The racialist legacy of a divided "liberation"

By William Wetherall

First posted 5 January 2010
Last updated 15 April 2017

"Liberation" legacies Two populations | Initial determination | Mixture and nativity | Alienation and dual status | Separation from nationality | Recognition politics | Private law | "Zainichi" as a synonym | Problems with "Zainichi" | The pathology of racialization | Terminology

Related article
Zaitokukai and the Japanese roots of Zainichiism: Special Permanent Residents as a caste of descendants of former Japanese

Zainichiism (Zainichi-ism) is the belief that "Zainichi" or "Koreans in Japan" should (1) embrace everyone in Japan with one-drop of "Korean" blood in their veins, (2) take pride in their "Korean" descent, (3) view themselves as victims of Japanese colonialism and racism, (4) place their ethnonational or racioethnic identity above civic nationality, and (5) feel they deserve (if aliens) all civil rights of Japanese nationality without become Japanese, and (whether aliens or Japanese) supra-civil "ethnocultural" rights as "Zainichi".

"Liberation" legacies

The most conspicuous political legacy of Japan's annexation of the Empire of Korea as Chōsen in 1910, a century later as I write this, is the manner in which the Allied Powers "liberated" Korea (Chosen) from Japan in 1945, resulting in the divided governing of the peninsula by the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south and by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north.

The most conspicuous demographic legacies of both the annexation, and the manner in which the Allied Powers attempted to reverse it, are the populations outside the two Koreas of people who are fully or partly desended from the population of Chōsen as part of Japan. The largest such population is in the People's Republic of China (PRC), followed by Japan, then the former Soviet states now part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

None of these three Chosen-legacy populations is simple in its composition. They are similar in that they all began as Japanese populations. They differ most in that, while the Chosen-legacy populations in PRC and CIS are now nationals of these states, Japan's Chosen-legacy population became an alien population.

In PRC, for example, the Chosen-legacy population consists of Chinese who, in addition to their PRC nationality, are regarded as members of the so-called "Korean race" (朝鲜族 Cháoxiăn zu, 朝鮮族 Chosŏn jok, Chōsen zoku) or "Korean minority nationality (ethnonation, race)" within PRC's civil state nationality. Most of these people are descendants of migrants from the Korean peninsula after the annexation in 1910.

However, significant migration into China began before the annexation, and historically there have always been some "Koreans" north and some "Chinese" south of the Yalu river -- a natural territorial divide which has not always been a definitive political border. There are also, of course, aliens in PRC of DPRK or ROK nationality.

Japan's Chosen-legacy population had Japanese nationality during the period of annexation from 1910-1945. Though partly alienated during the Allied Occupation from 1945-1952, it did not lose its Japanese nationality until 1952, when it formally became an alien population.

Japan does not racialize legal status, and hence Koreans in Japan are such because of their actual or presumed state nationality, a purely civil status. And Koreans in Japan formally cease being Koreans the moment they become Japanese, which is also a purely civil status.


Two populations

Though formally Koreans in Japan are Koreans because of their alien status, not all Koreans in Japan are of the same alien nationality. There are three qualities of "Korean nationality" in Japan -- ROK (recognized), Chosen (legacy), and DPRK (unrecognized). Moreover, Koreans within the same nationality status may differ in their status as aliens under laws based on historical considerations.

As of 2010, 400,000 Koreans in Japan had a status of residence, as aliens, tied to the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This population stems from the 600,000 or so Koreans (Chōsenjin, i.e., Chosenese) who were residing in Japan on 28 April 1952, the day the treaty came into effect, when Japan separated all people affiliated with Korea (Chōsen) and Formosa (Taiwan) from its nationality.

The population of all Koreans in Japan peaked at around 690,000 in 1991, when the population of those who qualified as treaty-based Special Permanent Residents (SPRs) was roughly 580,000. The other 110,000 Koreans are ordinary aliens.

Of the roughly 570,000 Koreans in Japan in 2010, only about 400,000 qualified as SPRs, the vast majority of whom are natives of Japan's prefectures. The vast majority of the other 170,000 Koreans are fairly recent migrants from the peninsula.

These figures reflect the fact that there are today two legally different populations of Koreans in Japan. The first population stems from the migration of Chosenese within Japan's sovereign territory -- mostly from the peninsula to the prefectures -- up to and including the day Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers at the end of World War II -- 2 September 1945 -- when "Korea" became a liberated territory and "Koreans" became liberated people. The second population stems from the migration of Koreans after this date to what remained of Japan as an occupied state, and to Japan after the occupation ended on 28 April 1952.

The pre-postwar population consists of several groups representing different times and conditions of migration to or birth in the prefectures, called the Interior (Naichi), when Chōsen was part of Japan. Though demographically complex, the population is legally singularized by treaties and laws related to Japan's acceptance of the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, which included the 1943 Cairo Declaration calling for the liberation of Korea and Koreans.

The postwar population also consists of several sub-groups, which also represent different periods of migration to or birth in "Japan" as territorially redefined by the terms of surrender, without Chōsen (Korea), Taiwan (Formosa), Karafuto, Okinawa, and a few other parts of the former Empire of Japan. All members of this complex cohort share the common legal status of not being "protected" by post-surrender and peace-treaty related laws.

The residual, older, pre-postwar population is now rapidly decreasing, mainly through death, naturalization, and little natural increase through birth. Koreans who have married Japanese, or who have a Japanese parent, are likely to naturalize. The rate of intermarriage is high, and since Japan's Nationality Law became ambilineal from 1985, all children born to Korean and Japanese couples can now be registered by their parents as Japanese at the time of their birth.

The non-residual, newer, postwar population was fairly small until after Japan and the Republic of Korea normalized their relationship in 1965, when ROK began to prosper, and Japan-ROK ties improved to the point that both countries began to welcome greater exchanges in the form of businessmen, students, entertainers, and others. Recent migrants from the Republic of Korea are apt to adapt to life in Japan very quickly, and events in their professional and personal lives compel them to stay.

Obviously, though, recent migration and the natural increase of this population from children born in Japan to Korean couples is not sufficient to offset the decrease in the residual pre-postwar population representing earlier migration to or birth in the prefectures. Hence the net population of all Koreans in Japan continues to fall. Moreover, the rate of growth of the number of non-SPR Koreans registered as residents of Japanese municipalities may be slowing if not leveling off.

The annual 2005-2009 figures reflect both the acceleration of the decline of SPR Koreans and the deceleration in the increase of non-SPR Koreans (my compilation and percents).

Koreans in Japan

Status of residence, 2005-2009, percents

         Total      SPRs    Pct    Others    Pct

2005   598,687   447,805   74.8   150,882   25.2 
2006   598,219   438,974   73.4   159,245   26.6 
2007   593,489   426,207   71.8   167,282   28.2 
2008   589,239   416,309   70.7   172,930   29.3 
2009   578,495   405,571   70.1   172,924   29.9 


Initial determination

What I call the "initial determination" of the residual population -- meaning all aliens in Japan who qualify for the treaty-based Special Permanent Resident (SPR) status -- is defined as those who were in Japan as downsized after its surrender on or before 2 September 1945, and who continued to reside in Japan, and who lost their Japanese nationality on 28 April 1952.

Also qualifying for the treaty-based SPR status are those who were born on or after 3 September 1945 to someone in the initial population, and continued to reside in Japan, and who either lost their Japanese nationality on 28 April 1952 if born before this date, or were born as aliens on or after this date.

For legal purposes, the initial population is counted as the first generation, hence the descendant population consists of the second, third, and subsequent populations. However, many of the initial population were born in the prefectures to people who had migrated from the peninsula to the Interior -- i.e., within Japan, which included Chōsen -- as Japanese of Chosenese territorial status.

Note that continual residence in Japan does not mean physical presence in Japan, but only the maintenance of a legal domicile in Japan. Travel and study outside Japan has been possible so long as one maintains a legal status as a resident of Japan. Aliens, of course, are subject to different residency rules than Japanese nationals.


Mixture and nativity

By 1945, there had been quite a bit of intermarriage between Interiorites and Chosenese, and even adoptions, which resulted in what I call "register migration" -- i.e., migration from an Interior (prefectural) register to a Chosen register, or from a Chosen register to an Interior register. Changes in register status meant changes in territorial affiliation, and territorial affiliation determined whether someone would be treated as "Japanese" or as "non-Japanese" when the Empire of Japan was divided into various occupation zones after World War II.

So the surviving initial population of Koreans in Japan (as of 2 September 1945), much less the descendant population (born in Japan on or after 3 September 1945), is far from being of peninsula origin in either a geographical or biological sense. All but a few of the most elderly among this pre-postwar population in Japan today are, in fact, natives of the prefectures of Japan.

The vast majority of Koreans in the residual pre-postwar cohort -- because of the geographical, social, and familial conditions of their birth, environment, and upraising -- have become linguistically and socially undifferentiable from the mainstream population of Japan without the need to assimlate. For this vast majority of Koreans in Japan, "assimilation" would describe what they would have to do were they to attempt to become "Korean" in any sense other than its legal sense of civil nationality.


Alienation and dual status

The starting point of "Koreans in Japan" as aliens without Japanese nationality is 28 April 1952. Between 2 September 1945 and 28 April 1952, "Koreans in Japan" were actually aliens with Japanese nationality -- meaning that, while formally they were Japanese, they were treated as "liberated peoples" -- hence "non-Japanese" -- under certain directives issued by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), and under some Japanese government ordinances based on SCAP directives.

Chosenese were treated as aliens for so-called "repatriation" as well as for "immigration" and "alien registration" purposes, during the period from 1945-1952 when "Japan" as redefined under the terms of surrender was occupied by the Allied Powers under SCAP's authority. Their affiliation with Chōsen also disqualified them for rights of suffrage in postwar elections, which extended only to people whose registers were reached by the Interior (prefectural) Family Register Law.

Chosenese were to retain their dual status as "non-Japanese" who remained nationals of Japan until their nationality could be determined by treaties between Japan and whatever Korean state was eventually established in Korea (Chōsen). Korea had been occupied in 1945 by the Soviet Union north of the 38th parallel and by the United States south of the 38 parallel. The Allied Powers had declared their intention to liberate Korea and Koreans in the 1943 Cairo Declaration.

The Soviet Union was not a party to the Cairo Declaration, nor was it a party to the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, which embraced the terms of the Cairo Declaration. However, the USSR had secretly agreed to join the Allied Powers in the war against Japan. By the summer of 1945 it had nullified its neutrality pact with Japan, on 8 August it declared war on Japan, the following day it began its invasion of Japanese positions in Manchuria, and a few days later it invaded Karafuto (then a prefecture of Japan) and the Kuriles (then part of Hokkaidō).

By August the Soviet Union and the United States had agreed to divide Korea for surrender and occupation purposes until which time a Korean state could be formed. ROC, as a major Allied Power, would accept Japan's surrender of Taiwan, and occupy Taiwan with the intent of incorporating the territory into its sovereign dominion.


Separation from nationality

People residing in Occupied Japan who were affiliated with registers outside the occupation zone -- meaning registers in Chōsen, Taiwan, Okinawa, and a few other territories -- were provisionally "alienated" as "non-Japanese" -- though formally they remained Japanese nationals until suitable treaties determined their nationality. Among these "non-Japanese" Japanese, Japan formally separated Chosenese and Taiwanese from its nationality from 28 April 1952, the day the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect.

The separation of Chosenese and Taiwanese from Japanese nationality on 28 April 1962 was not a unilateral act on Japan's part. On the same day, Japan and the Republic of China (ROC) concluded a peace treaty recognizing ROC as the government having authority over the nationality of people affiliated with Taiwan registers, including Taiwanese in Japan.

Japan and ROK had been negotiating a treaty under which the two entities would recognize each other and normalize their relationship as states. Unlike Japan and ROC, Japan and ROK were unable to resolve disputes relating to the period of Japanese rule by the time the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect. Japan-ROK discussions of the legal status of Chosenese in Japan, however, were predicated on the assumption that they would be Koreans.

ROK wanted Japan to regard all Chosenese in Japan as ROK nationals, and Japan countered that some Chosenese seemed to want to affiliate with DPRK. ROK and DPRK were then at war, and Chosenese in Japan were divided over their loyalties toward the two Korean states, which claimed the same territory and people.

The rationale for Japan's decision to separate Chosenese from its nationality in 1952 was simple. People affiliated with the Empire of Korea when it joined Japan as Chōsen in 1910 had become Japanese because they came with the territory. In abandoning all claims to the territory, Japan abandoned any and all say in the nationality of its affiliated population, including Chosenese in Japan.

Note that Chosen's population, like the populations of Taiwan and the prefectures, was defined by territorial registers, not by race or ethnicity. That is to say, a person's "honsekichi" or "place of principle affiliation" was a matter only of formal household or family registration.

Until which time Japan could normalize its relationship with one or the other or both of the Korean states, then at war on the peninsula, Chosenese in Japan would be treated as aliens whose honseki (primary domicile registers) were affiliated with municipalities in Chōsen as a legacy entity. Since their honsekichi (honseki localities, addresses) were no longer within Japan's sovereign dominion, they were no longer Japanese.

The "honseki" of an alien in Japan is taken to be the alien's country of nationality. Stateless aliens have no honseki. Chosenese had a honseki and so they were not de jure stateless. But since Chōsen was not a state -- neither the Republic of Korea (ROK) nor the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), but a former Japanese territory which as yet had no successor state in the view of Japanese law -- they were de facto stateless.

The vast majority of Chōsenjin in Japan, who were separated from Japanese nationality in 1952, eventually migrated to ROK nationality, which has been formally recognized by Japan since 1965, when ROK and Japan normalized their relationship. Those who have not migrated to ROK nationality remain Chōsenjin (Chosenese).

Of course there are also, now, many Koreans in Japan who have entered Japan as ROK nationals, and even a few who have entered Japan with DPRK nationality, though Japan does not yet recognize DPRK as a state.


Recognition politics

"Kankokujin" have Republic of Korea (ROK) passports. "Chōsenjin" have a nationality -- that of "Chōsen" -- which refers to the defunct territory of Japan, not to ROK, nor to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Legally, Chōsen has no state -- or, if you will, it has two states, only one of which, ROK, is currently recognized by Japan.

Chōsenjin -- meaning people whose family registers are in the former territory of Chōsen, whether in the south under ROK control and jurisdiction, or in the north under DPRK jurisdication -- are therefore not de jure stateless, but since they are not regarded as nationals of a recognized state, are merely de facto statelss. They are "nationals" as it were of a "nation" (defined by family registers) which has no state.

The former Japanese territory of Chōsen, of course, now has two states. But states only exist in the eyes of other states. And nationality is recognized only as an artifact of the recognition of the state which governs the nationality. Chōsenjin

There was no recognized Korean state at the time Japan abandoned "Chōsen" in the 1945 General Instrument of Surrender. And there was no Korean state in Japan's eyes when its 1945 abandonment of Chōsen was finalized by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, singed on 8 September 1951 and effective from 28 April 1952.

The General Assembly of the United Nations, and the United States and a number of other countries, recognized the Republic of Korea (ROK) as the sole legitimate government on the Korean peninsula shortly after ROK was founded on 15 August 1948. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), founded on 9 September 1948, was recognized by the Soviet Union and a few other states, and by the People's Republic of China (PRC) after its founding in October 1949. The United Nations, which supported ROK against DPRK in the Korean War of 1950-1953, simultaneously admitted ROK and DPRK as state entities in 1991.

Japan recognized ROK as the state having jurisdiction over the former territory of Chōsen in its 1965 normalization treaty with ROK. Until this point, ROK nationality was not formally recognized under Japanese law -- though people affiliated with the former territory of Chōsen were allowed to enter "Kankoku" in the "nationality" or "honseki" boxes on alien registration and other official forms in Japan.

Japan does not yet recognize DPRK, hence does not recognize DPRK passports, which some Chōsenjin and Japanese have obtained through DPRK missions outside Japan. Japan does, however, occassionally admit people from DPRK -- i.e., people who are neither ROK nationals or Chōsenjin -- for cultural and other purposes, and of course these people will have DPRK passports along with the other documents they need for exceptional admission through a port of entry in Japan.

For an overview of problems (including conflicts) in nomenclature in Japanese government statistics on nationality status, see "Kankoku/Chōsen" and "Chūgoku": Recognition politics and alien nationality in Japan in the "Aliens in Japan" (Alien resident laws and stats) feature of this website.


Private law

While recognition politics effect the recognition of nationality under formal status laws, law courts are also guided by considerations other than recognized nationality. When considering which country's laws to apply in a private (civil) matter, a court may use a variety of criteria, such as the locality of one's primary territorial (honseki) affiliation (which is usually linked with nationality), but also domicile or habitual residence, and other measures of "closeness" to a country, including the actual social, economic, and political behavior and/or wishes of the concerned party.

Japan's laws of laws have generally kept apace of the changing standards of international private law, which are intended to resolve conflicts of applicable law. Home country law, generally based on nationality, continues to be the prevailing standard in determining the governing law in civil matters, but increasing domicile and habitual residence are recognized as determinants of applicable law. The criteria are likely to depend on the nature of the civil matter -- whether, for example, it involves adoption, divorce, or inheritance.

Criteria for determinations of governing law generally hinge on whether the concerned party has only one nationality, two or more nationalities, or no nationality, or has a nationality of country with regionally different laws. ROK nationals in Japan, regardless of whether they acquired their ROK nationality in Japan or migrated to Japan as ROK nationals, unambiguously possess ROK nationality. Aliens who have entered Japan with DPRK nationality unambiguously possess DPRK nationality. Even though Japan does not recognize DPRK or its nationality, people with DPRK nationality are not stateless. In fact, they are classified along with ROK nationals in general alien statistics.

The problem is people who are registered in Japan as affiliates of "Chōsen", which is neither ROK nor DPRK. They are potentially either ROK or DPRK nationals, or both ROK and DPRK nationals, or neither ROK nor DPRK nationals. Legal opinion regarding what principles and criteria should be applied to determining applicable law in civil matters concerning Chōsen registrants -- i.e., Chōsenjin -- is scattered. Courts in Japan, while applying a variety of principles and criteria, have generally resolved ambiguities of status in consideration of a party's actual sentiments and behaviors

See Cho Kyongje on "Personal law of Koreans in Japan" for numerous examples.


"Zainichi" as a synonym for "Koreans in Japan"

The above definitions of "Koreans in Japan" involve only civil (registration) status, i.e., nationality. As such, they are entirely without regard to racioethnic identity.

Most definitions of "Koreans in Japan" in journalistic and academic writing today, however, invoke considerations of personal and collective feelings about "belonging" to a "racioethnic" or "ethnonational" population that cannot be described by nationality and other civil statuses. These definitions vary in the extremes to which they racialize "Zainichi", but all share an interest in regarding "Zainichi" as an "ethnic" (ethnoracial, ethnonational) rather than a "civil" (national, nationality) minority.

The term "Zainichi" thus has multiple personalities.

  1. "Zainichi" as a Sino-Japanese term

    "Zainichi" (在日) as a Sino-Japanese term means only "being in Japan" and denotes nothing about nationality, much less racioethnicity. It informally replaces "Zairyū" (在留) in "Zaiū gaikokujin" (在留外国人 Zairyū gaikokujin), the formal expression for "Resident alien" in referrence to an alien who is living (domiciled) in Japan as a registered alien resident of a municipality.

    Note, however, that in the above substitution, "zainichi" is not a synonym for "zairyū" but is reflecting "[Nihon] zairyū" meaning "remaining [residing] in Japan". "Zainichi Nihonjin" (在日日本人) or "Japanese in Japan" is therefore a possible construction.

    Confer, also, "kaigai zairyō hōjin" (海外在留邦人), the formal term for "overseas remaining countrymen" or "Japanese residing overseas" -- meaning Japanese nationals who are not residing in Japan. In this regard, under Japanese law, Japanese also have statuses of residence, and not all Japanese are residents of (domiciled in) Japan.

    "Zainichi gaikokujin" (在日外国人), as registered aliens, are legally affiliated with the ward, city, town, or village in which they are registered, and whence with the prefecture having jurisdiction over the municipality, and whence with Japan as the state which has jurisdiction over the prefecture. As residents of Japan, they have the same status, and are treated the same, as Japanese nationals under all provisions of the Constitution and other laws -- except provisions and laws that condition their application on nationality -- i.e., on being a "national of Japan" or, conversely, on being an "alien" defined as someone who does not possess Japanese nationality.

    Read the above paragraph again without blinking. Keep in mind that (1) "nationality" does not mean "citizenship", (2) Japan has no law of "citizenship", and (3) rights and duties under Japanese laws (elements of citizenship) are conditioned by a number of personal status attributes, including age, gender, mental capacity, criminal record, and in some cases nationality and residence.

  2. "Zainichi" as an abbreviation for all Korean aliens in Japan

    When used as a pronoun for "Koreans in Japan" defined by alien status, "Zainichi" is a reduction of "Zainichi Kankoku/Chōsenjin" (在日韓国・朝鮮人), meaning "Kankokujin and Chōsenjin [residing] in Japan". "Kankokujin" (韓国人) and "Chōsenjin" (朝鮮人) are purely civil alien statuses having nothing to do with racioethnic descent.

    "Kankokujin" are nationals of the Republic of Korea. "Chōsenjin" -- meaning "Chosenese" -- is a legacy status of affiliation with the former territory of "Chōsen", a part of the Empire of Japan from 1910 to 1945 and not formally entirely separated from Japan until 1952.

    Korean nationalists and some others will not like the above statement. But historically it is accurate. And it continues to define the legal conditions of many Koreans in Japan -- again, in terms of alien statuses not related to putative racioethnicity.

    The above statement defines "Chōsen" (Chosen) as a part (subnation) of "Japan" -- and "Chōsenjin" (Chosenese) as a territorial variety (subnationality) of "Japanese" -- from 1910 to 1945. And Chōsenjin in Occupied Japan -- though treated as "non-Japanese" for the purpose of some GHQ/SCAP directives and Japanese laws based on such directives -- formally remained Japanese nationals until 1952.

    That "Chōsen" was part of Japan and "Chōsenjin" were Japanese nationals was recognized by the Allied Powers in their legal settlements with Japan between 1945 and 1952. And all nationality confirmation cases brought before Japanese courts since 1952 have been decided in the light of these legal facts.

    People in Japan who continue to be classified as "Chōsenjin" under legacy laws are sometimes assumed to be affiliates of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). But Japan does not regard them as DPRK affiliates. And in fact they are treated differently than the few bona fide DPRK affiliates who have been permitted to visit or settle in Japan.

    These three categories of "Koreans" -- ROK Kankokujin (the main cohort), legacy Chōsenjin (a rapidly shrinking cohort), and ROK affiliated aliens (a very tiny cohort) -- are generally conflated in statistics on aliens -- though some reports have dramatized vicissitudes in Japan's relationship with DPRK by showing breakdowns on visas issued to DPRK Koreans. Part of the "confusion" of legacy Chōsenjin with DPRK Koreans comes from the fact that some legacy Chōsenjin insist that they are affiliated with DPRK, and part comes from the the fact that DPRK and its people are commonly called "Kita Chōsen" and "Chōsenjin" in Japanese.

  3. "Zainichi" as an abbreviation for legacy status Korean aliens in Japan

    "Zainichi" has been used by some writers to refer only to Koreans in Japan who, as aliens, have been protected by legal statuses tied to postwar settlements. Today this means Korean aliens who qualify as Special Permanent Residents. Note, however, that this status is not defined by alien nationality, and is not synonymous with "Koreans in Japan".

    Korean aliens in Japan, as individuals, have various statuses of residence depending on their personal circumstances. Qualfications for being a Special Permanent Resident are not defined in terms of alien nationality, but only in terms of the ability of an alien to (1) trace one's own residency in Japan, or the residency of a lineal antecedent in Japan, continously back to 2 September 1945, when Japan abandoned Chōsen and Taiwan, and (2) trace one's own loss of Japanese nationality, or a lineal antecedant's loss of Japanese nationality, to 28 April 1952, when Japan regarded affiliates of Chōsen and Taiwan to have separated from its nationality.

    Though SPRs are predominately ROK nationals, the status is held by about fifty (50) different nationalities. The cohort of aliens who qualify for SPR status is rapidly shrinking, hence the anticipation of the "end of Zainichi Koreans" (Tei Taikin, Zainichi Kankokujin no shūen, Tokyo: Bungei Shunjū, 2001).

  4. "Zainichi" as a race box

    "Zainichi" has increasingly been used as a sweeping label for everyone in Japan construed to have a drop of putatively "Korean" blood in their veins owing especially to migrations and mixture following Japan's annexation of Korea as Chōsen in 1910.

    Very few writers problemetize such racialization. Most who raise the question of what constitutes a "Korean in Japan" side with "multiculturalism" -- a global movement strongly influenced by currents in the United States, where "race boxes" -- which historically enabled the legalization of racial discrimination -- have proliferated in the political scramble to empower legally definable "ethnic" or "racial" groups.

    In the United States, terms like "culture" and "heritage" and "people" are increasingly used in lieu of "ethnicity" and "race" to implying biological ancestry as a foundation for "identity" and related "rights". Even an infant adopted into the United States from China, say, is now presumed to have an inherent "heritage" and the right to a "name" and an "identity" expressing the "ethnicity" of this heritage. Accordingly, "culture" is increasingly viewed as a reflection of one's "ethnic heritage" and practically a biological obligation.

    In its most extreme form, the racialization of "Zainichi" views all people in Japan with a drop of "Korean" blood as "Koreans in Japan" -- though the vast majority of such people are Japanese. Some publicists for "racial equality" in Japan have even argued for the inclusion of "race boxes" on national census forms in Japan, which does not racialize either its own nationality or alien nationalities.


Problems with "Zainichi" usage

The use of "Zainichi" as a pronoun for "Koreans in Japan" by any definition is fraught with problems. Most problematic is the tendency of publicists, including some journalists and academics, to racialize "Zainichi" as a victiminzed "ethnic minority" -- a viewpoint which I have called "Zainichiism" or "Zainichi-ism". Accordingly, a "Zainichiist" or "Zainichi-ist" is a person who publicizes "Zainichi" as an "ethnic group" whose members are entitled to sympathy as victims of alleged past or present "Japanese racism".

The English expression "ethnic Korean" in reference to Japan should, on its surface, translate this use of "Zainichi" as a race box. Japan, however, has no race boxes. And Korean aliens in Japan are defined by their nationality, not by their putative racioethnicity, which in any case considerably varies among individuals in Japan who happen to be aliens of Korean nationality. Yet many journalists and academics writing in English conflate people who are Koreans by nationality (a purely civil status) with Japanese and others who are regarded as "Koreans" by some degree of racioethnic ancestry.

There are many reasons, however, why "Zainichi" should not be casually, much less formally, used to refer to "Koreans in Japan" by any definition, but particularly with reference to racioethnic descent.

  1. Exceptionalized victimhood
    1. When "Zainichi" is used as an abbreviation for "Koreans in Japan" however defined, attention is draw away from other people who are "in Japan" for similar historical or personal reasons. In other words, Koreans who happen to be "in Japan" for whatever reason should not be exceptionalized among other people, of whatever nationality, are "in Japan" for comparable reasons.
    2. Some publicists for "Zainichi" tend to dwell on "Koreans in Japan" as an exceptionally victimized population. The linguistic hijacking of "Zainichi" as a pronoun for "Koreans" perceived as victims, fosters the view that "Koreans" are the more particularly victims of "Japanese racism" than others.
  2. Unwarranted victimhood
    1. The use of "Zainichi" to include all Koreans in Japan -- when alleging that Koreans have been victims of Japanese imperialism, militarism, racism and the like -- encourages the idea that all Koreans in Japan deserve special considerations in the form of legal entitlements as historical victims.
    2. The legal issues involving different statuses of Koreans ins in Japan, defined as aliens, are complex enough without conflating all statuses under a single "Korean" label. In any event, a correct understanding of the political and social history of "Koreans in Japan" -- whether as nationals of the Empire of Korea before the annexation of Korea as Chōsen in 1910, whether as Japanese of Chosenese regionality during the period that Chōsen was part of Japan, or whether as as Koreans of one status or another after Japan's surrender to the Allied Powers in 1945, or after 1952, or after 1966, or since 1991, or today -- becomes impossible if all "Koreans in Japan" are singularized under a "Zainichi" umbrella.
    3. The use of 2 September 1945 as a watershed for differentiating the pre-postwar ChÞsen and Taiwan affiliated populations that benefit from treaty-accorded status is, to be sure, somewhat arbitrary. Some earlier Japanese laws took 15 August 1945 as the qualification date. But Japanese laws could just as well have stipulated 28 April 1952 as the qualification date, as this was the date when Chosenese and Taiwanese are considered to have lost their Japanese nationality. Or they could recognize 17 January 1966 as the date from which any Chosenese in Japan as of that day (including those who have not migrated from legacy Chosenese status to ROK nationality) as qualified for recognition as aliens under laws related to the enforcement of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
    4. However, no matter where the line might be drawn, Koreans not on the 1910 side of the line -- on the side of the line closer to Japan's annexation of Korea as Chōsen -- would not qualify as victims of the annexation -- or as victims of the postwar occupation of Japan and the divided occupation of Korea, or of the politics of normalization between Japan and ROK, or of the continuing standoff between ROK and DPRK and the failure of Japan and DPRK to normalize their relationship.
    5. And, no matter where the line might be drawn, Japanese of whatever quantum of putative Korean racioethnic ancestry -- even if 100 percent "Korean" by their own racialist math -- would have no standing on either side of the line -- since, under Japan's raceless laws, they would be only Japanese.
  3. Racialized victimhood
    1. Yet many publicists of "Zainichi" as members of the "Korean diaspora" have been racializing the "Zainichi" population by including everyone they regard as having a drop of "Korean blood" in their veins. Drawing the racioethnic border between "Zainichi" and "Japanese" in this manner comes at the expense if regarding "Japanese" as a standard of racial "purity" while racializing "Koreans in Japan" as a matter of having any quantum of "Korean" blood.
    2. Such one-drop racialization is symptomatic of the "race box" syndrome that makes Barrack Obama a "black president" rather than a "white president" in the eyes of many people who may not be racists but a certainly racialists. The same syndrome is reflected in terms like "haafu" (half), "kuootaa" (quarter), and "hachi-bun-no-ichi" (one-eighth) and the like in reference to the quantum of "alien blood" in the veins of people perceived as being by these measures less than "pure" or "true" or "real" Japanese.


The pathology of racialization

Someone once suggested to me that it was good if Zainichi publicists enlarge the "Korean" box to include even Japanese with "Korean" blood -- since ethnonationalism, and its racialist and racist side effects, seem to be stronger among Koreans than Japanese.

Well, I said, wouldn't it be simplier to agree that "Koreans" are people of one or another Korean nationality, and that "Japanese" are people of Japanese nationality -- regardless of what else they may be? In other words, why not embrace the letter and spirit of the civil laws of ROK, DPRK, and Japan, which reflect the international standard of "nationality" as a measure of affiliation with a state, not a racioethnic entity?

Or, to put it another way, why not leave "race" and "ethnicity" entirely to the private sphere of family and the individual? Doesn't social protocol in a civil society require that people not be racialized in the public sphere? And aren't journalists and academics supposed to uphold the highest standards of civil society?

It always strikes me as somewhat odd how so many publicists for human rights in Japan can claim that Japan is a racist, xenophobic country, while they insist on using "Japanese" and "Korean" and "Chinese" -- and at times even "American" or "Canadian" or "French" or "German" or "Nigerian" -- as racial labels.

The most calls for the racialization of Japan are motivated by American-style "race box" thinking. Not a few researchers lament the lack of American-style race boxes on census forms in Japan, to facilitate tabulations of "Zainichi" and other "ethnic minorities" for the purpose of multiculturalist "research" and "policy".

Not only would such racialization of Japan's population embroil the government and interest organizations in the politics of official labeling and related policy, but such official racialization would subvert the freedom of individuals to be just "Japanese" or "Korean" or "stateless" or whatever based purely on their civil status, without regard to their family or personal histories. Racializing people in Japan would benefit only interest organizations that advocate full or fractional racioethnic descent as a criterion for "belonging" to one or another ideologically defined "group" or "community".

Any adoption of race boxes in Japan would encourage people to squeeze themselves and others into the official race boxes, rather than let individuals freely define for themselves the meaning of their family and personal histories. "Zainichi" as a racialized label amounts to a race box. And race boxes in the public sphere fly in the face of the principles of the dignity of the individual and racial equality.

Japan does not need the social pathologies that race boxes have spawned, and continue to feed, in the the United States. For sure, some people in Japan could use a few lessons on the meaning of Japan's raceless nationality past and present. But why should Japan adopt American-style "multiculturalism", which evolved as a political solution to racial problems that Japan has never had?

Unlike the United States, Japan has not had race boxes, and its laws have not discriminated against people on account of their putative race or ethnicity. Why should Japan, where one can go through life without ever encountering a race box, adopt America's most pathological obsession?



In the above discussion, I am of course regarding "Chōsen" as part of "Japan" during the period that "Korea" was internationally regarded as part of the Empire of Japan. Moreover, I am following international law, as regarded by the Allied Powers during the Occupation of Japan, in recognizing the Japanese nationality of Chosenese from 1910 to 1952 -- which is not to say that, from at least 1948, Chosenese on the Korean peninsula acquired ROK and DPRK nationality.

For an overview of how the statuses of territorial entities and their affiliated populations have changed over the past century, with regard to "Koreans in Japan", see the following article.

"Koreans in Japan": Korea, Japan, and their affiliates as historical variables

More about some of the other terminology used in the above discussion can be found in the "Minorities almanac" section of the "Glossaries" feature of this website.

zairyu gaikokujin, zainichi gaikokujin, rainichi gaikokujin

Koreans in Japan, Chosenese in Japan

Korea and Koreans, Chosen and Chosenese: One Korea, one Chosen, two Koreas

Status of Residence, Special Permanent Residence