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  • Writer's pictureViolet Needham

Korean Identity Under The Imperial Japanese Regime

Natsumi Tsuchiya, Zacheryn Nagy, Violet Needham


In 1939, Korean-born and Japanese-raised author Kim Sa-Ryang wrote “Into the Light” which depicts the lives of Koreans in Japan in the late 1930s. It primarily follows a Korean teacher by the name Nam with the Korean pronunciation or Minami with Japanese pronunciation. He is a teacher in a local co-op in Tokyo. One of Mr. Minami’s students is a Japanese-Korean boy by the name of Yamada Haruo. Haruo refuses to accept the fact that he is part Korean due to the bullying he received from the other students. Soon he withdraws himself from the other students, but is attracted to Mr. Minami because he suspects him to also be Korean (a suspicion later confirmed when he overhears Mr. Minami speaking Korean with Yi [18]). Mr. Minami and Haruo quickly began to develop a relationship with one another and became friends. The more that Minami learns of Yamada’s family, the more Minami begins to feel sorry for Haruo. Haruo’s mother eventually was hospitalized due to her abusive husband, Hanbei who is half Korean and refuses to accept the fact that he is Korean. The story soon after comes to a close with Mr. Minami and Haruo having fun throughout the city.

Mainland Japanese of this time looked down on Koreans. Koreans had countless extra hoops to jump through when it comes to finding jobs and obtaining government papers in Japan. They were persecuted solely because of their ethnicity. What is strangest about this is that in the past, Korea was the medium through which Japan interacted with most of Eastern Asia. This goes all the way back to the 8th century when Japan first begins emulating China. Then for centuries, Korea was the stage for Japan’s communication with Asia. Korea was never hostile toward Japan before the 20th century; nevertheless, the Japanese began treating Koreans poorly without provocation.

Sa-Ryang’s “Into the Light” is an example of the ways Koreans were oppressed by Japan in the 1930s and ‘40s. The Assimilationist policies imposed on Korea and on Koreans in mainland Japan not only led to discrimination against Koreans on the part of Japanese civilians, but also conflict amongst Koreans themselves. Those who could opt to conceal their Korean identities (for example, Nam, who could go by the Japanese “Minami” instead to get along better with the children [16]) thus set up a barrier between them and those who - out of personal choice or necessity - maintained their Korean identities, like Yi [17]. Consequently, the Assimilationist policies were thus also enforced by Koreans against other Koreans out of fear and shame, as in the case of Haruo accosting Nam on several occasions for being Korean despite having Korean blood himself [18-19].




SOURCES CITED

Kim Sa-ryang and Melissa Wender, trans. “Into the Light” [1939].” In Into the Light: An Anthology of Literature by Koreans in Japan, 13-38. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011. 13-38.



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Molly Cooke
Molly Cooke
Dec 04, 2021

As a Korean studies major I have studied a lot about the Korean experience under Japanese rule, but most of it was focused in Mainland Korea. It is interesting to see the experience of Koreans trying to "blend-in" enough to be perceived as Japanese to avoid the stigma associated with it. Great job!

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Michael Buyse
Michael Buyse
Dec 03, 2021

I think you did a great job with your post! I believe your description of Japan's relationship with Korea to describe its place in the world was done very well.

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hsheldo
hsheldo
Dec 03, 2021

I really enjoyed reading your post! I thought that the summary of the story at the beginning was very concise but contained all the necessary information. Great work!

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