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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Rappers relish the opportunity to express individuality

Japanese-born, but with roots in Korea, MCs Jewong, 20, and Liyoon, 22, of rap duo KP, have caused a stir in the booming Japanese hip-hop industry with music and a message drawn from their experiences as members of the Korean community in Japan.

Q: What is the meaning of KP?

Liyoon: Korean Pride, Power and People.

Q: So you see yourselves as Korean?

L: Yes, kind of. Koreans who were born in Japan. My parents naturalized here before I was born, so I'm Japanese from birth. But when I was 21, I changed my Japanese name into Korean.

Jewong: My nationality is Korean.

Q: What does Korean Japanese mean?

L: I think to live as a Korean with Japanese nationality.

Q: Why? Don't you like Japanese?

L: No, no, no. I love Japanese people. I was born in Japan, and have been living here with people who I love, Japanese people. I just want to have the same rights which Japanese people have, but be true to my background. Q: Your original background is Korean?

L: Basically, I have roots in Korea but now live in Japan. It's not something to be twisted or hidden.

J: I was born in Japan, but am a Korean citizen. My mom was born in Korea, and my dad was born in Japan, but they are both Koreans.

Q: What is it you want to say as KP?

L: We'd like to encourage people to think honestly about who they are and be true to themselves. For example, we talked about "am I Japanese or Korean?" Nationality can be one way to recognize yourself. The stronger your individuality is, the more opportunities to think about yourself. Japan is a well developed country, but there are few chances to think deeply about yourself. By expressing "what we are," we ask our listeners to think about "what they are."

Q: You're bound to be labeled in the media as "Zainichi Korean," regardless of nationality. As artists, don't you think that this label of nationality is meaningless?

L: No, I don't. Because it's obviously a part of who we are, and it's one of the sources of our music.

There are many influences and factors that make us what we are and influence our work, but definitely our message as Korean Japanese has a big part in our music. Q: Have you ever viewed yourself as minority?

J: Not so much, because I've grown up in an environment in which there are few chances to recognize myself as minority. However, I have had a few things to deal with. For example, I always have to carry my foreign registration card with me. or I could get arrested.

L: Often. Because, regardless of my race or nationality, I consider myself as a minority in the respect of my way of life. I'm a minority in the Korean community because I have Japanese nationality. I often think something different from others, so in that sense, I'll always be a minority.

Q: Do you have any experience of being bullied or discriminated?

L: When I was in Britain where I spent my junior high and high school days, I had that kind of experience because I'm Asian. But I've never had such an experience in Japan. I haven't been discriminated, but I've encountered situations wherein people unconsciously discriminate.

J: But I think this kind of "innocent violence" is the worst. For example, if some politician publicly discriminates against Koreans and Japanese people are not aware that it's happening, it's very hurtful for Korean people.

L: A word "chon" is a discriminatory term for Korean people. But people some times say "baka-chon" to mean "you're silly."

J: If you say that word without knowing its real meaning, it doesn't sounds serious, but it is malignant in nature. I think that Japanese people wouldn't accept or use these kinds of words if they better awareness of Korean people, culture and background. If teachers could teach these things, we could avoid this kind of discrimination.

Q: What do you think of today's government's effort to foster Japanese patriotism?

J: I don't think patriotism is something to foster or evaluate.

L: I think that having patriotism is very important. However, patriotism should not be limited to those who are native to a country. I want Koreans living in Japan to have more awareness of themselves as Japanese. If people say "Japanese," meaning only the majority, I don't agree with that.

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