The Birth of ZOK and the censure of tsumei blog

The Birth of ZOK and the censure of tsumei

With the growing tension between Korean minorities and Japanese majorities, as well as because people started to realize that acculturation should be directed toward diversity and not marginalization, various activist organizations started to emerge trying to change the manner in which Korean minorities are perceived in areas like employment and education. ZOK was one of such organizations formed by Japanese teachers, educational administrators, and researchers from the Osaka area (Tai, 2007), who worked as volunteers and stated holding “meetings and workshops on education for Korean children” (Tai, p.7). Their meeting confronted both education and political issues, and these activities brought up people’s attention to Koreans students’ common practice of using their Japanese names instead of their Korean ones. Using particular names was a matter of high importance. Specifically, Tai (2004) suggests that ” Resident Korean leaders and activists valued ethnic education and the Korean names campaign as ways to rejuvenate the resident Korean community, which they thought was weakening” (p. 366). As a result, organizations like ZOK started targeting practices that turned inculturation in the wrong direction. Instead of making the process negatively affect cultural practices and social identity of Zainichi Koreans in a matter that will resemble the culture of Japanese, ZOK wanted to preserve the unique social identity of Korean minorities thus granting Japan a term of diversity.

From a historical perspective, many second Zainichi Korean started attending Japanese school from the 1960s, most of them used tsumei, Japanese given name added to Korean given name. In other words, tsumei was the insurance of invisibility for Korean students in Japanese school. According to Ahn (2012) “many Koreans adopt Japanese names, known as ‘tsumei,’ in order to hide their ethnicity while others choose to become naturalized as ‘new Japanese’ in order to avoid the negative consequences of being Korea” (p. 250). In this way, many became able to hide in plain light. Tsumei permitted Korean students to conceal their ethnicity while attending schools (Tai, 2007) and to mingle with Japanese students of their own age. Using tsumei was also seen as a guarantee to get employment after graduation. Because it is known to be extremely difficult for a zainichi to find a job that was in good working conditions around that time. According to Okano (2004), “Koreans face barriers in the employment market whose extent is difficult to quantify (p. 124).” Ahn (2012) also reports that, historically, Koreans in Japan only able to find blue-collar jobs like truck drivers, manufacturers, and construction workers. While only 0.9% of Koreans were employed in professional careers, such as doctors and lawyers (p. 250). For instance, even being employed in public service, national and prefectural government jobs was difficult for the students because applicants were required to possess Japanese citizenship (Ahn, 2012). As a result, one should say that tsumei can be perceived as an approach of dual nature. From one side, it allowed Koreans to hide their ethnicity thus getting better economic and social opportunities. On another side, using tsumei made proper acculturation and diversification of education in Japan impossible.

In the context mention above, organizations like ZOK bounded to offer Korean minorities a proper means of acculturation by the fact of battling practices like tsumei. However, without taking such a problem into consideration, ZOK condemned the use of tsumei as “a legacy of colonial assimilationist policy” (Tai, 2007). Therefore, some schools made a rule to call all Korean students by their true names (Tai, 2007, p. 8). As a consequence, some teachers began to post attendance roster with Korean names instead of Japanese names, revealing students’ ethnicity. This action was supposed to encourage students to take pride in their lineage (Ahn, 2012). However, most of the time they got the opposite effect. According to Ahn’s (2012) interview on the matter, most students did not like this kind of action and expressed fear and frustration when confronted on this subject.


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