Minority Issues and Mission Strategies

by the Rev. Kang Young-il
Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ)


I. At the Beginning

To all of you who responded to the call of the Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ) and have come to participate in this second International Conference on Minority Issues and Mission Strategies, I extend a warm welcome and our sincere thanks.

The first conference was convened 20 years ago here in Kyoto in May 1974. About 80 people from 15 countries participated. The issues of minorities came to be recognized in distinct terms by churches around the world, and engagement in them has become a mission theme.

The initiative for that conference came out of KCCJ's involvement with the establishment of the Japan-North America Committee on Cooperative Mission (JNAC) in 1973. The proposal grew out of that work and was approved and supported by ecumenical organizations: the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ).

Twenty years has passed. The situation, including that of Koreans in Japan (KIJs), has changed greatly. With the collapse of the Cold War system, previous mindsets are breaking apart. At a time like this, we have seen the importance of making a review and jointly owning up to the "meaning and presence" of minorities. The proposal for this conference was approved by the KCCJ General Assembly in October 1993. "International Societies of the 21st Century and the Role of Minorities" was chosen as the overall theme of the conference with "Seeking Life Together with the Majority" as a secondary theme. We have sought the support of the ecumenical bodies which were part of the first conference, and we have appreciated their response and cooperation.

As goals for us at this conference, we have selected the following:

  • To share our experiences and set themes for the 21st century based on the gains in human rights and human dignity by minorities over more than two decades (1970-1994);
  • To clarify, both Biblically and socio-historically, the positive meaning and role of minorities within international society as well as in Japan;
  • To build networks, strengthening the international solidarity of minorities;
  • To deepen the concept of human rights for settled or permanent foreign residents, which is currently an international topic, with a view to establishing them;
  • To guide the mission of KCCJ, clarifying its inherent immediacy and universality; and
  • To prepare and adopt a statement of our findings on minorities.

Such things we hope and pray will come about through the program inputs and exchanges to promote the dignity of minority persons and the making of societies actively participating in life together.

II. KIJ Issues and the Struggle for Human Dignity

A. The Background and Present State of KIJs

After the period of Japanese colonization in Korea from 1910 to 1945, 2.4 million Koreans found themselves living in Japan. Shortly after the war, this number was drastically reduced with the return of millions of people to Korea, but it rose to about 700,000 by the mid-1960s through the inclusion of those Koreans who had become naturalized citizens in Japan and their descendants. By 1991, the number of KIJs was 1.2 million.

KIJs, however, are not a homogeneous group. KIJs are divided socio-politically into Mindan (pro-south Korea) and Chongryun (pro-north Korea), which naturally affects relations among KIJs and their legal status.

In 1965, the governments of Japan and south Korea signed a treaty normalizing relations between the two countries; but instead of improving the lives of KIJs, their conditions worsened. After the signing of the treaty, for instance, ethnic education opportunities for students and teaching openings for KIJs in public and private schools declined. In 400 Christian schools, only 10 hired KIJs as full-time teachers.

Japan also adopted a policy of strict assimilation into Japanese society for its foreign residents: the attitude of the Japanese government was assimilate or leave. Not wishing to assimilate, KIJs found themselves suffering from social discrimination through systematic practices and stereotypes that created prejudice among the Japanese people. KIJs were perceived as "dirty," "tricky," "rude," "culturally inferior" and "violent" - prejudicial views that still shape relations and actions today. Discriminatory practices affected all aspects of life for KIJs: entrance to schools and student harassment, access to private housing and employment.

The greatest symbol of systemic discrimination, however, was the Alien Registration Law (ARL) enacted in 1952 requiring all KIJs above the age of 14 to carry an identity card at all times, to be fingerprinted, to present this card to any law enforcement officer upon demand at any time and to renew and update this card every three years. (In 1982, because of pressure from KIJs and sympathetic Japanese supporters, the government changed the age requirement for acquiring the card to age 16, and renewal was extended to every five years.) For those KIJs who refused to be fingerprinted, they lost their citizenship and became, in essence, stateless people.

B. Taking Action against Discrimination

By the 1970s, young second and third generation KIJs began to stand up to incidents of discrimination. Grassroots movements developed to "claim our own rights by our own hands," spreading widely with the solidarity of many Japanese people. The starting points for the building of these movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s were the struggle against the revision of the immigration law and Pahk Jong-suk's confrontation against Hitachi over his dismissal because he was Korean.

In the mid-1970s, the anti-discrimination movement expanded. In 1974, action was taken at the national and local level in communities with a high concentration of KIJs to gain equal entry opportunities for public housing, involving a wide spectrum of KIJs and Japanese. That same year in Osaka and elsewhere the hiring practices at public corporations became another focus for action, and a new style of solidarity action was born in 1974 through efforts against discriminatory entrance procedures at Osaka Otemal Junior Women's College. Three years later the movement's challenges to systemic discrimination in the Ikuno area of Osaka where many KIJs were concentrated exposed the difficulties of KIJs to rent and buy private housing.

In 1979, the International Covenant on Human Rights, both the A and B Covenants, were ratified by Japan; and in 1981, Japan agreed to honor the Refugee Relief Covenant. This further focused the movement on discrimination in laws and policies, bringing significant changes in laws, housing and welfare benefits for KIJs.

The greatest opposition to discrimination in Japan that the movement launched, however, was its campaign against the ARL beginning with the refusal of Hahn Jong-seok to be fingerprinted and registered in 1980. The struggle to radically revise the ARL was part of the "restoration of human dignity" for Japan's foreign residents. Over a period of 10 years, the anti-fingerprinting movement led to the refusal or boycott of fingerprinting by about 18,000 KIJs and other foreign residents. In addition, more than 1,000 communities passed resolutions against fingerprinting, and petition campaigns collected more than eight million signatures. The government attempted to suppress the movement by prosecuting about 50 legal cases and refusing to readmit KIJs to the country when they left. However, through international solidarity actions in Korea, other parts of Asia and North America as well as appeals from the United Nations, some revisions of the ARL were made, and further fingerprinting of foreigners with "permanent resident" status was waived.

Presently the issues facing KIJs are:

  • A guarantee of programmatic ethnic education;
  • Further stabilization of KIJs' legal status and rights;
  • Access to civil service employment for foreign residents;
  • Redress for unresolved war injury cases; and
  • Incidents of discrimination, such as those of March 1994 in which KIJ female students were attacked.

III. The Involvement of the Church

A. The KCCJ Story

Christian work began initially among students through the YMCA in 1906 with the first congregation formed in the pre-colonial era in Tokyo in 1908. This embryonic beginning was nurtured by the agreement of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Korea to engage in mission among the KIJs in 1912.

The expansion of the church was in response to the socio-economic context of the time; for following the annexation of Korea in 1910 by Japan and the end of World War I, there was an exodus of displaced Koreans seeking jobs. The focus of outreach, thus, became the industrial centers of Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka.

By the end of the 1930s, more than 60 congregations and mission points had been established. After constituting itself as the KCCJ in 1934, an attempt was made in 1939 to maintain its faith integrity by joining with the Japan Christian (Presbyterian) Church. In 1940, however, the church was forcefully taken into the government-controlled system for all Christian churches.

With the end of the war, the direct persecution of the church ended as well. On Oct. 30, 1945, the remaining KCCJ leaders gathered in Osaka to prepare for the reconstitution of the KCCJ at an assembly to be held several weeks later in Kyoto on Nov. 15 at which 46 church members attended representing 21 churches. The KCCJ subsequently withdrew from the government-controlled church and prepared to write a new constitution.

B. Christian Witness to Discrimination

The response of the Church in Japan to the suffering of KIJs has largely paralleled the development of the movement against their discrimination.

As the KCCJ recognized its 60th anniversary of mission to KIJs in 1968, it used "Forward Following Christ into the World" as its theme, expressing its determination to be agents of social change in bearing the burden and hopes of KIJs and renewing the commitment of the church to be faithful advocates for the rights and livelihood issues of KIJs. This witness was further reinforced at the KCCJ General Assembly in 1970 through a statement on social responsibility adopted by the body of church members.

The national and international ecumenical movement has also been a part of the life of KCCJ, beginning with KCCJ's participation in NCCJ activities in 1955. Ecumenical relationships have continued since then with KCCJ assuming associate membership status with WCC in 1962 and membership in WARC in 1963, becoming involved with the work of CCA in 1964, assisting in the formation of JNAC in 1973, joining in a mission accord with the Kyodan (United Church of Christ in Japan) in 1984 and entering into multilateral mission agreements with five major Korean denominations.

This ecumenical solidarity was present in efforts in the early 1970s to oppose the revision of the immigration law, leading to a coalition approach through the International Christians Solidarity Committee. The international ecumenical network was also used to enable a boycott movement against Hitachi in Korea, the rest of Asia and North America.

The creation of several Christian centers also supported the movement. In 1971, the Korea Christian Center (KCC) was established in the Ikuno area of Osaka as a community, human rights and solidarity development service center. The KCC helped to enlist support among the people of Kyoto for a resolution of the Kyoto Korean School development problems in 1973. The following year the Research and Action Institute for Koreans (RAIK) in Japan was formed in Tokyo to coordinate the work of the movement and coalitions.

The Church also provided services to KIJs. Beginning in 1977, the Omoni Hakkyo (School for Mothers) literacy programs for educationally deprived KIJ elderly women were begun. They became a model for similar programs in Kyoto, Tokyo and Kawasaki, etc.

The presence of the Church was also evident in the anti-fingerprinting campaign. Coalitions to support the movement were formed, such as the Kansai Gai Ki Ren in 1984 and the Daihyosha Kaiki Church Coalition in 1985. These coalitions and others formed the national coalition Gai Ki Kyo that included the participation of nine area coalitions and 12 denominations. The eighth annual Gai Ki Kyo consultation was held in 1994.

To further their movement and to support the struggle of others facing discrimination in Japan, KIJs forged solidarity links with the Buraku, who, although ethnically Japanese, are persecuted by the rest of Japanese society. The KCC and the Buraku Liberation Center convened the National Conference of Discriminated Minorities in Japan in 1984 that has led to a series of gatherings since then.

That same year at its fourth General Assembly the KCCJ changed its name from "Chosun" to "Tae han," reflecting a preference with political implications for the south Korean word for Korea rather than the north Korean word and breaking the church's association with the derogatory Japanese expression for KIJs, "chosun."

From these various streams and developments, the vision of human society emerged where "life together" is realized and enjoyed by a variety of peoples.

In spite of success in forming coalitions to pressure the government and to educate society and the achievement of some victories, there has still been resistance to ending discrimination in Japan as reflected in such attitudes as "time will take care of it [discrimination]," justifying inaction on discrimination issues. There are also beliefs among the Japanese people that they are "a unique race or people" and that "there are no minorities in Japan."

Thus, the struggle continues. In 1993, RAIK and the KCCJ Social Affairs Department coordinated the presentation of counterreports with the NCCJ Human Rights Committee on the condition of KIJs before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The committee expressed its concern with a resolution on its view of KIJs as a minority under Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Today the KCCJ and the national and international ecumenical movements perceive the focal points of their mission vision and strategic coalition engagements as:

  • Standing up to injustices;
  • Seeking rightful restitution;
  • Developing models for participatory civic society; and
  • Extending and deepening the consciousness and values of "living together" in all present and future responses to issues.

IV. The KCCJ Outlook Now

Through its experiences and journey over these 20 years, the KCCJ seeks to work out its mission calling in reconfirming its selfhood as a church with its own contemporaneity and universality, a church with a minority character centering its life with KIJs.

In 1988, for the 80th anniversary of mission among KIJs, the KCCJ General Assembly adopted an Anniversary Declaration setting out as the focal points of its mission toward the 90th anniversary the following:

  • To build upon the inheritance of the faith engagement traditions of past KCCJ leaders and laity;

  • To develop our calling to serve, conscious of taking our stand before God and our fellow KIJs as a church participating in the life of hardships that fellow KIJs share;

  • To promote the acceptance of the independent selfhood of the KIJ faith community with its many generations of members, different legal statuses between naturalized Japanese citizens and non-naturalized and ideological diversification between pro-north and pro-south Korean Christians, which can be grasped by observing the advances from the first generation to the fourth generation and other attitudes to be claimed and lived out.

Thus, now facing the 50th year since the end of World War II, the new global context with the collapse of the Cold War, of the Korean homeland's fate-ridden road to peaceful unification and of the sudden increase of Asian and South American Japanese workers - all of these point to drastic changes in Japanese society. In the midst of this current context, the KCCJ is looking at its calling anew in terms of the following:

  • Engaging in human rights and mission as partners in solidarity with the oppressed and the discriminated against in Japanese society;

  • Taking up the difficulties faced by migrant workers and those who have come from other parts of Asia to be married as a mission worthy of our participation;

  • Creating the educational and theological processes necessary to focus on a society where the small and few, not only KIJs, can live together in harmony and taking seriously the missional call to equip the third and fourth generation for this task;

  • Engaging in the work of peaceful unification of Korean society in the homeland of KIJs and cooperating with the world Church, the churches of south and north Korea and the Korea diaspora churches.

In closing, it must be said that the KCCJ's practical interests and engagements in KIJ issues over the past 10 years towards building a society of living together is something new, not experienced in the past. Through many mission in action efforts for the establishment of basic human rights and ethnic selfhood, we have come to realize that, in focusing on the theme of the "human rights of settled or permanent foreign residents," we are, in fact, a central presence in global mission. We are certain that the claiming of basic rights with and for KIJs is linked with the human rights standards meant for persons and peoples in similar situations. It is here in Kyoto that we are being informed of the KCCJ's peculiar meaning of its existence and its mission calling.

At the same time, we acknowledge this to have important meaning within Japanese society and the international community. The establishment of human rights for KIJs and permanent foreign residents in Japan is an actualization of the democratization and internationalization of Japanese society, and it is also the sharing of a role in this age of global interest in the rights of migrant workers, of settled foreign communities and of the many minority peoples.

We give thanks for the ecumenical support and solidarity actions which we have enjoyed from Japanese churches and citizen partners and from Asian and world churches. We are determined to persevere in walking on toward building societies of life together and of strengthening the formation of networks in solidarity with minorities of the world and their partners.

(Ed. note: This is an edited version of one of the resource papers, which was presented by the general secretary of KCCJ, at the second International Consultation on Minority Issues and Mission Strategies, October 1994, Kyoto, Japan. It was translated by J. H. McIntosh.)