Passing names

Koreans and Chinese in Japan, 1959

By William Wetherall

First posted 28 March 2006
Last updated 28 March 2006

The following table shows data from an unusual report of alias registration on the part of all Koreans and Chinese registered as aliens in Japan as of 1 April of 1959.

The 1959 data show that about one-third (32.4 percent) of all Koreans had registered a "Japanese" (Yamatoesque) family name, while only about five percent (5.2 percent) of Chinese had registered such a name.

Of particular interest are the cases of multiple aliases, which include a few instances of both a Japanese and a Korean alias.

Chinese / Korean divide

One major difference in the Chinese and Korean populations are their experiences assimilation policies when Taiwan and Korea were parts of Japan.

While all Koreans in the 1959 data were Japanese nationals until 1945, or were born to such Koreans after 1945, only about half of the Chinese population was Taiwan related. While Chinese who had come to Japan from mainland provinces may have been subjected to the usual temptations to assimilate, they were never subjected to treatment as Japanese nationals, which implied that they would be educated in Japanese and conform to Japanese standards of family law and name conventions.

There is some opinion to the effect that Koreans were treated more harshly than Taiwanese, hence may have become more motivated to hide their Korean status behind Yamato-style names. However, Koreans are not known to be shy about expressing "pride in race" -- and are arguably more "racialist" than Japanese.

Kaneda Masaichi and Harimoto Isao

Some people also argue that foreigners who naturalize with a Yamatoesque name, or adopt such a name while remaining non-Japanese, subvert whatever ethnicity is associated with their alien status. However, name assimilation does not exclude the expression of personal pride in ancestry.

Witness retired baseball stars like Kaneda Masaichi and Harimoto Isao. Kaneda is Japanese, but he was once a Korean named Kim. He has never been shy about his ancestry.

Harimoto Isao is an ROK national whose Korean register name is Chang Hun. Like Kaneda, though, he was born in Japan as a Japanese national with a family register in Chosen. He and his family lost their Japanese nationality de facto in 1945, and de jure in 1952, and later became nationals of ROK, which did not exist until 1948.

In the 1970s, Harimoto refused to naturalize to allow his team to acquire another foreign player, under the foreign player quote at the time. An ROK organization then named his mother "Mother of the Year" in recognition of her achievement in having raised an "ethnic hero" who stuck with his nationality.

Though Harimoto rarely uses his Korean register name in public, he would be the first to admit that he was an ROK national -- if he thought it was any of your fucking business.

Oh Sadaharu

On the Chinese side are public heroes like Oh Sadaharu, whose ROC register name is Wang Chen-chih (Wang Zhenzhi). Like Harimoto, Oh began life in Japan in 1940. But unlike Harimoto, who was born into Japanese nationality, Oh was born into ROC nationality. Oh's father had migrated to Japan from Chekiang (Zhejiang), when this province was part of ROC.

Taiwan did not become part of ROC until 1945. Hence Chinese families in Japan, including the Oh family, were never subjected to the sort of assimilation policies that applied to Japanese affiliated with Taiwan, Karafuto, or Korea.

In any event, it appears that whether a Korean or Chinese adopts a passing name as an alien, or takes a Yamato-style name when becoming Japanese, is a personal and familial choice that should not be imputed to overbearing levels of discrimination in Japan. The most important factor is the psychology and thinking of the individual and family -- in particular, whether one acquires the will to accept the risk of discrimination as part of being who one wants to be, and learns how to deal with discrimination if and when it occurs.

Aliens with registered aliases in Japan, 1959
Koreans and Chinese by kind of alias
Design, computations, and annotations by William Wetherall, March 2006
Koreans Chinese
Number Percent Number Percent
No alias 406,484 66.9 No alias 42,279 94.8
1Japanese alias 196,675 32.4
2+ Japanese alias 280 0.05
1 Korean alias 3,850 0.63
2+ Korean alias 51 0.01
Jpn & Krn alias 193 0.03
1+ Japanese alias 196,969 32.4 Alias 2,320 5.2
Total 607,533 100.0 Total 44,599 100.0
Notes Figures are counts of aliens registered as of 1 April 1959.
Aliases = tsushomei [passing name].Aliases are not among the particulars to be registered in accordance with Article 4 of the 1952 Alien Registration Law.However, the alien registration record provides space for recording an alternative name the alien may wish to use in daily life.This name will also appear on the alien registration booklet/card the alien bears for identification purposes.The bearer is legally allowed to use the alias in lieu of one's passport name in virtually all matters related to daily life, including national health and pension, driver's license, banking, real estate, and other matters.
In the present tabulation, aliases were classified according to the style of the family name.Hence an alias consisting of a Korean family name and a Japanese personal name was treated as Korean, and an alias consisting of a Japanese family name and a Korean personal name was treated as Japanese.
Source Homusho, Daijin Kanbo, Shiho Hosei Chosa Bu
Homusho, Nyukoku Kanri Kyoku
Zairyu gaikokujin tokei
Tokyo: Homusho (Sugitaya Insatsu), 1960
90 pages, softcover
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