Jeong Dabin Melania(Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity) “Gwa-se Annyeong-hashimnikka?” is an unfamiliar greeting, right? Gwa-se [과세/過歲] refers to resting during the lunar new year holiday, and this phrase is a way to greet people during the holiday season. In South Korea we usually use an expression that means, “Have a blessed new year,” but elders say that it is not an appropriate greeting to exchange with people who are younger or in lower positions. “Gwa-se Annyeong-hashimnikka?” is in the “Our language, our culture” dictionary, but I first heard it in Shimonoseki, Japan. There is a town there with many Jaeil Joseonin and a Joseon School which many Koreans to attend. * Jaeil Joseonin [often translated as Zainichi Korean or Koreans in Japan]: In the early 20th century, Japan forcibly occupied Joseon (the kingdom which comprised what is now South and North Korea) and many Koreans came to live in Japan. Many of them were unable to return to Korea after the end of WWII; unable to join South Korea or North Korea, they remain as Joseon-Koreans in Japan. ▲ Korean Alphabet Ⓒbookpot.net Having lived in South Korea for the thirty years since I was born, I think that my experience in Japan of leaning the new year’s greeting “Gwa-se Annyeong-hashimnikka?” can be a symbol to represent many facts about the Jaeil Joseonin Koreans in Japan. Passed down for many years by our fellow Koreans in Japan, our beautiful language and our affectionate culture are still alive and breathing there, including many things that we have lost, or are losing: a community where people care lovingly for one another, a school where teachers are mentors and students are disciples, our old language which was gradually lost as Korea became divided, industrialized and globalized. ▲ Joseon School (Sapporo, Japan, 2020.2.) Many Koreans have visited Joseon Schools and said, “There is something there which we have lost.” What is that something? To me, that something is an essence that was held by our land and our people. Jaeil Joseonin and Joseon Schools I think the words ‘Jaeil Joseonin’ will be unfamiliar to some people, and a bit uncomfortable for others. Even I have been asked several times why I don’t say ‘Jaeil Hangookin’ [using the word which South Koreans call Korean]. However, the answer is self-evident that Jaeil Joseonin are neither South Koreans nor North Koreans. ▲ The main characters wearing Joseon school uniforms, from the movie “Break Through!” which portrays the lives of Koreans in Japan. During the Japanese occupation, large numbers of Koreans were taken to Japan, and for various reasons they had to remain in Japan after independence. Despite the joy of their homeland’s independence, those who could not return had to watch the painful division and war from another country. Furthermore, in recognition of Korea’s independence in the April 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, the Japanese government stripped Japanese citizenship from the Koreans living in Japan. Thus, they were not Japanese, and neither were they South Koreans nor North Koreans. That’s because the country that they left behind was not South or North, but one country that was called Joseon. Many Jaeil Joseonin did not get South Korean or Japanese citizenship, but rather they retained a temporary status of Joseon nationality. With Joseon nationality, they received special residency classification, but in reality it is no different from being stateless. ▲ Joseon School (Sapporo, Japan, 2020.2.) Unable to choose assimilation into Japanese society or to choose a side in their divided homeland, Jaeil Joseonin have experienced discrimination by Japanese society. If those who experienced the turbulent era of Japanese occupation, Korean independence, and division are the first generation, then those who currently form the active core of the Jaeil Joseonin community are the third or fourth generation, and their children are the fifth generation. Like this, the unique ethnic community continued from generation to generation without getting absorbed into the foreign country where they lived. Cases like this are rare in world history. It was possible thanks to the Joseon schools. The Joseon schools started as language training schools and have continued for over 70 years as a place where large numbers of Jaeil Joseonin have learned and grown up. From kindergarten to university, the Joseon schools cover each stage of education, and children learn Korean language and culture, and how to maintain their identity while living in Japanese society. The fourth and fifth generation consider the Joseon school to be their hometown. That’s because it is where they learn to be themselves, the place where they have memories and friends, the place that they miss and remember fondly. Though many think of the Joseon schools as rigid and closed places, even though I only visited briefly, I saw and felt the Joseon school to be a supportive, safe and warm space for children to grow up and be themselves. With three classmates at most per grade, the children are like siblings, growing up surrounded by the warm concern of the community members. I could feel the love and respect received by the children from the bright confidence they expressed even though they were shy. ▲ Children from the Joseon school in Hokkaido in the documentary “Our School” which portrays daily life at a Joseon school New world, new lessons The first time that I met Jaeil Joseonin Koreans was when I went to a Jesuit education center for workers in Shimonoseki as a journalist for a Catholic newspaper. Shimonoseki is close enough to Korea that there is a regular passenger boat from Busan, and it was the place where many first generation Jaeil Joseonin first arrived by boat in Japan. Even today, the community of Jaeil Joseonin and the Joseon school in Shimonoseki have strong roots in the local society. In the face of discrimination against Jaeil Joseonin in Japanese society, the workers’ education center tries to take the role of a bridge between Koreans in Japan, Japanese society, and Korea. I first visited a Joseon school in order to write about the activities of the workers’ education center, and the impression that I had was like déjà vu; it was a new experience for me, but it stirred my memory clearly like I was returning to my hometown. After that I started to work at the Jesuit Research Center for Advocacy and Solidarity, which is a hub for solidarity between the Jesuit order in Korea and Japan, and I frequently visited the Joseon school in Shimonoseki, and had many chances for exchange with Koreans in Japan. I also planned and accompanied a program for students at Sogang University to spend time with Joseon school children. The Shimonoseki Labor Education Center protests every month against the exclusion of Chosun schools from the high school free tuition policy. Ⓒ Shimonoseki Labour Education Centre It happened by chance that I could start to meet and get to know Jaeil Joseonin, but I am thankful for this special chance that introduced me to a new world. Especially, this meeting was a chance to think again and reflect deeply on the meaning of ethnicity, reconciliation, reunification, peace and human dignity. It was a time to realize how words that sometimes seem to express a single concept can hold so much significance within a real lived experience, how these words can sometimes hold pain and sometimes hold hope. I must be careful not to generalize too much about the impressions that I received over the course of several visits, especially because it concerns people who have so often faced misunderstanding and discrimination. Therefore, I hope through this writing not to express any special wisdom or judgement about Jaeil Joseonin, but to reflect on what I have learned though my experience of meeting them. I hope that through reading what I write about ‘the Jaeil Joseonin Who I Met’ over the last few years, you can also reflect on new questions and concerns.