Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kong Ryon Sun (Korea)
Project Supervisor of the Earth Festa Kanagawa
2011 & 2012
(Born in Japan)
“We want to know how people from countries far from Japan look at Japan and Tokyo”. That’s the motivation for continuing interviews with people far from here physically and culturally. So we’ve interviewed only a few Asian people. But today we’ll bring you a story of “a foreigner who was born and raised in Japan”.
Her name is Kong Ryon Sun, a third generation Korean woman living in Japan. She worked for a big multi-cultural event called “Earth Festa Kanagawa”, which was held on May 19 & 20, 2012, as a project supervisor. Of course I already knew that there are many Koreans who were born and raised in Japan. But we wondered if we could think of them as “foreigners”, so we hesitated to interview them. However her friendliness made me want to hear her story. So we asked her for an interview.
A “foreigner” who was born and raised in Japan revealed her heavy burden of history… no, she talked about how she decided to tickle with realization a multi-cultural society and stories that tell you how she swung between where she was and her identity quite cheerfully over broiled meat and some alcohol!
What’s a “multi-cultural society”?
Kanagawa Prefecture, where I live in, has concentrated on “creating a multi-cultural society” since quite a long time ago. There are many grass-roots level international exchange organizations including NPOs and some major ethnic groups in Kanagawa.
People who belong to those groups get together under the banner of realization of a multi-cultural society and hold an event. That’s the “Earth Festa Kanagawa“. Events under the theme of the realization of a multi-cultural society are held throughout Japan, but it may be the only event which is held by a prefecture and citizens jointly.
I guess there are few people who are aware of the word “multi-cultural society” or know the meaning of the word. Of course I didn’t know very much about that when I became a project member of the Earth Festa.
Even if you can speak foreign languages like English, you can’t realize a multi-cultural society. Even if foreigners learn Japanese and achieve fluency, that’s not enough yet. Actually foreign children take a while to open out to Japanese people. It’s natural for them to wonder if Japanese people understand foreign kids. I understand them because I used to be like that.
Not just one-way traffic. Thinking what we can do for each other and developing the potential for each other – I think that’s the realization of a multi-cultural society. The important thing to realize it is to learn about others and think in greater depth as far as “do we really want to live together?” “What is ‘living with people who have different backgrounds?'”.
I believed I was Japanese
I think I need to share my history with you in order to tell you how I got involved in these multi-cultural activities, so let me tell you a little about myself.
I’m a Korean resident in Japan, a 3rd generation one. But a precise description may be necessary in order not to cause misunderstanding. “Korean resident in Japan” (Zainichi-Chosen-jin) doesn’t mean “People who have roots in North Korea”. People who have N.Korean or DPRK nationality have never existed in Japan.
I’m a Korean but it means “my ancestors are from the Korean Peninsula”. I’m not a South Korean, I’m not a North Korean – which means “No nationality”. Japan lacks diplomatic relations with N. Korea so there’s no one who has a “N. Korean nationality”. Above all, my legal domicile is present-day S. Korea. However I didn’t gain S. Korean nationality.
I was born in Iwate Prefecture, part of the Tohoku area, and I was raised in Ota-ku, Tokyo. My parents didn’t tell me about Korea and my grandparents passed away before I began to understand things. So I had an ethnic consciousness after attending a Korean school. Before that, I seriously believed that I was Japanese. I was attending a local public elementary school until I was 9. And I was using a Japanese name at that time.
The day I became conscious of my identity
On a day I was going to have the fourth grade opening of school ceremony the next day, my parents told me, “Follow this guy” and I went to a place with my younger brother – that was a Korean school. During a ride to the school, a guy told us that we had to attend that school because we were Korean. I was shocked. I wondered why that guy – not my parents – told me the fact. But actually I thought that very likely we were not pure Japanese because we used words that are different from Japanese ones sometimes.
As soon as I entered the Korean school, my former elementary school friends turned their backs on me. Before that, I enjoyed playing with my neighbor kids. However one day, they ignored me even though I said hi to them. Someone cursed me saying something like “Fxxin’ Korean!” from a distance. I turned to him and he ran away. He was a kid whom I’d never talked to, though.
Perhaps, they felt betrayed. If I told them the truth, they would not have negative reactions that much. But I confessed suddenly. Now I think it could be natural for them to get shocked and displayed to me as an outburst their shocks.
But I felt like I was left out and looking at a place alone where I played with my neighbor friends. Myself before yesterday and myself today are exactly the same. I couldn’t help wondering why I was not with my friends.
I became conscious of my identity for the first time because of the changes in their attitudes toward myself.
A very kind Japanese teacher
I was dragged out of the place where I used to be and got tossed into a different world. But I got used to it and it became my everyday place. An ethnic school has a minority group and they care about one another; they encourage each other there. So I became comfortable with its environment.
I talked to my classmates in Korean at school. Classes were conducted in Korean and teachers taught children the language at their school which corresponded to Japanese elementary schools. Moreover, teachers showed us how many Japanese words we said at school at the end of a day. So I mastered the Korean language very fast. I was kind of bookish so I hated that I didn’t understand lessons. However I didn’t understand what teachers said at first. It was the same circumstances as ones of foreign children at school in Japan.
As I told you before, I was teased by my friends as soon as I entered a Korean school. But my former teacher worried about me and met me some times. She was concerned about my relationships with others and how I studied. When I turned around in class, I saw her. When I happened to glance over to the side, I saw her and she watched me like a mother hawk. I used to think that Japanese were my enemies, but she defused my hot temper.
I guess she told my former friends about my situation. Some of them came to me and apologized. I became friends with them again and we exchanged letters even after I moved.
“Build up a circle of supporters”
I‘m a member of a parent’s association of a Korean school. It’s difficult for schools to receive a grant funding so we earned money by holding bazaars or selling kimchi and paid sales to school. That used to be our big thing until recently. One year, the subsidies from the city to the school were eliminated. City officials told us that the subsidies to schools including Japanese local ones were planned to be cut 25%. We went to the city office in order to reverse the situation.
A city officer said, “Even if you ask me not to cut subsidies for your school, I cannot do anything. Instead, How about changing your approach? It would be better for you to work on obtaining consent from neighborhoods instead of throwing yourself against a big wall”, which means that he suggested we build a circle of understanding from Japanese supporters. I’d never thought like that.
I only thought like “a meal which you eat today is more important than one which you will eat tomorrow”. But thanks to his advice, I started to think, “It will be more important to save tomorrow’s meal or meals you can eat forever for our children”.
My motto is: “A person who has an idea should try it first”. So I can think I do it even if nobody helps me. If I make a mistake during the process, I look for causes and fix the problems. If I don’t start to do anything, nothing will be produced.
Korean school shouldn’t be isolated from neighbors. Schools have to fit in well with the surrounding community… Then we asked newspaper shops to include flyers of our events with other leaflets in order to invite people to participate. We invited block leaders to our events. Those were activities to gamer their understandings of us that were started around 1999.
That was my first step toward creating a multi-cultural society, I guess.
Who builds a wall around our feeling?
However we, members of a parents association, marched to a different drummer at first. Still hate-crimes against us occur and some of us think it’s impossible for us to integrate with Japanese.
It’s not that easy to interact with Japanese or understand each other. Even if we say, “Japanese and foreigners including Korean residents in Japan, let’s open out to each other”, it’s difficult because everybody doesn’t want to be caught with one’s trousers down. Also we sometimes don’t want to be involved in others’ things. Everyone has a sanctuary. There is a river between Japanese and foreign citizens. People don’t believe only what they see but what they hear or they feel. Even though those are invisible and nobody is sure that those are true, those can dominate people’s minds. And the same applies to us foreign citizens. We tend to think that many Japanese speak ill of us. But it’s only a perceived notion.
Even I, who works for the Earth Festa as a project supervisor, couldn’t open out to a few Japanese before I got involved in the project. But to be honest, it’s also true that I really wanted people to know about myself or understand myself.
I got stressed to have such a contradictory feeling at that time, but one day I met Japanese who could understand us. I was invited to be a volunteer member of the “Earth Festa”.
Barriers swept away
She asked me to help a chima jeogori try-on event. She is Japanese but she worried about the current situation of Korean schools. Every time I saw her, she listened to me. It was amazing for me to know a person who could listen to me without prejudice. So I could unburden myself to her. She asked me to join the Earth Festa and I became a member of its planning committee in 2009.
I met a Japanese who became an approved friend for the first time. Also I could be friends with Japanese staff without any barrier. Moreover I realized that we had built a wall as well as Japanese.
A trigger of participating to create a multi-cultural society seriously was such a reality incident of a personal nature.
This is it?
It’s very difficult for us to say, “OK, here’s an ideal multi-cultural society”. But our project team can be close to it.
It consists of people from various countries and we don’t only talk to each other. In discussion, only people who can say out loud or clever speakers open their mouths. On the other hand, we work together toward a goal. In the process of creating something together, we understand each other. We think a great deal of it. I love that aspect of our team. I felt that every team member encouraged me like “You can express yourself freely!”
Someday we shall unite
And I accepted the name of “Zainichi-Korean” (*South Koreans in Japan are called “Zainichi-Kankoku-jin”, People in Japan from the Korean Peninsula who didn’t gain S. Korean nationality are called “Zainichi-Chosen-jin” But recently some people use the word “Zainichi-Korean” referring to both) after joining in the Earth Festa.
I didn’t like this word because I felt it would make my identity indistinct. I dare to identify myself as “Chosen-jin” (Insulting Japanese word referring to Koreans) to fight against prejudice. To me, “Chosen-jin” used to be a word to strut my identity and place.
My homeland and people were devised by superpowers. The language is called differently like South Korean and North Korean depends on the area. Recently there are words “North/South Korean language” “North/South Korean people” but I still feel something is wrong. I feel tempted to explain that we speak the same language and we are the same race. In that sense, “Zainichi-Korean” doesn’t need any explanation. I don’t want to feel sadness of division of the peninsula here in Japan.
I’ve not changed my nationality yet because I feel I would be doing violence to my history and my family’s history under a situation where Japan entombs our history. I wanted to bottle up the then-Korean Peninsula at the time when grandfather immigrated to Japan across the bay in my nationality notation.
If North and South Korea would be united, I would change my nationality. I would gain the nationality of the united Korea. I really hope that comes true as soon as possible.
What is Japan to you?
(Thought for a while) … Home stadium.
For example, baseball fans get excited when the home team player comes to bat. I love that excitement. Players and fans identify to win a game at home.
My families and friends who support me are all here in Japan. I feel relaxed here, I feel secure here and I’m really able to keep going on because of them. I can feel I’m not lonely and I can conquer any difficulties. Japan is exactly my home stadium.
Every time I come back from another country, where I feel safest is Japan. I can say Japan is “home”, but now I don’t. I’ll say that maybe someday.
Earth Festa Kanagawa 2012 (May 19 – 20 @ Earth Plaza) : http://www.earthplaza.jp/earthfesta/