Anecdotal evidence that the “Axis of Evil” isn’t really all that tight

This weekend I had a conversation with a Zainichi-Korean girl who holds North Korean citizenship, who is studying Farsi at a university in Kansai. When her class was going on some kind of short study abroad trip last summer, she was the only person unable to go, as the Iranian Embassy would not issue a visa to a DPRK citizen not living in the DPRK.

20 thoughts on “Anecdotal evidence that the “Axis of Evil” isn’t really all that tight”

  1. Just out of curiosity–If, by “zainichi” you mean she was born in Japan, how did she end up with *North* Korean citizenship? Family background? Ideological reasons? It seems to me if I were an ethnic Korean born in Japan, I’d probably want a South Korean passport.

  2. When Korea officially split after the Korean War the Zainichi Koreans (i.e. residents with “special permanent resident status”) had to choose which of the two Koreas to legally belong to. Even though the majority were actually from/descended from the southern half, due to their poor social circumstances at the time a majority chose to support the communist North. I don’t have dates or stats handy, but over time it became easier to switch to ROK citizenship (or naturalize as Japanese) and at present a majority are actually ROK citizens.

    Why stick with North? I have heard a number of reasons depending on the individual, but some examples are family tradition, geographic roots, desire to resist caving to external pressure, or even political loyalty to NK, although frankly the last seems to be a dwindling tiny percentage.

    There is definitely a serious possibility that people such as that girl will switch to South Korean citizenship, mainly due to the lack of proper travel documents for North Koreans. Interestingly, no-one I’ve spoken to is particularly interested in becoming a Japanese citizen, due mainly to a fear of assimilation born out by observation of Japan-naturalized relatives or acquaintances who have sublimated their Korean background entirely. Perhaps, however, this will change if dual citizenship for Zainichi is ever legalized.

  3. Korean nationality law is really bizarre, but it makes some sense if you keep in mind that both the DPRK and ROK see themselves as the legitimate government of the entire peninsula. So most Korean nationals are treated as ROK nationals by the South and as DPRK nationals by the North. (There was a similar overlap between West and East German nationality until the 1960s.)

    One interesting side effect of all this is that the Japanese ban on dual nationality does not extend to holding a DPRK or ROC (Taiwan) passport, because Japan’s justice ministry does not formally consider these to be “nationalities” since they are not affiliated with recognized states. Likewise it’s impossible to renounce Japanese nationality if one naturalizes in the DPRK because the Japanese government requires a renouncer to have another recognized nationality. And, at least in theory, if a naturalized DPRK national had children in Japan, they would become Japanese automatically by virtue of being “stateless.”

  4. Joe: When you say “a naturalized DPRK national had children in Japan” you mean someone who originally has Japanese nationality, naturalizes as DPRK, returns to Japan, and has kids? Maybe in that particular situation you are correct, but the ban on dual nationality in ordinary cases certainly does apply. I’m fairly sure that Zainichi of either Korean nationality who naturalize as Japanese are required to show that they renounce the original one.

  5. BTW, here are some good historical statistics on the Zainichi population, courtesy of Mindan.

    Maddeningly, the one thing they DON’T do is break down the total Zainichi population by DPRK/ROK affiliation, although they do list the number naturalizing as Japanese per year.

  6. Please clarify — does she indeed have North Korean citizenship, and isn’t just called a national of “Chosen” for Japan purposes? That is most commonly the case. Is she interested in applying for ROK citizenship?

    For all the oft-proclaimed zainichi solidarity, intermarriage rates with native Japanese are now well over 80%.

  7. Well, technically it’s “Chosen” for Japanese purposes, but that’s generally considered to be the same as DPRK, particulary by the DPRK government. Would there actually be anyone in Japan who has “normal” DPRK citizenship, aside from diplomatic visitors?

    She might switch to ROK for travel convenience, but I got an impression that she strongly resents the idea of being forced into it by external circumstances beyond her control. As I said earlier, this seems to be a common theme. Incidentally, I think the aborted Iran trip may have taken place while she was still a minor (before age 20), which I assume is a requirement for applying to naturalize.

    “For all the oft-proclaimed zainichi solidarity, intermarriage rates with native Japanese are now well over 80%.”
    Fairly sure that figure is for intermarriage with Japanese citizens, which certainly also includes some unknown number of ethnic Koreans. Regardless, it’s a very high rate and probably on the rise. It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve met several “double” Zainichi/Japanese who of course have Japanese citizenship, but identify with both cultures.

  8. Looking at those marriage stats again, I just feel like something is fishy. If the intermarriage rate was already about 50% in 1975 and then 70% a decade later, and also considering the naturalization stats, how could the Zainichi population have possibly remained about the same since 1946?

  9. I think we had discussion over Chosen seki-DPRK citizenship over this blog before and Curzon was right.I also recieved an e-mail from copy editors that Chosen-seki is different from DPRK citizenship and should not be mistaken when covering the issue….


    The reason zainichi population had remained at the same level is because there is a flow of defacto immigrants coming in to the country from Korea.Most of them get resident visas and don’t go home.

  10. Aceface: Yes, Chosen-seki technically isn’t the same as DPRK citizenship, but can’t it be said to be de-facto North Korea citizenship? After all, it isn’t actually possible to register as a DPRK citizen under Japanese law.

    Also, ROK won’t admit Chosen-seki people except in very exceptional cases. For example one girl, a different one from the first anecdote, was on that Peace Boat tour you see posters for all over, and it made a stop in NK and then a stop in SK. On the SK stop she had to stay on the boat when everyone else departed and wait for an immigration officer to do an interview before giving her a special 1-day entry permission, although she also said they weren’t too harsh in their questioning since they didn’t consider her much of a flight risk.

    But it is also true that there are Zainichi who consider Chosenseki to represent citizenship in some mythical lost “One Korea” and not of North Korea, or maintain it for other political reasons that do not represent any particular support for the DPRK regime.

    BTW, I heard one guy make a joke about trying to switch from Kankoku-seki to Chosen-seki so he could try taking the harder road. However, according to Wikipedia page on Chosenseki this is actually almost impossible to do, since it requires you to have never received a ROK passport

    As for the second point, how could someone who came over after the war obtain 特別永住権 when it is supposed to be limited by law only to Koreans and Taiwanese who were here at the end of WW2, and their descendants? I know this was not too hard around the time of the Korean War with all kinds of Korean refugee problems, but what about more recently? Getting regular foreign residence is one thing, but I just don’t see how tens of thousands of illegal Korean immigrants would be able to get the special permanent resident status.

  11. “As for the second point, how could someone who came over after the war obtain 特別永住権 when it is supposed to be limited by law only to Koreans and Taiwanese who were here at the end of WW2, and their descendants? ”

    Simple,Tha chart only says Zainichi Koreans.Doesn’t say anything on 特別永住権.No?

  12. Good point.
    This page says that in 2005 the number of 特別永住権 was 451,909 of which 447,805 are Korean. I assume the remainder are Taiwanese. Out of around 600,000 total Koreans this sounds like a more realistic number to me, after you account for both naturalization and more recent immigration.

    So, wouldn’t a child resulting from a mixed Zainichi/Japanese marriage be born with both nationalities, and then get SPR if they did choose Korean instead of Japanese? I doubt many people, if any, have done that but at least it seems like it would be possible.

  13. Meet Sai Youichi(Chae Yang-il)current chairman of boards of Japanese film directors Association and “Blood and Bones”director.崔洋一

    His dad is Korean and his mother Japanese.Born in Japan in 1949 as Chosen-seki and then turned to ROK citizen.

  14. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t have had Japanese nationality from birth, if his mother was Japanese. Was the law revised sometime after 1949, and at the time you had to have a Japanese father?

  15. No.
    You don’t know what kind of power that first generation of zainichi Korean has over his families.Part of the reason why you find increase in naturalizaition of zainichi is because they are passing away and second or third generation don’t have to mind the anger of the patriarch.
    (It is always the ROK passport holders who become Japanese national.Most of the Chosen-seki holders tend to switch to ROK citizenry first,rarely they leap to Japanese national,or so I heard.But I can’t find stats to back this up.)

    I think this is true in case of Taiwan’s 族群identity politics.If you are born in the house of mainlander/Taiwanese couple and the paternal side is mainlander naturally you have mainlander identity.

  16. I doubt there are any stats, but it would be a nice topic for a survey by some sociology student. I do think you’re correct though.

    Not quite sure about Taiwan. I think the younger generation (like, mine and younger) may favor Taiwanese identity in mixed cases, but this is just a hunch. Most of my Taiwanese friends identify only as Taiwanese, even if they have a mainlander background and don’t speak Taiwanese at home. But then, I don’t exactly have a lot of KMT supporting friends.

  17. “You don’t know what kind of power that first generation of zainichi Korean has over his families.”

    You will if you check out “Blood and Bone”. Makes “Nil by Mouth” look like “The Sound of Music”.

Comments are closed.