But on the other hand, it was a shock to see how the lives of Yang’s parents and brothers had been affected by the events and situation of that era, such as the movement to repatriate Zainichi Koreans to North Korea and the socialist movement.

Watching this I came to understand some of the tension between the reality of the family and the political situation. It was fascinating to see the relation between Japan and North Korea through the lens of the family.

Yuri’s Story

Our guest speaker was Yuri, a 3-rd generation Zainichi Korean. She had relatives who had returned to Pyongyang during the movement to repatriate Zainichi Koreans. Yuri herself studied in public school in Japan, and then abroad, and now lives in Japan. She told of the conflict between her identity as a Japanese and a Zainichi Korean, as well as of discrimination that her relatives in Pyongyang faced as returnees. This led to many questions and comments from the students who participated in the session. During that discussion one thing that Yuri said that stood out was “I think that some of you participating today have visited North Korea and interacted with students there. But I wished that this sort of program existed when I was younger. It’s a way to learn that there are lots of different people in the world, of different races and different religions, but all facing the same challenges and failings. A way to see we’re all human, and the world should revolve around individuals and not nations.”

One of the students used the term “North Korean” when asking a question but when I heard that I felt it wasn’t right to categorize people like that, and important to consider whether they were someone who had returned to North Korea or who had been born and raised in Pyongyang.

Among Japanese there are people who are totally different to each other on both the outside and the inside, and I felt that it could be offensive to ask questions while ignoring those differences. I hope that hearing Yuri’s story can help participants be more considerate in these kinds of discussions. As a student, it made me think of what kind of language, and what kind of discussions I could have with students in North Korea that would be able to make a contribution to building peace between our countries.

By answering student’s questions in such a thorough way, Yuri gave us an opportunity to think more about the situation of Zainichi Koreans. This was an opportunity I was very thankful for.

The Issue of Nationality for Zainichi Koreans

Lee Akinori, a lecturer at Kwansei Gakuin University, gave a lecture about the history of the legal status of Zainichi Koreans in Japan.

In 1910 the Korean Peninsula was annexed by Japan and the Korean people were regarded as “Japanese”. In 1947 the “Alien Registration Ordinance” was enacted, which meant that Koreans who had migrated to Japan would be for a period regarded as foreigners. This was in spite the fact that some Koreans who had migrated had been forced to surrender their Korean family name and had adopted Japanese surnames.

On their official documents in Japan, they would have “Cho-sen” (referring to the Korean Peninsula) written as their nationality. This was just a convenient way to denote that they had Japanese nationality and had originally come from the Korean Peninsula.

In the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty there was no mechanism to allow Zainichi Koreans to select a nationality so they were forced to surrender their Japanese nationality. They were required under the “Alien Registration Act” to carry an “Alien Registration Card” and have their fingerprints recorded.

In 1965 a treaty was signed between Japan and the Republic of Korea to establish diplomatic relations. Under this, Koreans living in Japan whose nationality was “Kan-koku” (the Republic of Korea) were granted permanent residency. But the issue of permanent residency for those whose nationality was “Cho-sen” Korean was left unclear. This legally divided the community of Zainichi Koreans.

In 1991 the status of “Special Permanent Resident” was given to those who had “Cho-sen” as their nationality. The law was revised again in 2012 but, as before, Zainichi Koreans were required to carry a certificate proving their status.

Learning that history helped us to understand how politics had played a part in Yuri’s life too.

Wrapping up Session 1

This session was a valuable opportunity to listen to the story of someone who had relatives in Pyongyang. Since it was the first session there were lots of questions. For the next session I feel we have to work on having a better understanding of history and being more respectful when asking questions to our guests.

I felt that in order to connect people who are disconnected by politics that it’s important to try to imagine the situation that they are in. This kind of “imagination” is something that’s not just necessary for international cooperation but even in everyday conversations with our family and others.

Everyone, could you please also try to act with “imagination”?

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