North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology, and Identity

North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology, and Identity

North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology, and Identity

North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology, and Identity


"Astute observations & insightful comments.... Required reading for all students of contemporary Japan.... An indispensable contribution to Japanese studies, because it is an exemplary work of social anthropology." Monumenta Nipponica


In the midst of the boom and bustle of contemporary Northeast Asia lies North Korea, its mask of monolithicity rarely lifted. A state that proclaims a unique polity centered on the cult of the leader and his family, it has teetered ever closer to the brink of economic collapse since the end of the Cold War.

Separated only by a narrow sea, North Korea and Japan differ in fundamental respects. Japan is of course an economic superpower. Japan's largest foreign community, however, is Korean: the descendants of immigrants who tried to escape dire economic conditions during the long period of Japanese colonial domination of the Korean peninsula (1910-1945) or were pressed into Japanese military service or semiforced labor battalions during World War II. Despite the enormous contrasts between the two states and societies, ever since the division of Korea in 1945 and the foundation of separate North and South regimes in 1948, a large proportion of the Korean community in Japan has chosen to support North rather than South Korea. Yet few have any family connections there, most have little intention of visiting it, and virtually none would ever think of "returning" to what they claim as their "homeland." Against considerable pressures either to assimilate by becoming Japanese or to adopt citizenship of the South Korean state, which has enjoyed diplomatic recognition from Japan since 1965, several hundred thousand people have opted to retain their North Korean identity and to support a nationwide system of Korean-language schools and banking and credit institutions. In declaring publicly their commitment to the most closed of regimes and isolated of states, they remain in effect stateless. This ability of Kim Il Sung's North Korea to retain the loyalty of so many overseas Koreans in Japan over half a century has long puzzled analysts.

This book is a study of people who live simultaneously in two worlds, in many respects fully integrated into Japanese society and indistinguishable from their Japanese neighbors but at the same time declaring themselves proud supporters of a state about which they know little--a truly "imagined community." Sonia Ryang helps to explain how and why the North Korean community in Japan, a microcosm of a highly controlled society, continues to exist in the midst of postmodern, consumerist, and cynical Japan. She does so by focusing on the processes of political socialization and reproduction of core values in the construction of identity. She explores the ways in which the members of this community perceive themselves and, by complex code-switching linguistic practices, shift with what seems to be remarkable ease between identities according to social context.

It is not that accounts of the closed world of Chongryun (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, the organization that is the subject of this . . .

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