Academic journal article North Korean Review

On Bringing Japan's Pachinko Gaming Industry into the Debate on North Korea

Academic journal article North Korean Review

On Bringing Japan's Pachinko Gaming Industry into the Debate on North Korea

Article excerpt

Introduction

As Seoul and Washington moved towards détente vis-à-vis Pyongyang following the nuclear crisis of the mid-1990s, Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held a summit in Pyongyang in September 2002, during which a surprising revelation came to light regarding the fate of a number of missing Japanese citizens that were long believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents. As necessitated by the agreements reached during summit negotiations and outlined in the Pyongyang Declaration, Kim Jong Il acknowledged and apologized for the kidnappings of Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 1980s, which were carried out by the North Korean military to learn the Japanese language and assume the identities of the abductees.1 However, the admission did not improve relations between the two countries. On the contrary, normalization talks came to a screeching halt when the Japanese public became enraged following the news of North Korea's official confirmation, as most considered the abductions as an infringement on Japan's national sovereignty. This issue now plays a central role in Japan's policy-making with regard to North Korea, prompting Tokyo to take tough measures against Japan's pro-Pyongyang Korean community and to freeze diplomatic normalization talks until the abduction cases are satisfactorily resolved.

The sensation over the abduction issue formed not only a rift in Japan-North Korea relations but it also caused an atmosphere of distrust for the ethnic Korean communities in Japan. Japan's over 600,000 ethnic Korean permanent residents have experienced widespread discrimination and racism for decades in Japanese society. As a result, they created a vast network of businesses and community support organizations to protect their interests.2 The majority of the country's ethnic Koreans are members of either the Korean Residents' Union (KRU, or Mindan in Japanese) or the General Association of Korean Residents (GAKR, or Chosen Soren), depending on their citizenship status in either South Korea or North Korea, respectively. While members of either organization face legal barriers and persistent maltreatment in their day-to-day lives, the brunt of the criticism from the Japanese since 2002 has primarily been aimed at the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents and its 50,000 members. This increasingly aggressive trend is seen in harsh media coverage, physical and verbal attacks, and damaging governmental policies that single out the GAKR and its members.

The General Association of Korean Residents is a support organization for ethnic Koreans that provides access to ethnic-education-based private schools, as well as financial institutions, job placement programs, cultural centers and other services. It serves as an umbrella organization that facilitates and coordinates services offered by member organizations and businesses among the pro-North community, and brokers contact among Japan's ethnic Koreans and their business associates and relatives in North Korea. Perhaps its most prominent role is acting as North Korea's de facto embassy in Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang. The GAKR's central committee is directly overseen by the General Association Section of the United Front Department of North Korea's Korean Workers' Party3, and the organization's chairman and four other officials are members of Pyongyang's Supreme People's Assembly.4 For decades the GAKR maintained contacts in Japan's political parties that had business interests or wanted access to officials in Pyongyang; but since the abduction issue is now a driving force in Japanese politics, its backing has largely evaporated and its public image has been severely tarnished.

Yet while lawmakers in Tokyo attempt to shake the organization's educational, political and business institutions in the backdrop of the public's contempt for North Korea over the abductions and other foreign policy concerns, pachinko gaming parlors (a Japanese-style pinball game that is played for cash and prizes), both those owned by the GAKR's members and the organization itself, remain largely untouched. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.