By AKIRA NAKANO/ Staff Writer
OSAKA--Korean poet Kim Shi-jong, who has lived in Japan for more than 60 years, said while Japan can serve as a common base for the two Koreas, he is saddened over the “genetic" tendency of Japanese to discriminate against ethnic Koreans.
Kim, 86, who has written poems on how ethnic Koreans live in Japan, has given lectures in Osaka for more than 18 years.
He will look back on his checkered life during a lecture scheduled for Feb. 21, which will be his last due to his advanced age. His new book about his life, which encompasses the Korean Peninsula and Japan, will be published on Feb. 20.
During a recent interview, Kim said people from the divided peninsula can join hands in Japan.
“Being a Korean resident in Japan is like leading a life comprising many white hair roots planted in bedrock,” said Kim. “Each hair is too weak, so they live their lives by wrapping it around Japan, their common base. They spend time together at ceremonial events even if they have opposing views.
“If we do all we can do along with other members of the same ethnic group, it virtually represents the unification (of North and South Korea).”
Kim spent his early life on the Korean Peninsula when it was a colony of the Japanese Empire. At school on Jeju Island, he said he was taught to work hard to “be a fine Japanese and a child of the emperor.”
Consequently, Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II had a strong effect on him.
“I felt a sense of disappointment--it was as if my feet had been sinking into the ground on which I stood,” Kim said, recalling Aug. 15, 1945, the day the emperor announced the surrender of Japan.
After the peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonial rule, Kim studied the Korean language and history to reconnect with his ethnic identity.
Around the same time, the country was tragically divided by the United States and the Soviet Union into north and south.
Many residents on Jeju Island, opposed to the partitioning, rose up in protest in 1948, which led to clashes with authorities and the eventual slaughter of many by police and military forces.
Kim, who worked as a liaison for the opposition camp, escaped the bloodshed after his father arranged for him to leave the island. Kim was smuggled to Japan aboard a boat in 1949.
“We drifted and made it to (Japan),” Kim said. "It was like a miracle.”
Kim started a new life in the Ikaino district of Osaka's Ikuno Ward, which now makes up one of the nation’s largest Korean communities.
Kim, who now lives in Ikoma, Nara Prefecture, calls the district as “the starting point of ethnic Koreans in Japan.”
While working at a candle manufacturing plant in the district, Kim devoted himself to the opposition movement against the Korean War.
Even after leaving Ikaino, Kim continued to compose poetry themed on the lives of Korean residents in Japan.
Although he said the difficulties his homeland faced sometimes caused Koreans living in Japan to quarrel with their family members, Kim believes “ethnic Korean residents are a living group that has great potential.”
And it is because of that dual Korean-Japanese identity that growing discrimination against Korean residents in Japan is so disappointing.
“I was told (by a Japanese teacher once) that the Japanese kimono was the most beautiful garment in the world,” he said, recalling an incident from his childhood. “But (the teacher) said your clothing is far from being civilized.”
“The Japanese people’s disdain for Koreans has been growing since the Meiji Restoration (in the 1860s),” said Kim. “They have since unconsciously been underestimating Koreans, and the tendency continues to be passed on like a gene.”
Kim's new book, titled “Chosen to Nihon ni Ikiru: Saishuto kara Ikaino e” (Living in Korea and Japan: From Jeju Island to Ikaino), comprises 40 serial articles published in the magazine Tosho (Books), as well as passages he wrote exclusively for the publication.
By AKIRA NAKANO/ Staff Writer