This Article was written by Zanelle Awinyo, year 11
When people think of North Korea, we tend to think of the country’s regime and its overwhelming military power. As we see all the news coverage, it’s difficult to understand the state of its people.
As we hear news of people successfully fleeing and as they share their stories of life within the dictatorship, it is difficult for those on the outside to grasp the extent of their journeys. However, in Japan, there is a community of North Koreans who do exactly that; but how exactly did things end up this way?
In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan after years of war. After the Empire gained control, they set out to erase Korean history in an attempt at converting the Korean people. It became a crime to teach history from non-approved texts and authorities burned over 200,000 Korean historical documents, essentially wiping out all memory of Korea. The Koreans at the time were deprived of their freedom of assembly, association and speech. In addition to that, many Koreans were taken to Japan and separated from their homeland.
Under Colonial authorities, school systems were turned into battle grounds against Korean culture. There would be primary emphasis on Korean students learning the Japanese language and the educational curriculum ensured subjects such as Korean Language and Korean History were obsolete. Disapproval towards the Japanese Empire was widespread among Koreans and guerrilla resistance forces against Japanese occupation started popping up as early as the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until 1945 when World War Two brought independence to the country.
While Japan lost its territories, they didn’t lose the people they had brought over. The Korean people who were now free, were stuck in Japan and unrecognised as Japanese citizens. However back in mainland Korea, the United States and the Soviet Union were scrambling to gain power over the newly independent Korea. With the Soviet Union appointing Kim Il-sung as the President of North Korea and the United States backing South Korea, the Korean war would change everything for displaced citizens. They were no longer just Korean, they now had to pick between the newly formed North and South Korea.
It is important to note most Koreans in Japan had originally been from what is now South Korea. In spite of that, they affiliated themselves with North Korea for the simple reason that North Korea supported them more. Under Kim Il-Sung’s rule, Koreans in Japan were helped to build schools and sent money to establish their businesses. This effectively helped them build a community that protected their identity and language, something that the Japanese Empire had tried taking away.
Kim Il-Sung was a symbol of Juche ideology, a concept that valued self-reliance, self-government and independence, all things Koreans in Japan had been deprived of. In his infamous propaganda poster, it’s shown under Kim Il-sung everyone has the right to carry Korean books. While this was used to further his political agenda and strengthen his dictatorship, the depiction of women with an educated position in society and men having more career opportunities was that of a free Korea.
For the displaced citizens in Japan, this support from a faraway government built loyalty to a regime they had never seen before. The grave loss of identity while still living in a country that sought to change them ensured trust in a regime they had never lived in before. For the reason that an old government that helped them at the worst of times, many Koreans living in Japan are loyal to a nation run through dictatorship. While today's North Korea may not align with the ideology they believed in before, it is clear to see the unintended consequences of years of colonisation has built a border of culture within a country that formed The Fragment of North Korea in Japan.