North Korea

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

The increasing threats from North Korea have us watching that nation very carefully.  In Japan, Koreans are the second largest ethnic group residing in the country. However, did you know that there is a sizable community of Koreans who are pro-North Korean living in Japan?  This community (Chongryon) of approximately 150,000 people live in Japan, having decided not to return to North Korea in the 1950's and 1960's, when the North opened its doors and requested that its former residents return.  

Today, the Chongryun operates between 60 and 140 ethnic Korean schools across Japan that were started with money from North Korea, although many are closing or about to close.  These schools run from kindergarten through University and carry pictures of the North Korean leader in each classroom.  The North sends these schools textbooks and curriculum to teach.  In addition, until recently, North Korea operated a ferry between Japan and North Korea to carry people and supplies donated to North Korea.  Some believe that many of the parts used by North Korea to build its missiles were carried to North Korea on this vessel. 

The Chongryon have, perhaps unsurprisingly, been the target of criticism in Japan.  Some hold them partially responsible for North Korea's numerous abductions of Japanese citizens from Japan during the 1970's and early 1980's.   While they account for about 1/4 of the Korean people living in Japan, it is not clear how many of them would choose loyalty to North Korea if not for their fear of reprisal against family still residing in the North.  However, this community still plays an important role in Japanese society, by some estimates operating between 30-80% of the pachinko parlors in Japan.  In 2005, the Chongryon community sent over $120 million back to North Korea.  

The future is unsure for this diminishing community.  The North no longer provides financial support and the ferry has stopped.  Instead, younger members defy the rule against naturalization and about 10,000 people a year have sought Japanese naturalization.  The Chongryun banks suffered greatly in the recent financial crisis and some had to seek help from the Japanese government to survive.