Koreans in Japan (Zainichi Koreans)

Many Koreans moved to Japan during the period where Japan had annexed Korea as a colony. At the end of WW2, Japan was stripped of its colonies and yanked Japanese citizenship from the people born in those colonies – even those living in Japan. Because of the partition of Korea, this meant that Koreans in Japan had to choose which country they wanted citizenship of – North Korea or South Korea.

The term Zainichi Korean refers specifically to those Koreans who came to Japan in the pre-WW2 era. Since the 1980s, there have also been some South Koreans who’ve immigrated to Japan, but they are considered a separate group.

There are approximately 855,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan, of which about 610,000 do not have Japanese citizenship (only permanent residency). As Koreans in Japan have continued to face oppression and marginalisation, two rival organisations – affiliated to the two rival Korean governments – have sprung up to offer social services and even schooling. These are:

  • Chongryon: affiliated to North Korea, with 25% of non-citizen Koreans being members
  • Mindan: affiliated to South Korea, with 65% of non-citizen Koreans being members

The YA novel Go was in large part about the continued marginalisation of Zainichi Koreans.