Wooki KIM, Discrimination against Korean school children in Japan today

On 29 August this year the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which is under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made rulings on Korean schools in Japan. It said ‘The committee encourages the state party [Japan] to revise its position and allow Korean schools to benefit, as appropriate, from the High School Tuition Support Fund, as well as to invite local governments to resume or maintain the provision of subsidies to Korean schools.’

Korean schools in Japan were established after the liberation of Korean people from colonial rule by Japan in 1945. The schools were established to educate Korean children in Japan who had been deprived of their Korean name, language and culture by Japan. It is estimated that at that time there were 525 Korean schools all over Japan and approximately 44,000 Korean children attended those schools. Today there are about 70 schools from kindergarten to university with approximately 8,000 students.

In April 2010 the government of Japan introduced the Tuition Fee Waiver Program which would waive tuition fees for high school education. It was planned to include not only Japanese public and private schools, but also foreign schools in Japan that are accredited as ‘miscellaneous schools’ under the School Education Act. It was the first chance for all Korean schools that were accredited as ‘miscellaneous schools’ to be granted subsidies by the central government of Japan.

However, the government started the program without applying it to Korean schools, because of the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s by DPRK. This amounted to using Korean children as political pawns between Tokyo and Pyongyang. The Abe Government decided to completely exclude Korean schools from the program by changing the legislative provision of the program in February 2013. As of today five civil suits claiming national compensation have been filed by Korean schools in the district courts of Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.

Following such discriminatory decisions by the Japanese central government, some local governments also have refused subsidies or cut subsidies that have been granted to Korean schools up to that point. The subsidies have been halted in some prefectures such as Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima as of October 2014. This represents about one third of local governments that have granted subsidies to Korean schools. In Osaka a civil suit demanding the Osaka prefectural government reverse the decision to refuse the subsidy for Korean schools was filed in the court in 2013 by the Osaka Korean school.

Moreover some municipal governments such as Yokohama and Hiroshima have also followed the decisions of the prefectural authorities and withheld payments of the subsidies. As a result some parents have given up sending their children to Korean schools and sent them to Japanese schools which are granted much more subsidies than Korean schools.

Our Association raised these discriminatory policies against Korean school children with CERD which we believe amounts to racial discrimination and infringes the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that Japan ratified in 1995. I also visited Geneva in August to raise these issues directly with the members of CERD. As a result of the examination of the government of Japan, CERD ruled as mentioned above concerning Korean schools. This means that in the view of CERD, the exclusion of Korean schools from the Tuition Fee Waiver Program and refusing subsidies at various government levels constitutes racial discrimination.

The Japanese government has also been directed in the past by several international human rights bodies to revise its policy which infringes on the rights to education in Korean schools.

The history of discriminatory policy against Korean schools by the Japanese government can be traced back to the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945. This discrimination was worsened by the compulsory close-down of Korean schools in 1948-49 which has been called ‘4.24 Gyoyug Tujaeng (4.24 교육투쟁)which means struggling for education on 24th April’. The Ministry of Education carried out its plan to prohibit Korean children from attending Korean schools in 1948 and over a million Koreans in Japan struggled against that policy. In case of Hyogo prefecture, 10,000 Koreans gathered around a prefectural office and made the governor reverse the decision to close down Korean schools on 24th April 1948. However the 8th US Army, in association with the government of Japan, oppressed those struggles of Koreans by announcing a state of emergency under the anti-communism and cold war structure at the time. As a result, 3,000 Korean were arrested and a 16 year old Korean boy, Kim Tae-il was killed and Korean activist Park Ju-bom was also killed as a result of shooting and torture by the Japanese authorities. These memories of struggle have been handed on to Korean residents in Japan and many of them say the discriminatory policy of the Japanese government against Korean schools has been continued for about 70 years.

In the recommendations relating to hate speech and hate crimes in Japan, CERD recommended the Japanese government ‘address the root causes of racist hate speech’ and it should combat ‘prejudices which lead to racial discrimination’. This suggests that CERD recognizes that hate speech and hate crimes against Korean residents in Japan has not occurred suddenly. It recognizes that there are deep-seated causes which go back to the time when Korea was colonized by Japan. This colonization by the Japanese government is at the core of the discrimination against Korean school students and the spreading of hate speech and hate crimes across Japanese society.

Most Korean residents in Japan are descendants of those who were forced to live in Japan because of the colonial rule of Japan in their homeland. The Japanese government has the obligation to ensure justice to Korean residents in Japan who were deprived of their language, name and culture by Japan. The Japanese government must guarantee ethnic education of Korean children. The Japanese government should immediately stop the discriminatory policies against Korean schools and guarantee right to education for Korean children.

I hope the civil movement both in Japan and elsewhere will support Korean schools in their plea for acceptance and the elimination of discrimination.


Wooki KIM is on the Secretariat staff of Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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2 Responses to Wooki KIM, Discrimination against Korean school children in Japan today

  1. Avatar Markus Bell says:

    Thank you, Mr. Kim, for your article that highlights some very important, ongoing concerns in Japan. I agree that Hate Speech in Japan long ago reached a point where the government should be taking active steps to end such overt racial discrimination. I further agree that the Japanese government owes a duty to it’s residents who can prove their family members were forcibly recruited and brought to Japan for the task of contributing to the growth of the Japanese Empire. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to ever happen, as it would open the floodgates to decades of litigation and potentially billions of dollars in compensation to all victims of the Japanese Imperial war machine.

    In regards to Abe’s decision to exclude Korean schools from funding, however much I sympathise with the plight of parents who wish to educate their children in an ethnic Korean school in Japan, I keep running into the same question again and again, beginning at the fact that these are not simply politically neutral ethnic schools in Japan:

    For a long time, until recently, ‘Chosun gako’ provided ethnic education wrapped around a political ideology that sympathised with the DPRK and centered on the personality cult of the Kims. The schools also accepted funding from the DPRK, while continuing to send young graduates on trips to the Fatherland, maintaining a connection into future generations. The government of the DPRK, with the Kims in a position of total control, admitted abducting Japanese citizens, acts which effectively changed the dynamic of victim/tyrant that had hitherto characterised NK-Japanese relations. Why, given this, should the Japanese government fund schools that are known to have an enduring relationship to an enemy state that has recently committed acts of terrorism against it (not even mentioning rocket firing over Japan)? Yes, it is sad indeed that children are unable to learn about the history of their ethnic group as a result of these financial exclusions, but surely unsurprising, given the current state of DPRK-Japanese relations?

    This is what I can’t figure out and would appreciate it if you could help me negotiate this stumbling block. Thanks again for your article.

  2. Avatar Long time resident of Japan says:

    I would like to clarify that all of the facts in the above article are indeed correct. The author has not referred to Koreans as “slaves”, however, describing them as “immigrants” is not correct. Korean migration to Japan started when Japan colonized Korea . The Japanese colonial “land reform” policy impoverished and forced Koreans off the land their families had owned for generations, and they were forced to resettle in Korean cities , Manchuria and Japan under duress. Koreans took on the jobs formerly held by Japanese in factories, mines and in comfort stations to alleviate the labour shortage Japan’s militaristic expansion had caused. They were paid less and in many cases not at all, often their freedom of movement was prohibited, and in postwar Japan many reluctantly chose to stay because the harsh repatriation conditions enforced by SCAP virtually insured poverty on return to their homeland.
    Yes, Korean children can go to Japanese schools, however Japanese schools are tools for forced assimilation. In areas where there is a higher ratio of Korean students, occasionally ethnic education is provided on an extra-curricula basis. Most Korean children who do attend Japanese schools are compelled to pass as Japanese, in the schools they experience isolation, marginalization and they live in fear their true identity as Koreans might be exposed.
    In comparison, the Korean Ethnic schools provide a safe environment where Korean children can be nurtured, use their Korean names, are taught Korean language, their history and culture. Anything less is an infringement to their right to ethnic education.
    Furthermore, the government’s refusal to grant funding in the Tuition Waiver Programme is an example of the ongoing discrimination. In 2010, the government’s new innovative policy proposed that “no child shall be left behind”, and foreign schools were to be included too. Despite meeting the requirements, the Korean ethnic schools, were excluded, while other international schools were included. The government’s excuse sited the North Korean abductee and the nuclear issue. It should be understood that the parents of children attending Korean ethnic schools are Japanese tax payers and they intend to stay in Japan and contribute to Japanese society. Korean children are not political pawns. The attendees at international schools will invariably return to their own home countries.

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