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Friday, June 4, 2004

Does Japan want to 'reprogram' abductees' kids?

Experts fear that integration efforts will smother Korean identity, breed resentment


Staff writer

OSAKA — Now that the children of four of the five repatriated abductees have finally been reunited with their parents, local governments are rushing to help them adjust to Japanese life as quickly as possible.

News photo
Shigeyo Hasuike (second from left) and her brother, Katsuya, hold flowers given by locals on May 23 as their mother, Yukiko (left), looks on.

But Koreans in Japan worry that the children, who were born and raised in North Korea, are under too much pressure to become Japanese and warn that they could ultimately suffer identity problems.

Since the May 22 arrival in Japan of the three children of Yasushi and Fukie Chimura and the two children of Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike, local governments in Fukui and Niigata prefectures have been busy preparing to help the children settle in their new homes.

Fukui Prefecture has set up a committee tasked with offering support to the Chimura children — daughter Emi, 22, and sons Yasuhiko, 20, and Kiyoshi, 16 — ranging from Japanese language and culture instruction to psychological counseling.

"The prefecture plans to support the children of the Chimuras for five years," said Shuji Mitsuya, assistant director of the Fukui Prefectural Government's International Division.

"We will start by assisting the children in learning the Japanese language and learning the customs and culture of Japan and, if needed, offer counseling. Eventually, if they desire, we will help the children find work or enter university," Mitsuya said.

Prefectural employees have also been asked by the governor to donate money to assist the Chimuras. Mitsuya said the money has not been earmarked for any special purpose, but is being collected to assist the general needs of the family.

Niigata Prefecture has established a similar committee, and prefectural employees there have already gathered more than 2 million yen in donations that will be used primarily to assist the Hasuike children — 22-year-old daughter Shigeyo, and son Katsuya, 19.

The children of both the Chimuras and Hasuikes, who previously lived under their Korean names, were told of their Japanese names shortly after coming to Japan. For a long time, the parents kept the children's Japanese names to themselves.

Yet the viability — and even desirability — of efforts to integrate the children into Japanese society has been questioned.

As far as the children are concerned, Japan is their parents' country, while North Korea is their mother country, according to Chung Kwi Hwan, director of the International Affairs Division of the Osaka chapter of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan).

"There is a chance that, in a few years, the children will decide to return to their mother culture," Chung said.

News photo
The three children of Yasushi and Fukie Chimura — Kiyoshi (second from left), Emi (center) and Yasuhiko (second from right) — are greeted by local people upon their arrival here May 24.

"Even if they don't go back to North Korea, they might wish to study or work in South Korea. How would Japan react if, after all of the effort spent on trying to make them 'Japanese,' they decide to leave because they don't fit in?"

Jung Woo Suh, president of the Osaka-based Human Rights Association for Koreans in Japan, said: "The problem with the current approach toward helping the children is that it's a form of scrap-and-build.

"Japan wants to force the children to forget what they learned in North Korea and reprogram them. But this will deny the children's cultural identity, which is Korean, and they could end up angry and hating Japan."

Jung said that certain things they learned in North Korea were fallacious: Kim Il Sung being a god, for example.

"But other things, like 20th century history, were true," he claimed.

"Some Japanese media say such education, especially about history, was anti-Japanese. But it's factually accurate and should not be forgotten."

Chung and Jung also feel that the local governments are making a mistake by not including Korean residents on the committees formed to help the children. Fukui Prefecture's Mitsuya said it is unlikely that Koreans born and raised in Japan could understand the children, but Chung said that is not the issue.

"Having somebody from the local Korean community would show the children that there is a spirit of cooperation between Japanese and Koreans and offer them role models of those who understand both cultures," he said.

Jung, on the other hand, worries that the lack of Koreans on the local government committees is a sign that they are not interested in the children's viewpoints.

"Japanese are talking about how necessary it is to educate the children. But the children can also teach the Japanese a lot about Korean culture and about their own history in Korea. Local governments should make sure the children have opportunities to do so," he said.



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