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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

THE ZEIT GIST

Koreans speak out on schooling

Students, parents, teachers defend Pyongyang-linked institutions in Japan


By JASON WILLIAMS
Special to The Japan Times

Since the publication of my article about the Okayama Korean Primary and Middle School (Community, May 22), I have had several people ask me questions about the attitudes, opinions and beliefs of the people involved with the school.

Ethnic Korean students study at a Chongryun-funded elementary school in Tokyo.
Ethnic Korean students study at a Chongryun-funded elementary school in Tokyo. AP PHOTO

While I am glad to talk about my observations and experiences, I felt unqualified to speak on others' behalf. Taking advantage of the interest created by the last article, I asked parents, teachers and students at the school the questions that others have asked me. I hope their answers can provide greater insight into the reasons why they continue to attend and maintain the school. Requests for anonymity have been honored.

Why do you have Korean schools? What is their purpose?

Pak Kum Suk (former teacher): Since 1945, Korean schools haven't just been schools, but have also been the center of the Korean community living in Japan. After World War II, the first generation of Koreans in Japan set up the schools because they wanted to teach their children Korean language and customs. They thought that they would be able to return to Korea and this education would help their children there. Unfortunately, because of the Korean War and other events and circumstances, many people could not return.

The primary purpose of Korean schools is to give a Korean education to children so that they can live in Japan as Koreans. It was not the country, but the community of resident Korean nationals, that established and manages the schools.

The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea) had been offering financial assistance, school supplies and scholarships to Korean schools in Japan as part of its national policy for the past 50 years. This is an important detail for some members of the Korean community.

Why go to a Korean school rather than a Japanese school?

Parent 1: Since I went to Japanese schools, I was not able to find my identity or establish my pride as a Korean. This is why I enrolled my two daughters in a Korean school.

Kang Yun Hwi (teacher): My parents and grandparents support the policy of Chongryun (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which has close ties to Pyongyang), so I knew the importance of national education. I've been going to Korean schools ever since I can remember.

Student 2: My sisters both went to a Korean school. I attended a summer school that teaches Korean to kids who go to Japanese schools. After that, I felt that I wanted to be a Korean in the true sense while learning the Korean language.

Student 3: I chose a Korean school because my older brother said that it was fun.

How do you feel about your experience attending a Korean school?

Kim Woo Ki (Korea University student): My experience at a Korean school changed my life. If I went to a Japanese school, I may have lost my way because I am Korean. I might not have found my identity. I might think, "Why is my name different from my classmates'?"

Parent 2: I'm glad that I went to a Korean school. Since we are Korean, it is only natural that we learn Korean language, literature, culture and history. This leads us to accept and understand our ancestors and roots, and guide our lives by them.

Student 2: We can learn our own language. Also, it is nonsense to look like a Korean on the outside but be Japanese on the inside.

Ri Yong Ae (teacher): I had unpleasant experiences, such as people pointing and laughing at us when we wore the "chima chogori" uniform. We (students) were always together so I didn't feel scared.

Do you have any regrets?

Parent 1: I regret that I didn't go to a Korean school.

Student 1: I live in the school dormitory and sometimes feel that I'd like to go home, but recently I feel happy when I think about going to school the next day.

Student 3: There have been some things but I think they would be the same even if I went to a Japanese school.

What is most important for you in attending a Korean school?

Kim Woo Ki: Finding my identity as a Korean.

Teacher 2: It's my pride as a Korean. I don't use a Japanese name wherever I go and I behave forthrightly as a Korean.

Student 3: It's to respect Korean people and tell myself that some concepts in Japanese society are wrong.

Kang Yung Hwi: It's important to have pride and a soul as a Korean. Moreover, we are a minority so we should be sure of the course we take and keep moving forward.

Would you or did you send your children to a Korean school? Why?

Kim Woo Ki: Yes, absolutely. In Japanese schools I don't think "Zainichi" (ethnic Korean) students can find their identity. They cannot learn the Korean language, Korean history, how they came to Japan and how they continue to maintain their ethnicity.

Teacher 2: Sure, because I want them to live with pride as Koreans. You won't have any doubt about who you are as a little child, but as you grow up you'll certainly have such doubts.

Parent 1: First of all, I just want them to grow up as Koreans. Second, to make a lot of Korean friends. Third, I expect them to assert themselves as Koreans wherever they live.

How do you feel about other peoples' opinions/perceptions of Korean schools and of Koreans in Japan?

Kim Woo Ki: Most people don't know about Korean schools. Because they don't know, they may have a negative image because of the Japanese mass media. Actually, we are like other schools.

Parent 2: Despite their 60-year history, I guess around the world there is only a vague image of what Korean schools might be like — especially for those who know little of Koreans living in Japan and those outside the Korean community. There might be a lot of misunderstandings caused by differences in political views, the situation on the ground and distorted information. More communication and effort to understand each other is needed.

Teacher 2: I think a lot of people don't have much historical knowledge about Koreans in Japan. I really want them to learn why we're born here, especially when they ask, "You're very good at Japanese, how long have you been living in Japan?"

Student 1: I want them to not always believe what the media say about the DPRK and to take a genuine interest in us.

Student 3: I like Japan very much, but I want Japan to see Korea from a different angle and for Korea and Japan to get along with each other.

What would you like people to know about Korean schools?

Parent 1: First of all, I want them to know and understand that every country and race wants their children to learn about their ethnic and cultural identity and society. Second, Korean schools are the center of the Korean community and also our lifeline. It is nearly the same as Christian communities built around churches. That is, the schools are our "church."

Teacher 2: I want them to see our children growing up to be fine Koreans even though they are not living in Korea. We receive very little financial assistance from the government, unlike some private schools. Despite this we still want our children to go to Korean schools, even though it can be a financial burden on some parents.

Student 1: I want them to know that we are still good people even if we don't go to Japanese schools.

How do you feel about Japan/Japanese society?

Parent 1: More communication and effort to understand each other is needed. It is terrible for Japan and the Japanese people that they do not seriously look back over the past and learn from history. That lack of understanding is actually still hurting Koreans living in Japan.

Kim Hwa Suk (teacher): They should rearrange their educational content — for example, history.

Student 3: I don't like the way they treat Korea. Even if Korea has done bad things, there are other countries have done some of the same things and get treated differently.

Kang Yun Kwi: I was born in Japan and have a lot of Japanese friends. Most of them are kind and very warm-hearted people. But sometimes, like with Korean human rights and educational problems, I am filled with anger at Japanese society. I don't feel such an emotion for all Japanese, just some of the politicians. I think it is not just me; Koreans living in Japan have been discriminated against for a long time. We are really eager to live in a more peaceful society.

How do you feel about America?

Kang Yun Kwi: I home-stayed in America when I was a high school student. It was my first experience overseas and I'll never forget those memories. I really appreciate my host family. They are why I had a great time in the USA. I can't, however, accept President Bush's political power because his power attempts to overthrow my country.

Kim Woo Ki: I really want to visit New York someday. I hope to meet lots of people and feel many aspects of America. Politically, I hope the negotiations between America and the DPRK will be successful. I can never forget that American imperialism once violated the human rights of Korean people, and the struggle for reconciliation is not over yet.

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