Monday, July 23, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
I am Zainichi (from Feb issue of KoreAm magazine)
Kei Fischer, born and raised in Japan until age 9, had long believed she was ethnically Japanese by way of her mother, also born in Japan. Then, one day, her mother delivered some shocking news.
Monday, May 7, 2012
For full story with photos, go to: http://iamkoream.com/march-issue-revisiting-japan-a-year-after-the-tsunami/
March Issue: Revisiting Japan A Year After the Tsunami Back to School
Story and photographs by Mark Edward Harris
There are a number of reasons students change schools, such as a family moving to a different neighborhood, but for the children at Woori Hakkyo (“Our School” in Korean) in Koriyama, in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, it would be nuclear fallout that spurred their en-masse transfer. This unlikely scenario became stunning reality soon after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Tohoku on March 11, 2011, killing more than 15,000 people, injuring some 6,000, and destroying tens of thousands of buildings. The earthquake also triggered powerful tsunami waves, reaching upwards of 40 meters, that severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the coast, located less than 40 miles from the Koriyama Korean school. When the escaping nuclear material created a real and present danger, the students were relocated to a Korean school in neighboring Niigata Prefecture. Students lived in a dormitory while their parents remained in Koriyama, where many had their businesses, according to school principal Goo Yong Tae. Last December, the school’s 16 students and eight teachers were allowed to return to their original campus, and last month, I had the opportunity to spend the day with them, along with Goo and Shim Ryong Han, the chairman of the school’s board of education. One year after Japan’s strongest earthquake, all appeared resolved to move forward and focus on their educational goals, though ominous reminders of the disaster were ever-present and contrasted starkly with the handmade “welcome back” signs from well-wishers: A government-mandated radiation monitor was installed at the school, and a huge mound of radioactive topsoil—that had been scraped off the school grounds—was piled up on the far side of the school’s soccer field and covered with a tarp. Goo said the government hadn’t decided what to do with the pile yet. The school staff meanwhile keeps a daily log of the radiation levels at the campus.
The Koriyama school is one of two Woori Hakkyo schools located in the disaster region; the other in Tohoku was destroyed and has yet to be rebuilt. Part of the challenge in rebuilding the Tohoku school, or in decontamination efforts at the Koriyama school, is that such work is not fully funded by the national or municipal governments. The Japanese government justifies its lack of aid by citing that the Woori Hakkyo schools receive financial support from the North Korean government. Goo told me there are about 2,000 ethnic Koreans, referred to as zainichi, living in Fukushima Prefecture. Most of them were born in Japan, and don’t care if their ancestors were born in what is now North or South Korea. They are simply proud of their Korean heritage.
Two Northern California-based groups, the Japan Pacific Resource Network and Eclipse Rising (made up of zainichi Korean Americans), established the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund last year to raise money for ethnic Koreans and other minority groups in Japan who may be underrepresented or neglected in post-disaster relief aid. The fund has already awarded grants to NPO Woori Hakkyo, a nonprofit organization that supports students who attend the Woori Hakkyo schools. (There are Korean schools backed by the South Korean government in Tokyo and Osaka, but they operate separately from the North Korea-supported Woori Hakkyo schools, said Goo.)
At the Koriyama school, save for the portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il hanging in the principal’s office, there was little indication of influence from above Korea’s 38th parallel. Students here enjoy a 2-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and take math, history, science, economics, Korean history, Japanese history and English classes. Though snow was piled several feet high outside the concrete building, there was a tangible warmth nurtured by the school’s staff and students. After a communal lunch in the cafeteria that included kimchi, some of the children chased each other around the soccer field. The mound of radioactive topsoil located just behind the soccer net seemed to go unnoticed. Children, no matter what situation they find themselves in, tend to have to the unique ability to remain, thankfully, children.
For more information on the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, visit http://relief.jprn.org.
This article was published in the March 2012 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today!
Friday, April 13, 2012
By Won Jiyoon
SENDAI, Japan, March 28 (Yonhap) -- For the past 12 months, students at Tohoku Chosen, a local elementary and high school, have been taking classes taught in a cafeteria and dormitories. The school's main five-story building vanished after an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami wiped out much of Japan's northeast in March last year. The land where the school once stood is still barren, blanketed by snow, and there is no knowing when things will return to normal.
Like many others, Tohoku Chosen is seeking government financial assistance in rebuilding. A concern for school officials and students is that they might be treated differently because of the school's affiliation with North Korea.
Tohoku Chosen, established in 1965, is one of approximately 140 schools throughout the country founded by Chongryon, an organization of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan. Students and administrators at these schools have complained of social and political harassment because of their allegiance to North Korea. In 2002, the country shocked its Asian neighbor by admitting to kidnapping Japanese nationals decades ago. Pyongyang-Tokyo relations remain on thin ice, with North Korea raising tension in the region with its missile and nuclear weapons development. Bitter history from Japan's 36 years of colonization of the Korean Peninsula has also hindered better relations.
Students at Tohoku Chosen stop their snowball fight to pose for the camera. They were playing next to the destroyed school site, using parked cars as cover. (All photos courtesy of Won Ji-yoon)
Tohoku Chosen's principal, Yun Jong-chol, is trying hard to make the Japanese government understand that his students need a new school. He is working as hard for recognition that his school is like any other school in Japan.
"We don't teach students that the Japanese government or Japanese people are bad," Yun said.
Most of the Korean residents in Japan arrived during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule over the peninsula, some as forced laborers during World War II. Many have not switched to Japanese citizenship and are often referred to as "Zainichis," meaning residents of Japan.
Yun believes that the primary problem is that the Japanese government doesn't guarantee educational support for Chongryon schools.
"Teaching Korean and Korean writing in Chongryon school is not harmful to the Japanese society," he said. "But Japanese government wants Zainichi to become Japanese, at least when we are dealing with education."
A Tokyo woman in her mid-30's, a resident of Japan who has a Korean citizenship, said she knows there is a stigma that goes with being affiliated with Chongryon.
"Many in Japan believe Chosen schools are nurturing revolutionaries, spies and are creating bombs to attack Japan," she said, asking not to be identified by name.
Hiroshi Kato, an official with documentation and private school affairs division of Miyagi Prefecture, said the government provided 1.5 million Japanese yen (US$18,000) to Tohoku Chosen for earthquake-related damages last year. Yun, the school principal, is asking for 100 times that.
"Our goal is to have 100 million yen to 200 million yen for the school's reconstruction," he said. "I'm negotiating with the Japanese government, and hope to get the funds approved. Only then can construction begin on a new school."
Kato has said there are currently no plans to provide further subsidies this year because of lack of funds.
Some aid groups from South Korea, who is technically still at war with the North because their fratricidal war (1950-53) ended only with a truce, have sent relief packages, including water and shoes, but restoring proper classrooms has been slow, school officials say.
Dance teacher Kim Young-im practices dance moves before teaching her students at the school cafeteria.
For the students, it is hard to understand daily inconveniences.
Che Hwan-su, 11, may be too young to fully understand what he is going through. He only knows that studying at a dormitory is not fun.
"I am sad because the dorm is too small and I can no longer play hide and seek game with my friends in a classroom," he said.
Jin Su-chul, 13 misses the blackboard.
"I used to draw pictures or write something down on the whiteboard for fun," said Jin. "So without a blackboard I feel I am just playing at school, not studying. I can't concentrate."
Girls are practicing their ballet moves in the cafeteria, a little dulled because of layers of clothes they have to wear for the chilly weather. Each time they make mistakes, they communicate in both Korean and Japanese to coordinate their steps better. This, Yun says, is what makes him proud of his school -- keeping Korean language classes and teaching students well enough to speak and write Korean from generation to generation.
Che Yun-su, 13, is hoping to have a new school "within a month." But he knows it will likely take a lot longer before his school life returns to normal.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
On Feb. 28, 100+ riot police surrounded 2 offices affiliated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-DPRK organization also known as Chongryeon. The article says: "The raid came after prosecutors last week indicted Lee Soon-Gi, 49, for illegally exporting 100 second-hand personal computers to North Korea through China in 2009, officials and local media said." Although Mr. Lee is not related or affiliated with Chongryeon or any of its umbrella organizations, Japanese police and media reported as if Chongryeon supported the illegal exports of second-hand computers to DPRK.
Chongryeon, as de facto DPRK embassy, does help people who wish to travel to DPRK by providing travel certificates because there is no DPRK embassy in Japan due to the fact that there is no official diplomatic relations between DPRK and Japan. However, the Chongryeon travel agency cannot regulate what each traveler's bringing to DPRK and even when s/he brings things that are categorized as "illegal," the travel agency bears no responsibility.
Without providing any tangible evidence to prove Chongryeon's involvement in "illegal exports," Japanese police raided Chongryeon-affiliated offices. This is actually part of a series of institutionalized racism targeting Chongryeon Koreans under the name of "national security." The violence and harassment has dramatically escalated after the former DPRK leader, Kim Jong Il admitted to the abduction of thirteen Japanese civilians during the 1970s and 1980s when the-then Japanese prime minister Koizumi visited Pyong Yang on September 17, 2002.
People have often compares 9-17 with the previous year's "9-11 terrorist attacks" because of its resemblance of what followed after. Modeling Bush's rhetoric of "Us versus Them," Japan has defined itself as absolute justice who bears the rights and responsibilities to punish and correct the absolute evil, DPRK. Consequently, in a similar way Muslims, Arabs and South Asians were racialized and criminalized in the post 9-11 U.S. and elsewhere, Zainichi Koreans have become the target of skepticism, punishment and discipline by the Japanese government and society.
(photo courtesy of The Choson Shinbo)
Saturday, February 25, 2012
In March 2009, when we gathered at Miho’s house, in that living room whose walls we had just painted the primer on, we gave birth to an alternative timespace. The timespace that doesn’t force us into a now and here of state-sanctioned unconsciousness.
We began with the future; we literally drew pictures of a future we wish to see---or rather, to be. We imagined a future in which we will be proud and loving of ourselves. We imagined a future in which our families, friends, and communities will thrive together. We imagined a future in which we will overcome multiple divisions and heal from multiple forms of violence. But as soon as we articulated and reclaimed these visions, weren’t we already living in that future? Weren’t we proud and loving, thriving together, reunited and already healing? I certainly was. I felt it it inside me, I felt it on my skin, I felt it in the air. We were the future.
And we continue to be. Revolution is not a day on which we will complete our checklist.
We also faced the past; we began to help each other bring our histories to light. The blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors in remote time and space, those faces that had once been too vague in the distance (if we had been allowed to look at all), we started to recognize. Among ourselves, in our faces and voices. I had hardly known anything about my ancestors, let alone the histories we share. About the students who defended woori hakkyo from the police. About the genocide of Koreans after the Great Kanto Earthquake. Nor about the movement to abolish the mandatory fingerprinting. But I do now. I am aware of the part of me that has long been invisible. I am aware of the ancestors living with me and guiding me to the future. We are constantly reclaiming and embodying the past. We are becoming the past.
And we must be. Revolution will not be footnoted into academic journals or archived into sterilized museum cases.
This is the temporality of Eclipse Rising. Through the porous boundaries between the future and the past, our hope permeates. The present is no longer the now of silence, alienation, erasure, and despair; it is a now of organizing, a now of decolonizing, a now of self-determining. We are no longer severed from our past and denied access to our future. We are no longer easily swept away by the forceful flows of immediate and momentary information commodities and empty instant gratification. We are no longer bribed into compliance by the conniving and irresponsible “It Gets Better” candy. We believe that another now, another we is possible. It is already happening---what time are we (in/on)? A now of becoming the not-yet-here.
Eclipse Rising is also a space. It’s the cozy living room, the SF State campus, the LA hotel room, the downtown Oakland, the Korean BBQ table, the immigration at Narita airport, the California freeways, the garage/photo studio, the Tokyo subways, and the Skype meetings. It’s a space beyond space, where we dream, laugh, cry, learn, and love. It’s a space with fluid boundaries, both open and protective.
It’s a diasporic space, an exile space, and a transnational space. Our homeland/s is/are fragmented, occupied, colonized, and polluted. The societies we reside in are oppressive, hostile, and exploitative. Nowhere to go to or go back to. We have no flags, no anthems, no uniform passports. We speak in multiple tongues, imperfectly. Our existence is a threat to nationalism; our so-called “differences” and “diversity” are nothing but a strength. We are able to create home in multiple spaces. Our diaspora is not unilaterally defined by the homeland (“back there”) or the history (“back then”); it is certainly informed by them, but it also challenges and transforms them. It’s a hybrid space of diasporic futurism.
Yet it’s not an isolated space. It’s a coal mine, an Utoro, a comfort station, a ship to Shimonoseki, a boat that didn’t reach Pusan, a Korean ghetto, a “poisoned” well, and a prison cell. It’s also a DMZ, a Jeju, an East Oakland, a Palestine, an Alcatraz, a Chinatown, an Okinawa, an Arizona, a buraku, a Tule Lake, a Compton Cafeteria, a plantation, a Guantánamo, a Golden Gate Bridge, a Haiti, a Tahrir Square, a San Quentin, a sidewalk, a kitchen table, and a bedroom. By this I don’t mean a space of victimization, but I mean a space of resistance and solidarity. We recognize the connections (though not an equation), and the necessity and urgency of it.This is the spatiality of Eclipse Rising. Our love is rooted in our bodies, yet it transcends spaces. Where we are is no longer the confined, singular, fixed space of here, detached from other struggles or complicit in the binary logic of the local and the global. Instead, we embody, simultaneously, a here of belonging, as well as a there of solidarity. We are never only defined by the space we inhabit; we are always transforming the space. Those with limited views on time and space lament that globalization is just another form of colonization, but I am here now partly because of it, and in order for us to strive for our then and there, we must take advantage of it.
Thus, because we envision, engender, embody, and enact the alternative timespace---a then and there, beyond the normative conceptions of the now and here that are disengaged from critical, reflexive, and conscious praxis, we will never lose sight of hope. This is why Eclipse Rising is transformative, and, revolutionary.
Gopinath, Gayatri. 2005. Impossible Desires: Queer Diaspora and South Asian Public Cultures. Durham: Duke University Press.
Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
The Eclipse Also Rises
Brett Fujioka | 27, January 2012 | Features | No Comments
Kei Fischer’s American father met her mother in Japan as an English language teacher. They married and sired her shortly thereafter. Years later, they immigrated to the United States. “I know it sounds clichéd,” Fischer said as she related her story. It may sound like every other story where an American visits Japan and returns with a wife. There’s just one thing. Kei Fischer’s mother isn’t Japanese. She’s Korean.
She didn’t discover this until after death of her grandfather. It was then that her mother finally came clean. She deliberately passed herself as Japanese to avoid the negative stigma associated with Koreans in Post-War Japan.
Kei Fischer constitutes a marginalized minority in Japan called Zainichi. The Zainichi consist of multigenerational Koreans who immigrated to Japan after the annexation of their homeland in 1910. Some of these minorities sought economic opportunities and scholarships abroad, while several others worked as slave laborers under Japanese Imperial Rule.
Koreans eventually lost their Japanese citizenship after the dissolution of Japan’s colonial reign. Many returned to their broken homeland while others decided to stay and resume their lives in Japan. Since then, they’ve faced fiscal and prejudicial hardships resulting from institutionally discriminatory practices in Japan.
Fischer learned about this as she set out to explore this forgotten part of her life. Her journey eventually led her to the Bay Area, where she met Miho Kim. Like Fischer, Kim was a Zainichi from Japan and together they formed an organization called Eclipse Rising with other Zainichi Korean Americans. As founders, Kim and Fischer have been a driving force behind the organization, which doubles as an activist group rather than merely a club of solidarity. “[We want to] develop a Zainichi community that’s physical and recognize a unique perspective that our experiences offer that really can’t be understood beneath a lens of nation states and internationalism since we’re essentially stateless,” Kim said.
Other parts of their mission statement include cultivating stronger relationships with other oppressed groups like the LGBT community, Burakumin (‘untouchables’ in Japan), Okinawans, and Ainu among others. In addition to this, they campaign for the peaceful reunification between North and South Korea. As wide reaching as this objective is, it maintains the consistent focus of supporting, empowering, and granting further rights to Japanese minority groups like them. “We’re really fighting the root cause of structural racism within Japan because that’s the only way we can really bring resolution to what has perpetrated this subjucation of Zainichi,” Kim said. She further related her experiences as a Zainichi to those of the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. “Being immortalized, criminalized, and banished, your entitlement taken from under your feet overnight.”
Some of their past activities included a recap of their 2010 U.S.-Japan Solidarity Tour. They hosted this as a joint holiday party at the School of Unity and Liberation Office in Oakland, California on December 16th, 2010. The participants of this tour reported the findings of their 9-day long trip where they met the political prisoner Kazuo Ishikawa, The Burakumin Liberation League, Women’s Active Museum On War and Peace for Korea’s “comfort women,” The Funreai House community center for minorities living in Japan, and the Iju-ren solidarity network for migrant workers. In addition to this, Fischer and Kim had the opportunity to visit Pyong Yang, North Korea, in 2008. They rallied to stop the Korea US-Free Trade Agreement with other on January 14th, 2011 in front of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco under the pretense that it would sacrifice jobs and further erode workers’ rights.
These combined activities have brought the members of Eclipse Rising a long way from where they once stood. The days of passing and living in shame are as foregone as their history in Japan. This isn’t to say that their historical and emotional scars are effaced, but no longer are they hiding in the shadows and as a result moved beyond their previous state of victimhood to taking a stand for others.