Book Reviews

Book review: “Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan – Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building”

Book review of "Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan -  Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building", written by Kim Myung-ja and published by I.B Tauris in 2017.

Instytut Boyma 07.09.2019

Around one million Koreans are permanent residents or citizens of Japan. Mainly distributed in the major industrial and economic centres of the country, the largest number of Koreans live in Osaka, followed by Tokyo and Hyogo prefectures. Like their counterparts in North and South Korea, most Koreans in Japan speak Korean, although younger Koreans who are second or third generation increasingly speak only Japanese.

The term ‘Zainichi’ Koreans (from the Japanese word meaning ‘staying in Japan’) is sometimes used to describe those who are permanent residents of Japan but who have not acquired Japanese citizenship. ‘ The author is Kim Myung-ja, a Teaching Fellow in Northeast Asian Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She completed her PhD at the Politics Department at SOAS where she received the Meiji Jingu Scholarship Award. Her MA in International Affairs was completed at the School of International Service, American University in Washington DC. She has been a guest lecturer in Korean Studies at Tübingen University and has published in the Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs. She founded and was President of the NGO, World Tonpo Network, Tokyo, an organization that seeks the peaceful unification of North and South Korea.

The book Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan –  Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building, written by Kim Myung-ja was published by I.B. Tauris in 2017. Excluding the preface, the conclusion and additional elements, the book consists of a classic structure: five chapters, where the first chapter is theoretical, and the other are presented in a chronological order.

The chapter one is related to the Alliance cohesion, Diaspora and Nation-Building Policies. The author looks at how diaspora’s identity affects its host state’s behavior when both host and home states are classified as minor or middle powers as opposed to major powers.

Chapter two describes the Korean Zainichi, defining them as being Korean nationals who moved to the Japanese territories during the colonial period, secondly as people who moved to the Japanese territories during the colonial period and thirdly as Korean nationals who remained in Japan after the end of World War II (p. 51).

Chapter three discusses the exclusionary Policies towards the Zainichi in the Post-World War II Era (1945-1964). The author develops the impact of the Korean War over the US-ROK alliance (p.  79) and the US-Japan Alliance (p. 89).

The permanent character of the Korean migration to Japan became a major problem which is analyzed in chapter four. Finally, the fifth chapter discusses whether the Alliance Cohesion still matter I the period starting after 1990. The author justifies the thesis that a weak alliance cohesion allows a host country to accommodate a diaspora supported by enemy allied homeland in order to expand its own autonomy under an asymmetric alliance. The author also agreed with the thesis presented by Mylonas, where a host state is likely to exclude a non-core group when the state has revisionist aims and an enemy is supporting the non-core group.

Still, for such a concentrated book — little less than three hundred pages –, this book provides a good deal of ground related to the adaptation of the Korean diaspora to the Japanese ground and within this society. As a kind of precursor (few books related to the Korean Zainichi were published in western languages), its content provides an original approach over the impact of international alliances on the internal policy of a considered country. In spite of the clarity of the book and its valuable knowledge. I do have some minor remarks that I want to point out below.

Firstly, there is a lack of statistical data, we don’t have any information about the leadership of Chonggryon (such as the conservatist Han Dok-su) and Midan organizations. In spite of data provided on page 197, there are no information concerning for instance a listing of Korean schools in Japan which may perturbate the junior reader. Being also dealing with North Korean issues, I regret that the author omitted to mention that Ko Yong-hui, the mother of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, was born in Osaka. I also regret a lack of pictures which is maybe due to the Publisher requirements. We do have a map of the Korean Peninsula (p. 75), but not social map of Japan, which could indicate where Koreans Zainichi live in Japan. I also regret a lack of information concerning the place of (North) Korean companies in Japan and the economic cooperation between Japanese (such as Mitsubishi) and North Korean trade companies.

I also noted that the large bibliography doesn’t include any books or publications in Korean, or any Zainichi Korean journals such as the Chosun Sinbo Ilbo, no updated data related to the Naturalization of Korean in Japan (p.  157), no information about the role of Junya Koizumi (the father of the former PM Junichiro Koizumiin the repatriation project of Koreans to North Korea or the book of Kang Chol-hwan, a member of a Zainichi Korean family. It’s also not obvious to me, that both Chonggryon and Mindan include people from both Koreas.

There are also some interesting facts which are not usually mentioned. For instance, the Japanese financial assistance to South Korea after the 1997 financial crisis. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation signed a memorandum with Korean authorities and provided USD 3 bln of loans. Page 183, there is probably a typo mistake concerning the Pyongyang’s trade with China (82%, and not 28% as stipulated).

In spite of the previously mentioned remarks, I definitely consider that this book is a wonderful addition to the field of Japanese Minorities studies, I would suggest the author make a second edition by updating data and discussing more about the situation of Chonggryon members in the framework of the potential stop of the Nuclear Program of North Korea. I would also suggest to the researcher to incorporate a chapter related to the notion of Zainichi Koreans in the North and South Korean press.

I also think that the author has prepared a brilliant book, and I would like to highly recommend this book as one of the best ways to understand the situation of Zainichi Koreans in Japan.

Kim Myung-ja. Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan –  Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building, London: I.B Tauris, 2017, 304 pages. ISBN: 978-1784537678

Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North and South Korea. He is an assistant professor at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Author of 7 books, more than 20 academic articles, and over 50 analytical reports on the Korean Peninsula, Poland, and related issues. He conducts lectures at top universities in Poland and abroad.

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