North Korea "returnees"
Chosenese "repatriates" and their families, 1959-1990
By William Wetherall
First posted 1 January 2007
Last updated 20 December 2010
"Repatriation" to North Korea
On 25-26 May 1955, Koreans in Japan who aligned themselves with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) formed the "General Association of Korean Residents in Japan". Chongryun (總聯 총련 Ch'ongryŏn, J. Sōren), as it is commonly called in short, was essentially a reincarnation of an organization called Chōren in Japanese and Choryŏn in Korean (朝聯 조련), which had been founded on 15 August 1945 but quickly turned pro-Communist, and on 8 September 1949 was ordered to disband by the Japanese government with the blessings of GHQ/SCAP for alleged illegal and subservise activities. Chongryun was formed out of a number of smaller organizations which had sprung up in the wake of Chōren's break-up.
By July 1955, Chongryun was campaigning on behalf of members who wished to "repatriate" to DPRK. By the end of 1955, the Japanese Red Cross Society was colluding with the International Red Cross and the Japanese government to faciliate repatriation. By the beginning of 1956, the Japanese Red Cross Society was in Pyongyang talking with its DPRK counterpart.
Japanese government position
In the late 1950s, the Japanese government, which had not yet normalized its relations with the Republic of Korea (ROK), was not in a position to negotiate directly with DPRK. By the end of the year, however, the Japanese Red Cross Society -- with the informal approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and with concrete MOFA cooperation in the form of tentative planning -- was feeling out the International Red Cross and engaging in dialogue that it hoped would lead to a repatriation scheme.
In addition to the usual governmental concerns about compliance with laws, the Japanese government wished to faciliate especially the "repatriation" of Koreans in Japan who were unable to support themselves.
The question of who was to bear the welfare costs for Koreans in Japan, when the Allied Occupation ended and they lost their Japanese nationality, had been a bone of contention between Japan and ROK in the first round of talks between the two countries, conducted between October 1951 and April 1952. ROK had agreed that, while in legal principle it should either bear the welfare costs of Koreans who became its nationals and needed public assistance, or allow Japan to deport them to ROK. But ROK also had compelling reasons to reject both solutions.
ROK had argued in the 1951-1952 talks -- and was still, in the late 1950s, arguing -- that Japan should treat its postwar Korean residents differently than it did other aliens, considering the historical causes of their presence in Japan. Japan, in the 1951-1952 talks, had agreed to treat them as permanent residents, matters concerning welfare and deportation remained on the table.
ROK also balked at the idea of deportation, for economic and other reasons, partly because accepting Koreans unable to make a living in Japan, or who had been arrested for unlawful activities of a political nature, entailed the risk of having to accept Koreans in Japan who were Communists or otherwise sympathetic with DPRK.
In the late 1950s, while various parties angled some kind of scheme to faciliate "repatriation" to DPRK, there was as yet no light at the end of the ROK-Japan negotiation tunnel. The Korean peninsula, still militarily tense after the 1953 armistice, had barely begun to emerge from the ashes of war. And "cold war" was a misnomer for the revolutionary coals that simmered and sparked, and occasionally ignited ideological tinderboxes in many parts of Asia.
ROK had argued, in the 1951-1952 talks, that it was then at war and totally unable to compensate Japan for public assistance costs. There was some discussion of providing a period of grace, after which ROK would begin to foot part of the bill. But by the late 1950s, Japan itself was in the midst of a severe post-Korean-War recession, which contributed to the higher unemployment rate of Koreans in Japan.
So in the late 1950s, not only was the Japanese government hopeful that a repatriation program would reduce the number of Koreans in Japan with Communist sympathies, but it had reason believe that many if not most of those who were saying they wanted to leave Japan for DPRK were unemployed. And the Great Leader himself was inviting them to return to their national (racioethnic) hearth and contribute their labor to the building of a socialist paradise.
And by August 1959, the Red Cross societes of Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea signed a Repatriation Agreement in the witness of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Calcutta. A repatriation guide was issued, and the Japanese Red Cross Society, the Japanese government, and Chongryun agreed to supplementary rules.
The main object of the accord and the guidelines was to confirm that "repatriation" would be voluntary and orderly. Since the "returnees" would be departing from Japan, their disembarkation would have also have to be in compliance with Japan's border control laws, which applied to both aliens and Japanese. And not only Koreans -- but some Japanese, as legal or common-law wives or as children or other relatives, and possibly even some people of other nationalities -- would be standing in the "repatriation" line.
Controlled "repatriation" to DPRK
A few Koreans had illegally left or entered Japan during and after the Occupation. Between the start of repatriation talks in 1955 and the beginning of organized repatriation to the north in 1959, there were also a few cases of small groups of Koreans boarding foreign ships for the north without documents or, apparently, other forms of permission.
In early December 1959, a Red Cross repatriation center was set up in Niigata, and the first shipful of "returnees" left Niigata on 14 December 1959. By the end of the month, three voyages had made three voyages, carrying a total of 2,942 people -- 2,717 Koreans and 225 Japanese (including 57 wives of Koreans) -- an average of 981 per voyage.
In 1960, some 49,036 (45,094 Koreans, 3,937 Japanese, and 5 Chinese) left. In 1961, another 22,801 (21,027 Koreans, 1,773 Japanese, and 1 Chinese) left. 3,497 left in 1962 and 2,567 left in 1962. From 1962, the numbers gradually declined (see table below).
The migration to DPRK included a few Japanese and a handful of Chinese. Some 7.2 percent of the 93,346 people (93,386 by some counts) who had "returned" to the north by 1990 were Japanese, meaning people affiliated with family registers in Japan. Some 27.2 percent of these Japanese were women legally married to a Korean returnee.
By all accounts, many of those who made the voyage to DPRK soon regretted their decision to leave Japan. See below for details.
Tessa Morris-Suzuki has written most passionately about the "repatriation" as "one of the modern world's most bizarre, tragic and utterly forgotten 'humanitarian' projects" (Japan Focus, undated, viewed in December 2010). She also qualifies them as "The Forgotten Victims of the North Korean Crisis" -- though it is not clear why she considers it a "DPRK" as opposed to a "Korean" or even "Northeast Asias" or "East Asian" or even "Global" crises -- given its historical origins and development.
Morris-Suzuki has, however, done an very credible amount of leg work, and her dramatic narratives of the plights of some of the so-called returnees, including a few who managed to return to Japan, are worth reading and taking to heart. My purpose here, however, is somewhat different.
"Repatriation" to DPRK
A systematic legal "return" or "repatriation" to what had become the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not become possible until after 13 August 1959. On this date, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) and its DPRK counterpart signed an agreement, in India, to facilitate Koreans in Japan -- meaning Chosenese, regardless of where in "Korea" their family register was located -- who wished to migrate to "Kita Chōsen" or "North Korea" as DPRK has been called in Japan.
The migration was termed "kikan" (帰還) in Sino-Japanese, meaning essentially "return" but usually in the sense of "repatriation" to one's home country as defined by one's nationality, not place of birth or origin. Though mediated by the Red Cross, the movement of people across Japan's border had to be approved and overseen by the Japanese government, as Japan has the legal right and responsibility to control the departure of aliens and Japanese from Japan.
Although the "repatriation" program was intended for Koreans, non-Koreans were allowed to accompany their Korean family members. Roughly seven percent of the migrants were non-Koreans, mostly Japanese but also a few Chinese.
The agreement was renewed several times through 1967, then again from 1971 and until 1984 or 1985. During these two decades, a total of about 93,340 people -- 81,962 Koreans (87.8 percent), 6,730 Japanese (7.2 percent), and 7 Chinese (0.0075 percent) -- left Japan for DPRK. The Immigration Bureau's 5th periodic report, celebrating the its 30th anniversary, stated of about 6,700 Japanese, an estimated 1,828 (1.96 were "Japanese wives" (Homusho Nyukan 1981, page 129).
The problem of "Japanese wives" became an issue in the Diet. It was also discussed at the 24 May 1974 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the House of Representatives.
At the 1974 council meeting, Kobayashi Shunji, then Chief of the Immigration Inspection Section of the Immigration Bureau, stated that 6,755 Japanese -- including 2,634 males and 4,121 females -- had gone to North Korea, and he estimated that about 2,000 of the woman were "so-called Japanese wives" (いわゆる日本人妻 iwayuru Nihonjin-zuma). See partial transcription of the proceedings of this meeting below. A decade later, Koybayashi was the Bureau Director.
First period (1959-1967)
Japanese Immigration Control Bureau statistics show that a total of 88,611 "returnees" boarded vessels for "North Korea" during the 9-year period 1959-1967. Over 84 percent left in the first three years -- 2,941 on 3 ships toward the end of 1959 -- 49,036 on 48 ships in 1960 -- and 22,801 on 34 ships in 1961. Some 3,497 left on 16 ships in 1961, and an average of about 2,000 left each year thereafter through 1967.
By nationality, the total for the first period, ending in 1967, included 81,962 Chosenese (Chōsenjin), 6,642 Japanese (Nihonjin), and 7 Chinese (Chūgokujin).
Sex and generation
Among the Chosenese, 55.3 percent (45,297) were males and 44.7 percent (36,665) were females. The overall sex ratio was 1.24, but the ratio dropped with generation, from 1.73 for those born before 1920, to 1.12 for those born after 1939.
Most -- 56.3 percent of the total -- were born in or after 1940 and hence were under 30 years of age. Most individuals in this younger age group, and some in the older age groups, had probably been born in the prefectures and had never been to the peninsula. But even the Chosen-born who had migrated to the prefectures when younger would have had little if any memory of life on the peninsula under Japanese rule.
Much less would many, if any, have experienced postwar life on the peninsula, or life north of the 38th parallel either before or after the end of the war. A few may have been on the peninsula when the war ended and returned to domiciles in Occupied Japan. And a few may have briefly gone to the peninsula from Occupied Japan. But the vast majority were people in registers of Chosen provinces south of the 38th parallel.
In fact, alien statistics for "Chosen" registrants in 1959 and 1964, and "Kankoku/Chosen" registrants in 1969, show that 96.9, 97.6, and 98.0 percent of all Koreans residing in Japan were affiliated with family registers in provinces in the Republic of Korea -- which did not, of course, mean that they were ROK nationals.
About 48 percent (21,773) of the Chosenese males were reportedly adults, of which about 40 percent (8,642) were either unemployed or did not complete the employment box. Apparently, then, about half of the Chosenese returnees were minors, and nearly half of the adult males did not report that they were employed.
Issues concerning so-called "Japanese wives" are discussed in the following section. However, data on "Japanese wives" are shown in the tables following this section.
Second period (1971-1985)
The second period of supervised migration from Japan to DPRK, from 1971 to 1984 (or 1985), added only 4,729 to the first-period total. See the following tables for details. The nationality breakdowns in the sources from which I have collected figures, however, are incomplete, hence the tables have some omissions.
|Migration of Koreans and others from Japan to DPRK|
|By year, nationality, sex, and year of birth, 1959-1967, and 1971-1985|
|Compiled and computed from various sources, and designed, by William Wetherall|
|Voyages||Average||Number of migrants ("returnees") per year|
|v||av = r/v||r =k+j+c||k||j (inc w)||(w)||c|
|1959-1967 (1st period)|
|1971-1985 (2nd period)|
|1973||3||235||704||Breakdowns for 1973-1979 by nationality and figures for 1971-1985 Japanese wives not yet obtained. Hence 1971-1985 subtotals, and 1959-1985 totals and percents, for Koreans, Japanese and Japanese wives, and Chinese are only estimates based on this partial data.|
|Voyages||Average||Number of migrants ("returnees") per year|
|Percents of total||100.0||90.3||7.2||(1.96)||0.0075|
|Percent of Japanese wives among Japanese||100.0||27.2|
|Korean "returnees" by year of birth and sex, 1959-1967|
|Japanese by sex, and Japanese wives, 1959 to 21 June 1974|
|m||f (inc w)||m/f||(w)||100 w/f|
|Sources and notes|
|1959-1984 data, Mindan 1997, Table 14 (p 39)|
|1959-1985 data on number of voyages per year from Mindan website (2010).|
|1959-1963 data, Homusho Nyukan 1964, pp 51-55, Table 14 (p 54)|
|1964-1967 data, Homusho Nyukan 1971, pp 94-98, Table 40 (p 96)|
|1968-1970 not shown as program was suspended during these years.|
|1971-1980 data, Homusho Nykan 1981, pp 128-129, Table 2-27 (p 129)|
|1959-1967 Japanese wives data, Ikeda 1974, Table 1 (p 17)|
|(1,799)||1959-1974 Japanese wives data and total, Ikeda 1974, p 16|
|(1,828)||1959-1980 Japanese wives total, Homusho Nykan 1981, p 129|
|1.96||Percent estimated as ratio of 1985 to 1980 totals (6,730 / 1,828)|
|81,962||Computed from Korean male/female figures (Homusho Nyukan 1971, p 96).|
|Totals by year of birth and all percents by sex and year of birth computed.|
|166 / 572||The totals and averages in the table are mine.|
|All agree with published MOJ figures except two.|
|Published averages for 1967 and the Total through 1967 are 165 for 571.|
|Estimates based on partial (incomplete) nationality breakdowns.|
|Korean, Japanese, and Chinese totals are mine based on Mindan 1997 data.|
|Mindan 1997 shows Japanese total as 6,505, but its figures total 6,730.|
|93,340||Mindan says in text that total was 93,339 including "over 1,700 Japanese wives" and "over 6,500 dual national (children of Japanese wives)" but its table shows a total of 93,340 and its agrees with the figures in the table (Mindan 1997, pp38-39). Mindan's website shows a total of 93,339 reflecting its figure of 1,002 rather than 1,003 for 1972.|
|93,340||Takasaki says the total was [about] 93,340 including "about 6,800 Japanese family members" which incuded "about 1,831 Japanese wives" (Takasaki 2004, p 17).|
Data on so-called "Japanese wives" among the Japanese who accompanied some Chosenese to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea between 1959 and 1985 or so are consolidated in the tables at the end of the previous section.
The tally of "Japanese wives" in Japanese government counts is based on civil nationality, not race or ethnicity. Some descriptions of "so-called Japanese wives" attempt to include Chosenese who had once been Interiorites -- i.e., women who had been in a prefectural family register and had migrated to a Chosen register when marrying a Chosen man.
If I Had Wings I Would Fly Like a Bird, an English version of a Japanese publication, qualified the "number of Japanese wives" enumerated in a table of statistics like this (Ikeda 1974, Table 1, page 17, note, see below for particulars).
We selected from the list of repatriates Japanese wives who had Japanese citizenship when they went to North Korea. Japanese wives who had North Korean citizenship because of their marriage are not included in this list.
The note makes three typical errors.
The first error was to characterize state affiliation as "citizenship" rather than nationality. Democratic People's Republic of Korea laws describe those who possess DPRK nationality as "citizens", while Japanese laws refer to those who possess Japan's nationality as "nationals". But the civil status, as a state affiliation, is "nationality". In any event, the Chosenese (Koreans) who "repatriated" to DPRK from Japan did not formally possess DPRK nationality.
The second error -- even assuming that "Chosen" status was equivalent to "North Korean citizenship" -- was to suggest that there were "Japanese wives who had North Korean citizenship because of marriage". Presumably the authors are referring to women who had been in a prefectural (Interior) register when they married a man in a Chosen (Korean) register and migrated to his register. Such migrations occurred when Chosen was part of Japan and Chosenese were Japanese -- under Japan's 1899 Nationality Law and laws that concerned private matters, including marriage and adoption, between individuals in Naichi (prefectural) and Chosen (Korean) registers. Such migrations were possible before the 1950 Nationality Law came into effect. All people in Chosen (Korean) registers lost their their Japanese nationality on 28 April 1952. The note does not mention common-law Japanese wives who, because they were not legally married, were not formally tallied as "Japanese wives".
The third error was to generally characterize the migrants to DPRK as "North Korean repatriates" -- since the annual totals include Chosenese (Korean), Japanese, and Chinese. Even allowing that the Koreans were nationals of Korea (defined as Chosen), and that most were old enough to understand what they were doing, half were born in the prefectures. Some of the Japanese or Chinese may have been born on the peninsula, and may have considered Chosen their home. In any event, the nationality tallies are strictly according to civil status based on family registers -- not place of birth or political orientation, much less race or ethnicity.
Honseki in northern provinces
Japan tallies its registered aliens by nationality and other status attributes. It also tallies "Chinese" and "Korean" aliens by the province in "China" or "Korea" in which they are presumed to be registered.
"China" and "Korea" as English terms to do not define themselves. See "Kankoku/Chosen" and "Chugoku": Recognition politics and alien nationality in Japan" for details.
Suffice it to say, here, that from 1952, until 1965 when Japan recognized the Republic of Korea (ROK), Korean aliens in Japan were classified as Chosenese, meaning affilaites of "Chosen" as a former Japanese territory. Only after 1965, when Japan recognized the Republic of Korea (ROK), did Japan began using "Kankoku/Chosen" to collectively label the "entity" with which which "Koreans" in Japan were affiliated.
The label "Kankoku/Chosen" means (1) the "Republic of Korea" (Kankoku), which controls the provinces south of the 38th parallel, and (2) the "former Japanese entity of Chosen" (Chosen), which includes all of the provinces on the peninsula, both those under ROK's control, and those under the control of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) north of the 38th parallel.
Drop in 1959-1964 Korean population
Alien registration statistics for 1959 and 1964, for aliens affiliated with Chosen (Kankoku does not yet exist in Japan's eyes), clearly show a sharp decrease in the population of registered Koreans (Chosenese) from 607,533 in 1959 to 578,572 in 1964. The 1964 figure also reflects losses and gains during the five-year interval from deaths, births, and changes of nationality. But it reflects especially the supervised "repatriation" from Japan to North Korea (DPRK) that which began at the end of 1959.
Koreans with registers in provinces of in the south (ROK) dropped 23,844 from 588,784 in 1959 to 564,940 in 1964. Those with registers in provinces in the north (DPRK) dropped 2,229 from 10,342 to 8,113 in the same years. Koreans whose province of registration was uncertain or unknown dropped 2,888 from 8,407 to 5,519.
Note that while the numerical drop in Koreans affiliated with southern provinces was about ten times the drop in either of the other two categories, the percentage of Koreans with southern registers rose from 96.9 in 1959 to 97.6 in 1964. In other words, not only were the vast majority of the "returnees" to "North Korea" affiliated with registers in "South Korea" -- but apparently there were disproportionately more such Koreans among the "repatriates".
The percentage of Koreans with registers in southern provinices continued, generally, to increase into at least the mid 1980s. In 1969, 1974, and 1986 some 98.0, 97.8, and 98.7 percent had registers in southern provinces -- compared with 1.21, 1.19, and 0.69 percent in northern provinces -- while the provinces of 0.79, 1.05, and 0.58 percent were uncertain or unknown.
The percent of Koreans in Japan with southern registers peaked in either the 1980s or 1990s (my data at this point is incomplete). But from no later than 2000, the percent with southern registers has fallen every year, from 98.4 percent in 2000 to 98.0 percent in 2009 -- while the ratio with northern registers has also fallen, from 0.54 to 0.47 -- and the ratio of uncertain or unknown has risen from 1.02 to 1.51.
2009 registration data
As of the end of 2009 -- among 578,495 registered Koreans aliens -- 567,073 (98.0 percent) had registers in ROK provinces. Only 2,691 (0.47 percent) -- about one-third the 1964 count -- had registers in provinces within DPRK's jurisdiction. The provinces of registration of 8,731 (1.51 percent), a considerable increase over the 1964 count, were uncertain or unknown.
Ratios of Southern to Northern registers, and indices of Southern and Nothern registers, shed more light on what the percentages mean. The Southern/Northern ratio has increased every year for which I have data, from 57 in 1959 to 211 in 2009. The apparent four-fold increase in this ratio is most closely related to two facts: (1) while the population of Southern province Koreans somewhat increased during the first decades of this 50-year period, it peaked in 1991, and by 2009 it had fallen to its 1959 level, and (2) during the same half-century, the population of Koreans in northern provinces steadily fell four-fold.
The finer dynamics of the above two facts are clearly reflected in the Southern and Northern indices. The Southern province index, taken as 1.00 in 1959, had fallen to 0.96 by 1964, reflecting mostly the effects of "repatriation" to North Korea in 1960 and 1961. The index then rose again, to above 1.00 in 1969, mainly because of natural increase. The index continued to rise, I would guess to 1991 when the population of Koreans in Japan peaked, after which it began to fall again. In the data I have, from 2000, is has fallen every year, breaking below 1.00 in 2005 and reaching 0.96, the 1964 level, in 2009. The movement of this index is most closely related to the fact that the residual postwar population, after some natural growth, began to level off, then peaked and began to decline, and by the early 1990s its rate of decline was faster than the rate of increase of the non-residual populationin postwar migrants mainly from ROK.
The Northern province index, taken as 1.00 in 1959, has decreased in every year for which I have data, to 0.26 in 2009. Unlike the Southern province population, the Northern province population has not increased through postwar migration. Rather it has been depleted, partly by "repatriation" to North Korea, but mostly be migration to Southern province registers, naturalization to Japan, and death.
All of the above north/south provincial figures and percents are my computations from published alien registration reports.