Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Koreans in Japan

The Status of Residence System (SRS) is significant to my theorized ‘Compatriot Mechanism’ because it mirrors vibrant ethnic populations that have successfully differentiated themselves along the unskilled-skilled divide in the local labor market of Japan.  As represented in Figure 14, SRS translates to Duration and Productivity variables that are carefully wielded by policymakers, applying them to migrant workers in ways that are consistent or supportive of the requirements of the local labor market.

The SRS concretizes and formalizes the existence of thriving foreign ethnic populations in Japan (Korean, Taiwanese) – forged thru very specific historical conditions.

Unlike other residence visa systems in other destination countries, Japan’s SRS has two extra specialized categories for those it considers permanent residents.  The status named ‘Special Permanent Resident’ is applied to Koreans and Taiwanese who were in Japan before and during World War II, including their descendants.  The status named ‘Long-Term Residents’ is applied to returning migrants who are direct descendants of Japanese overseas who, as we shall see in the succeeding discussions below, originated mostly from Brazil and other South American countries.

Lastly, the status named simply as ‘Permanent Resident’ is applied to any migrant, not part of the two specialized two categories discussed above, who is eligible for permanent residency.

The point I would like to make here is that the specific historical conditions that gave birth to these ethnic pockets – their complete embeddedness in Japanese society now actualized thru the SRS – have essentially produced individuals that have full local knowledge yet, at best, with loyalties looking inward.  Simply put, these ethnic pockets are essentially local survival experts who are eager to help compatriots in any way regardless of legal status.

On Koreans in Japan

Despite more than a century, or more than three generations, of residence in the country, the attainment of definitive legal status by Koreans in Japan has only recently (only by 1981) been fully settled.  Their legal status has swung both ends of the pendulum, so to speak, twice over.

Koreans were full foreigners as the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity was consummated in 1876, as excluded from certain jobs by Ordinance 352 and through the protectorate period by 1905.  As an annexed state from 1910 to 1945, Koreans then became Japanese though not "true" Japanese but "colonial" Japanese (Iwasawa 1986 cited in Kearney 1998: 201).  Koreans, who were by that time technically Japanese citizens, were viewed as those from Gaichi -- external territories -- who had family registers or Koseki that were separate from those of the Naichi Japanese - or those in Japan proper (Morris-Suzuki 2010, p.43).   Koreans enjoyed the benefits of citizenship without fully receiving it, realized as it were only to the extent that they helped in serving out their economic function as a colony (Weiner 1994, p.47).   Koreans in Japan then reverted back to foreigner status by 1952 when the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect but, through a special regulation, were allowed to stay indefinitely even without clear residence status (Morris-Suzuki 2010, p.114).  By 1965 when the Treaty of Basic Relations between South Korea was signed, Koreans in Japan up to the second generation who chose South Korean nationality were granted permanent resident status.  By 1981, all Koreans were granted special permanent resident status.

Decades of tenuous legal status proved fertile ground for discrimination.  This ethnic-based exclusion was most felt in employment opportunities the technical and language skills for which Koreans, now fully integrated residents, were in direct competition with local workers (Shipper 2008).  Other critical social security services (loans, scholarships, health benefits, etc) were out of reach by Koreans (Hwaji 2010).

It must be noted at this point that Koreans were not in fact being singled out in discriminatory practices which were theoretically being applied to aliens in Japan.  However, that Koreans comprised the single, most overwhelmingly dominant ethnic pocket – from a high of 80-90% of all aliens in the first decades after WWII to eventually being equaled and surpassed in number by Chinese aliens in 2007 (Japan Ministry of Justice ca.2013) – meant that Koreans bore the brunt of the pain of exclusionary policies so much so that discrimination in Japan could be said to have become nearly synonymous to discrimination against Koreans.  It didn’t help that a number of high-profile legal challenges against these discriminatory practices – notably when Pak Chong-sok sued Hitachi for employment discrimination during the 1970s (Chung 2010) and the refusal of Han Jong-Seok to have himself fingerprinted during the 1980s (Morris-Suzuki 2010) – were mounted by Koreans.

Truly, ‘too little, too late’ may be one overriding theme when thinking of Koreans in Japan.  For such an intimate ethnic group, whose members, as full Japanese citizens, had gone through two world wars with their beloved sovereign, to be kept at arm’s length, at best, even through Japan’s glorious high-growth decades, is a legacy that has inevitably ricocheted in a Korean-Japanese ethnic identity that is still in high flux.  From devoting full loyalties to their homeland as overseas nationalists, to becoming fully assimilated and thus essentially indistinguishable from the Japanese, and now struggling to carve out a differentiated-and-proudly-Korean-within-Japan niche – identity struggles called the First, Second and Third-Way (Morris-Suzuki 2010) – Koreans as an ethnic pocket, when re-interpreted as input and process within my ‘Compatriot Mechanism’ formulation, constitute, at the very least, either a neutral factor or, conversely, a wild card within the SMIF.

That Korean overstayers have consistently ranked number one for virtually most of the past two decades (1995 to 2012 – see Table 15 on next page) may be interpreted within the SMIF to mean that their neutrality or unpredictability has tilted towards becoming a vibrant sustaining factor for migrant illegality.