Sun, Nov 05, 2017 - Page 4 News List

N Korean schools in Japan facing death threats

CAUGHT IN-BETWEEN:Pyongyang has funneled ¥48 billion into these schools, which are the only option for a Korean education for many, regardless of political orientation

AFP, TOKYO

A student cleans the blackboard under portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il after an exam at the Tokyo Korean High School on Oct. 13.

Photo: AFP

Portraits of North Korea’s late leaders hang proudly in the classrooms of the Korean High School in Tokyo, where the surge in tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program have seen faculty and staff subjected to death threats.

It is one of 60 so-called “pro-Pyongyang” schools in Japan catering to an ethnic Korean community that — over decades — has developed and maintained a link to North Korea despite never living there.

There are about 500,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan, mostly descendants of civilians taken from their homes during Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until Tokyo’s defeat in World War II in 1945.

The division of the peninsula into North and South and the devastating Korean War that followed also divided the community, and schools like Korean High emerged with backing from pro-North organizations and funding from Pyongyang.

They continue to teach Korean language and history under the guidance of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which acts as the North’s de facto embassy in Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

Ethnic Koreans have long suffered discrimination in areas like employment and social welfare, and principal Shin Gil-ung said anger over North Korea’s nuclear program has only made things worse.

“Every time news [about North Korea] breaks, we get anonymous calls threatening to bomb the school or kill students at a nearby station,” Shin said. “Female students have had to stop wearing the ethnic school uniform on their commute.”

With the belligerent regime in Pyongyang threatening to “sink” Japan into the sea, the sense of tension and anxiety has left many ethnic Koreans feeling conflicted — especially the younger generation for whom modern Japan is the only home they have known.

One Korea High student, 17-year-old Hwang Song-wi, said he watches the news with “mixed feelings,” and that he both “trusts and doubts” reports from both sides in the crisis.

Tokyo-based lawyer Ri Chun-hui said the anger directed at his community as a result of Pyongyang’s provocations are nothing new, citing a similar backlash that followed the abduction of a number of ordinary Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Koreans were once thought of as victims of Japan’s colonization, but we are now treated as if we were all perpetrators of the abductions,” Ri said. “The sentiment that you can attack anything linked to North Korea now prevails in Japan.”

The kidnapped citizens were taken to the North to train spies in Japanese language and culture.

Then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il later allowed five of them and their families to return to Japan, but many believe Kim did not come clean about other abductees, including Megumi Yokota who vanished when she was 13.

For Korean parents in Japan who want their children to learn Korean language and history, a “pro-Pyongyang” school is virtually the only option, no matter their own political persuasion.

“Because they are not Japanese, I want my children to go to a Korean school ... and learn the language and the ethnic spirit. Those are the most important things,” Hwang’s mother Oh Jong-e said, adding that shared ancestry trumped the division of the Korean Peninsula.

“I basically believe there is no North or South. We are one ethnic people,” Oh said.

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