Friday, January 9, 2015

Co-sponsored by Eclipse Rising!
1/20/14 Report In Berkeley  from Fukushima by Chieko Shiina

Tuesday! Jan 20, 2015 at 7 pm
BFF Fellowship Hall
1924 Cedar Street, Berkeley, CA 94709

Wheel-chair accessible via the ramp on Bonita Avenue.
(At Bonita Ave, one block east of MLK Way & three blocks west of Shattuck Ave)
This location is wheelchair accessible via the ramp on the Bonita Avenue side of the building.
Suggested Donation $5 - 10 No one turned away for lack of funds!

Chieko Shiina, an anti-nuclear  activist from Fukushima, Japan will be visiting California in January and will be speaking in Berkeley about the present situation for the children and people of Fukushima as well as the growing repression of anti-nuclear activists and rise of militarization including the introduction of the Abe administration of secrecy laws.
The contamination of the people of Fukushima and Japan continues. Children and families are getting sick. There is a growing epidemic of thyroid cysts and surgeries. The statistics are being covered up by the Japanese government. Additionally, Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority is preparing to release thousands of tons of contaminated radioactive water into the Pacific ocean.
This will be lethal to life in the oceans! It will reach California and the entire Pacific rim. The Abe government in power is continuing to tell the Japanese people that they can "overcome" radiation, and that they can de-contaminate Fukushima. Chieko Shiina is an anti-nuclear activist in Fukushima who has been fighting to get emergency healthcare to the residents. They are organizing against the restart of Japan's remaining 50 nuclear plants, which the Abe government wants to restart.

The SF Bay Area “No Nukes Action Committee” has been campaigning to protect the people of Fukushima and Japan, and to keep other Japanese nuclear plants closed. The Committee also opposes all nuclear plants, including the PG&E operated Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the Pacific coast over earthquake faults and near San Louis Obispo. They have monthly rallies to speak-out  at the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco on the 11th of every month at 3:00 pm. The consulate is located at 275 Battery St/California St., San Francisco, near the Embarcadero BART Station. Next action is on Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 3:00 PM.

Sponsored by No Nuke Action Committee
Co-Sponsored by
BFFU Social Justice Committee
For more information call 510-495-5952

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Eclipse Rising is co-sponsoring the following event next week in San Francisco. Please consider attending or helping to spread the word, thank you!

Don't miss this event coming up next month, to hear the Voices of people's movements in the Philippines, Korea and Okinawa and how they are resisting US Militarism and the Asia-Pacific Pivot. 


Tuesday, December 9th
Doors: 6 pm
Program: 6:30 pm
518 Valencia St., SF

Food, drinks, and childcare will be provided. Donations welcome.

Ko You Kyoung (International Women’s Network Against Militarism, South Korea)

Raymond Palatino (BAYAN, Philippines)

Yoko Fukumura (Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, Women for Genuine Security)

Sponsored by the Center for Political Education, Women for Genuine Security, BAYAN- USA, Anakbayan, Eclipse Rising, Veterans for Peace, Asian Americans for Peace and Justice, and the Asia Pacific Islands Peoples’ Solidarity (Bay Area).
People’s resistance to militarism in the Asia-Pacific region is growing as the U.S. military increases its presence under the auspices of the so-called “Pivot to Asia.” At the same time, communities in the U.S. increasingly face a rapidly militarized and violent police force in our neighborhoods, streets, and schools.
The Center for Political Education, Women for Genuine Security, and the Asia Pacific Islands Peoples’ Solidarity (Bay Area) is excited to host an evening of story sharing with an international roundtable featuring activists from the Asia-Pacific region.
Ko YouKyoung (International Women’s Network Against Militarism, South Korea) is a longtime peace activist in South Korea as the former director of the National Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by U.S. Troops in Korea. She

is also a member of the Korean Women’s Network Against Militarism, SAFE-Korea, and the Pyeongtaek Peace Center.
Raymond Palatino (BAYAN, Philippines) is an activist and writer in the Philippines. He’s the Southeast Asia Editor in the Global Voices, an online citizens’ media network, and contributor to the ASEAN Beat of the Diplomat magazine. He’s also the chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Metro Manila.
Yoko Fukumura (Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, Women for Genuine Security)
Moderator: Rhonda Ramiro (BAYAN USA)
Sponsors: Center for Political Education, Women for Genuine Security, BAYAN-USA, Anakbayan, Eclipse Rising, Veterans For Peace, Asian Americans for Peace and Justice, the Asian Pacific Islands Peoples Solidarity (Bay Area)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

[Reportage - part 1] A couple living without nationality -One Zainichi Korean filed a lawsuit to renounce his South Korean nationality, was denied and is still trying

One Zainichi Korean filed a lawsuit to renounce his South Korean nationality, was denied and is still trying

By Park Hyun-jung, Hankyoreh 21 staff reporter His father had turned his back on the world. It all happened quite suddenly. Then, on his way to file a death notice for that father, the twelve-year-old boy found himself facing a situation he never saw coming: he didn’t officially exist. There were no documents at all to certify his parents’ marriage, or his own birth. Where did his roots lie? His grandfather was born over a century ago in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. He traveled to Jiandao, Primorsky Krai, and Sakhalin in search of work, before finally heading over to Hokkaido. His long journey ended when he settled down in Japan’s Shimane Prefecture. There, around 90 years ago, the father was born. The boy’s mother was also a Korean, having made the voyage to Japan at a very young age. At the time, Koreans were considered Japanese subjects. It was after World War II that the country stripped the Koreans and Taiwanese living within its boundaries of their Japanese citizenship. When filling out foreigner registration documents, the father gave his nationality as “Chosun,” or “Korean.” In the meantime, two governments, in South and North, were established on the Korean Peninsula.
In 1965, the military government in Seoul normalized relations with Tokyo. The boy turned eight that year. His father, now working for the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), began listing his nationality as “South Korean.”
It‘s impossible to raise a son without documents. It took two years, but the mother finally got the documents in order. The three characters of the boy’s name were spelled out on the father’s family register: “Ko Kang-ho.” The boy then had South Korean nationality. He hadn’t wanted the change; he hadn’t wanted to become Japanese either. When the family decided to naturalize as Japanese citizens, he was the one who held them back. Like other Koreans living in foreign lands, he suffered from identity confusion. He thought that identity was something he recognized in himself, not something he looked for from a country, be it the Republic of Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Nationality was just a “symbol.” Fifty-four years old. Now middle-aged, the son still felt the same. He decided to speak out about the thoughts he’d had over the years. His mother was gone by then. In 2011, Kang-ho filed with the Ministry of Justice to renounce his citizenship. He was forfeiting all rights and responsibilities as a South Korean. But the government would not accept the request. By the terms of the Nationality Act, the only people who can renounce South Korean citizenship are people who have multiple nationalities or have gained foreign citizenship. An attached explanation said it was part of an effort to reduce the number of stateless individuals. Kang-ho currently lives in Japan as a “Special Permanent Resident”, as a Zainichi Korean according to the terms of San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. If he gave up his South Korean citizenship, he would not be a citizen of any country. But he was a man who would not back down. He filed suit with Seoul Administrative Court, asking for the rejection to be overturned. He argued that it was a violation of basic rights to allow only people with multiple nationalities to renounce citizenship. The lawsuit was completely without precedent. In March 2012, the court in the first trial rejected it, ruling that a person had a right to a nationality, but not to become stateless. The appeals court reached the same conclusion. Attorney Lee Seok-tae, who filed the suit on Ko’s behalf, continued to appeal to the Supreme Court, calling the measures “a restriction on the freedom to abandon nationality without any consideration of concrete circumstances, at a time when various basic rights are being recognized in other countries without regard for citizenship, such as freedom to relocate.” According to the European Convention on Nationality, which went into effect in 2001, people are allowed to renounce citizenship when “there is a lack of a genuine link between the State Party and a national habitually residing abroad (Article 7)”. Ko Kang-ho’s case is similar. But in late 2012, the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal. He had taken the fight to court and lost. “Laws reflect the values of that society,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to win the case.” Why, then? He had questions he wanted to pose to the Republic of Korea: How did it treat Zainchi Koreans in Japan? What kind of country is South Korea today? What is its dream for unification?  [“Both the North and South Korean governments claim Zainichi Koreans as their own nationals, but it’s only recently that they’ve been pushing that policy seriously. When you consider that both have long taken an approach of neglecting their own people, there’s no reason a Zainichi Korean should belong to either system.” - from a statement by Ko Kang-ho]  In the heart of Kyoto, Japan’s capital for a thousand years, many traditional homes can still be found in the narrow alleys around Nijo Castle, a World Heritage Site where Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa is believed to have stayed. The house, bearing a nameplate reading “Ko Kang-ho/Lee Mi-o,” was built about 90 years ago. On Feb. 11, a Hankyoreh reporter pushed against the wooden slat gate. It let out a knocking sound as it moved to the side. Beyond the roughly two-meter-wide doorway, a third-story roof that had not been visible outside suddenly hove into view. Sunlight shone down on the kitchen through a square hole at its top: fermented soybean paste, green tea, safflower. On the refrigerator and the wall by the sink were various pasted memos in Korean and Japanese. The doorway to the left of the kitchen led up to another door. In a bookcase next to the kitchen table was a complete collection of all sixteen volumes in South Korean novelist Pak Kyung-ni’s “Land” series. Familiar items, in an unfamiliar setting. “Welcome.” The voice that rang out was high and gentle. This was Kang-ho’s wife Ri Mi-oh, 55. A doctor of respiratory medicine, she treats patients with terminal cancer at a hospital in Kobe, a city in nearby Hyogo Prefecture. The date of the visit happened to be a national holiday: National Foundation Day, commemorating the accession of Japan’s first emperor Jimmu. Other holidays include Showa Day, which honors the birthday of the late emperor Hirohito, and the Emperor’s Birthday, for current emperor Akihito. Kang-ho, who has run a dental clinic for over two decades in Otsu, a city in Shiga Prefecture, did not take the day off for holidays connected with the Japanese imperial family. Similar round faces, similar friendly smiles - the couple even had similar jobs. They almost looked like brother and sister. About ten years ago, a swollen-faced Ri was recommended to Kang-ho’s clinic by a friend after a bad tooth diagnosis. The treatment was good, but he didn’t seem to know much about making money. He didn’t recommend expensive treatments like implants that aren’t covered by insurance. He didn’t accept payment from fellow Koreans, and he offered patients some of his own homegrown vegetables. On Jan. 1 2000, just three months after they met, they were married. It was a wedding between two foreigners living in Japan. Ko Kang-ho knows hardly any Korean. His father hadn’t wanted to send him to one of the Chosun Korean schools operated by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (pro-North Korea Chongryon). But the boy with the Korean name didn’t spend much time with Japanese friends either. Mostly, he just read books and newspapers. He considered going to university in his father’s country, but the household wasn’t well-off financially. In 1976, he enrolled in an engineering college to study ship-making. His plan was to get a job at a South Korean shipyard after graduating and join the organized labor movement. But caring for his widowed mother and younger siblings left him unable to study for the six years after he enrolled. He wondered if there was anything he could do for the Zainichi Korean community. Finally, he changed course and went to dental school. Mi-oh does speak Korean well, as she attended a Chosun school. Her father was a Korean from Jeju, while her mother was Japanese. Her mother had been resolute enough to leave home where her father insisted, “women don’t need to go to university.” Her fateful encounter happened one day while she was studying at the house of her brother, an exchange student in Tokyo. In the yard of a friend’s house, she saw a shabby clapboard home, barely fit for a dog. Inside lived a poor Korean teenager. This was the young man who would become Mi-oh’s father. The grandfather objected, but Mi-oh’s mother went ahead with the wedding. Since they were of two different nationalities, they decided to give their first child Japanese nationality and their second Chosun nationality. Mi-oh was the second daughter. Proud and assertive, she had hopes of leaving Japan someday to live elsewhere. If she left the land where she was born and raised, maybe, she imagined, she could be free. Was there something she could do that would let her become self-sufficient right away, something she could do outside of Japan? A job where she could help others. She finally settled on becoming a doctor. “Chosun” isn’t a recognized nationality. Mi-oh has no passport, and people without passports have a difficult time traveling from one country to another. One substitute for a passport is a document from the Japanese Ministry of Justice permitting “reentry,” which serves as the necessary identification for border crossing. Any overseas travel requires at least two or three months to prepare the necessary documents. But it’s a process that has allowed her to visit the US and the United Kingdom, although she was unable to travel to Ireland. Traveling to South Korea is also a tall order. She has to receive a “travel certificate,” a temporary passport issued by the South Korean government. It was not until 1996, during the administration of President Kim Young-sam, that she was able to set foot in the country. The authorities had permitted her visit after she explained that she wanted to visit her father’s grave in Jeju Island. After he passed away in 1991, it had taken four years for his remains to make their way home. Under the brutal military dictatorship, it was inconceivable for her relatives in Jeju to try to contact the family. Her father was once a member of Chongryon, though she claims he was forced out. In 2010, with the Lee Myung-bak administration in office in South Korea, Mi-oh and a friend paid a visit to the Toji (“Land” as referred to in Pak Kyung-ni’s series) Foundation of Culture in Wonju, Gangwon Province. Stopping in a restaurant during her trip, she saw the Vancouver Winter Olympics being broadcast on TV. “Kim Yu-na’s performance was so beautiful,” she recalled. It was her last memory in South Korea. While Kim Yu-na was going for a second Olympics gold earlier this year, Mi-oh was being prevented from making another trip. She made two consulate visits for the necessary procedures, but her efforts were in vain. “The employee at the consulate told me, ‘You’ve been there ten times now. If you’ve seen what a good country South Korea is, why don’t you change your citizenship? All it takes it one procedure and you won’t have to come here every time anymore,’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m willing to come to the consulate twenty or thirty times if it means I can go to South Korea.‘” Her plight is shared by around 30,000 other people with Chosun nationality in Japan. Her husband Kang-ho decided that he could not sit by in silence any longer. It was one of the reasons he gave for wanting to renounce his South Korean nationality.   Please direct questions or comments to []

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Help us fundraise $1000 this summer!!!!

Dear Eclipse Rising supporters!

Our core members  have made a pledge to raise $1000 this summer for the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, co-founded by Eclipse Rising and Japan Pacific Resource Network, as a commitment to a diverse and just Japan!

Please consider donating here, today.

It's now been over 2 years since the Tsunami/Earthquake disaster struck the Northeast region of Japan, but the most vulnerable people are still impacted. So far we've supported several communities including immigrants, foreign-residents like Zainichi Koreans, single mothers, the elderly, and the disabled. Projects have included a multilingual hotline, emergency transportation, distribution of food and supplies, reopening schools, securing shelters, and launching a multicultural community center.

These projects are unique in that they are not only about temporary relief, but also building power among victims and building a thriving multicultural community in the region.

Any contribution will help! If 10 of our friends donate $20 today, we are $200 closer to reaching our goal. Our members have already personally donated to inspire you!

Please see our fund website (but remember donate at link below) to read about the impact we have had already.

Please DONATE at our Go Fund Me site, in order to help us keep track of our efforts to reach $1000 this summer.

Also, as the fund is almost entirely supported by volunteers, we are always looking for more volunteers! If you are interested in helping, even a few hours this summer, it can go a long way. Please contact me directly.


Peace, Love, Solidarity,
Kei Fischer
Co-coordinator, co-founder, Eclipse Rising

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Photo campaign from Memory of a Forgetten War screening

Check out the tumblr page!

About the Blog

The Korean War (1950-1953) was devastating. It pitted military forces from the United States, South Korea, and 16 other countries against North Korean and Chinese combatants. Three years of fighting took a horrific human toll – the deaths of 3 million civilians and nearly 1.5 million combatants. It decimated Korea’s natural and social infrastructure and left 10 million Koreans separated from family members for over half a century. The hostilities from this war persist today because the fighting ended in an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty. A legacy of this 6 decades of unremitting animosity prevents the reunion of tens of thousands Korean Americans separated from relatives in North Korea and keeps the United States and especially North Korea perpetually at the brink of war.

The new film, Memory of Forgotten War ( brings these concerns to light and asks audiences to stand for an end to the Korean War and reconciliation among the warring parties.The mosaic of faces in this Peace in Korea blog is evidence of the expanding call for the United States to commit to ending the armistice agreement and bringing to a close America’s longest, modern war.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eclipse Rising Stands for Peace on the Korean Peninsula!

On this 60th anniversary year of the signing of the 1953 Armistice Agreement that only temporarily halted the Korean War, Eclipse Rising stands up in solidarity with Koreans and peace advocates worldwide to call an actual end to the war and instead bring about real peace on the peninsula.

We agree with a statement released by the Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements, that "Sanctions against North Korea and annual U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises are clear signs that the Korean War—a war that left over four million dead and one in three Korean families divided—is not over. 

Today we participated in the "I Stand for Peace" photo campaign to gather at least 200 supporters in the U.S. (1000 in Korea) to take a photo with a message for peace and to post that photo on social media sites. 

The Eclipse Rising collective was able to collect close to 20 images of people (and animals) standing for peace and an end to the war games and sanction. These images will be a part of a mosaic to be used at press events in South Korea!

To enjoy our full collection, please visit the Eclipse Rising Facebook page at:

End the War in Korea! 

Peace and Reunification in Korea!


Monday, July 23, 2012

JMRF Grantee Report now ready!

The Japan Multicultural Relief Fund (JMRF), a U.S.-based grantmaking program jointly established by Japan Pacific Resource Network (JPRN) and Eclipse Rising in March 2011 in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, is dedicated to the empowerment and leadership by and for vulnerable communities in the post Tohoku disaster region towards and inclusive and multicultural Japanese society.

JMRF has recently released a grantee report in both English and Japanese. Please take the time to read how the funds have been distributed and used in the recovery process by "minority" communities in Japan. 

Please donate to support continuing recovery and community building work!

Thank you!

Monday, May 14, 2012

KoreAm, Feb Issue: "I Am Zainichi"

The following story features Eclipse Rising and Eclipse Rising co-founder, Kei Fischer.

I am Zainichi (from Feb issue of KoreAm magazine)

Kei Fischer, born and raised in Japan until age 9, had long believed she was ethnically Japanese by way of her mother, also born in Japan. Then, one day, her mother delivered some shocking news.

story and photographs by Vivien Kim Thorp
When she was 12 years old, Kei Fischer joined her mother on a trip back to their native Japan. It was a somber occasion. Her maternal grandfather was dying, and her mother wanted to say goodbye. Kei, who moved to Northern California at age 9 with her mother and American father, hadn’t known her grandfather very well; in fact, she’d been rather frightened of him as a child. But she could tell by her mother’s state that they had been close. Children were not permitted in the hospital room, so Kei waited outside.
By the time she and her mother left, it was dark. They boarded a train to her uncle’s house in Adachi-ku, a neighborhood in northern Tokyo. It was crowded and hot in the train car, and Kei and her mother had to stand. And then it just happened.
“Kei,” her mother said, “we’re actually Korean.”
Kei was confused. Her mother’s words didn’t make any sense. She was born in Japan. She grew up speaking Japanese. All her relatives were Japanese—or so she thought. She went through a list of all of her relatives.
“Is uncle Korean?” she asked her mother. “What about auntie?”
“Yes, yes,” her mother replied. “We’re all Korean.”
It would be many years later, while a college student, that Kei would learn the term zainichi, used to denote foreign residents of Japan. The word has become nearly synonymous with Japan’s more than 1million Korean residents, even though the majority of them are now native born. Kei would discover that she and her family were part of a 100-year legacy of zainichi Koreans, one that stretched back to the colonization of Korea in 1910 and through the aftermath of World War II. Theirs was a migration brought on by poverty, as well as forced relocations, and marked by generations of legal and social discrimination, economic hardships and shame.
By the time the war ended and Korea gained its independence in 1945, there were an estimated 2million Koreans living in Japan. The majority returned to Korea, but about 600,000, including Kei’s family, stayed behind. Many thought they would return to Korea one day, but the businesses and families they established, the uncertainty of a looming civil war and myriad other reasons kept them, year after year, from going home. More than half a century later, there are fourth- and even fifth-generation Koreans being born and raised in Japan. Many do not view Korea, a country most of them have never seen, as their home, and yet, because of their status as “foreigners” in Japan, they must apply for passports from North or South Korea. Their status as resident aliens keeps them strangers in their native land.
Back on that muggy Tokyo night, on the eve of her grandfather’s passing, 12-year-old Kei found the shocking news from her mother too much to comprehend. So she decided to do what any girl her age might in the same circumstances. She returned home to the States and put it out of her mind.
But as Kei got older, she found she couldn’t ignore such a fundamental issue as her identity. While on a high school exchange program to Japan, she confided in her peers, mostly Japanese Americans, that her mother was actually Korean.
“Then why are you trying to say you’re Japanese?” they asked, making her feel like a fraud. Some joked she was an “imitation Japanese.”
“I decided I wasn’t going to talk about being Korean anymore,” Kei recalled.
Back home, she struggled with reconciling how she felt with her actual ethnic ancestry. “I thought, ‘I’m Korean,’ but then I didn’t know the culture, the food, the history or anything like that. I felt very culturally Japanese, too. I spoke Japanese.”
While an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, she found herself continually searching for a community where she felt welcome and at home, even living in a Chicana community house on campus. “My friends called me an honorary or wannabe Mexican,” said Kei, laughing. “I went through my different phases.”
Inspired by her ethnic studies classes, she began to research her family history so she could understand how her ancestors came to settle in Japan. She discovered that, like many Koreans livingunder Japanese colonial rule, Kei’s grandfather had been driven by economic hardship to find work far from his home on Jeju Island. Poor and illiterate, he first came across the East Sea to Japan when he was 16 years old and would spend many years traveling back and forth to Korea, where a wife a daughter stayed behind.
Kei’s grandmother was only 10 years old when her mother brought her to Japan, leaving her father, two older siblings and a life of unbearable poverty behind. “When I think about those times, my chest becomes tight,” she told Kei. She and her mother would gather tobacco leaves from the country and sell them on the black market to survive. They would never return to Wonsan, a seaport town in what is now North Korea, and she would never see her siblings again. It’s been so long, she’s forgotten their names. “They probably died in the war,” she said.
Kei’s grandparents had met in Osaka. Despite a large age difference and despite the fact that her grandfather was already married to a woman back in Korea, they started a family of their own and had two children, including Kei’s mother. Eventually, Kei’s grandmother, pressured by her own mom, would enter an arranged marriage with another man and leave her two children behind. Kei’s step-grandmother, who had by then joined her husband in Japan, would raise Kei’s mother and her brother, along with their half-siblings.
Kei’s mother would grow up attending Japanese public school, hardly speaking Korean at all. She would tacitly learn from those around her that being Korean, if you wanted to be accepted, was something to hide. Eventually she would marry an American, move far away, and leave her status as zainichi behind—or so she thought.
Revisiting old photo albums and watching family videos, Kei would realize that there had been clues to her family’s identity all along. At a New Year’s party, her cousin was wearing hanbok—not kimono—and the foods on the table, kimchi and pajeon, were Korean, not Japanese, she realized. That neighborhood her family lived in, it was an ethnic enclave, one of two historically zainichi Korean communities in Tokyo.
“There were all these things I never had paid attention to as a child, or hadn’t understood weren’t Japanese at all,” Kei said.
As deeply enriching as filling in the blanks to her family history was, Kei couldn’t help but still feel rootless and alone. After all, she had never met another zainichi Korean American, other than her own family members. Then, in December 2004, a serendipitous meeting occurred. While at a New Year’s Eve party in New York, she was introduced to a woman named Kyung Hee Ha, who also lived in the Bay Area.
“I could just tell from the way that she spoke and carried herself that she was Japanese,” recalled Kei. “But her name was Korean. So I just asked her, ‘Are you from Japan?’ And she was.”
The encounter proved emotional for Kei. “I almost wanted to cry,” she said. The two women talked for the rest of the night, and found they had much in common, including a history of activism and passion for ethnic studies, which Kyung Hee was studying at San Francisco State University.
Through Kyung Hee, Kei would eventually meet several other zainichi living in the Bay Area, including a woman named Miho Kim. An informal community began to form. “I started talking to people who had similar experiences. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could relate to someone 100 percent,” described Kei. “The whole ‘fraud Japanese’ issue and all those insecurities, they could relate to completely, and it legitimized my feelings.”
Eclipse Rising members, Kei, Miho, and Kyung Hee with Japan Pacific Resource Network staff, Akane, gather to send newsletters to supporters of the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund. From left, Kei, Miho, Akane, and Kyung Hee.

Four years later, by happy coincidence, she and Miho would both be chosen to be part of a program that annually sent Korean North American activists to North Korea. Called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Exposure and Education Program (DEEP), the program allowed participants to gain exposure to life in North Korea, while also having them raise money for medical supplies, books and other materials for the people of the North. The trip represented to Kei more than a journey to her grandparents’ homeland; it was the beginning of her journey home.
“As our small plane began to descend onto Pyongyang Airport, my zainichi sister and I gazed upon the green land we were approaching. Our eyes welled up with tears,” Kei wrote in her trip journal. “I am seeing a piece of land…my mother has never seen, land that my grandmother lived on as a child, land closed because of a war.”
The trip had also inspired Kei and Miho to found Eclipse Rising, an organization that provides support and camaraderie for zainichi Korean Americans and strives to educate others about zainichi culture and history. Since its start in 2008 with a handful of members, the organization has grown to about 20 members today, and though all are zainichi, their backgrounds differ. Some grew up educated in Korean schools in Japan, while others have had little to no connection to Korean culture. Some are the offspring of arranged zainichi Korean marriages, while others, like Kei, whose father is of Russian-Jewish heritage, are mixed-race. Another member also first learned he was Korean at about the same age as Kei.
Some have American citizenship; others have South Korean passports. At least one has Japanese nationality. But what all members share in common is their unique identity as ethnically Korean and culturally Japanese, as well as the added dimension of being zainichi living in the U.S.
“I think our identity kind of haunts us wherever we are,” said Kyung Hee, now a Ph.D. student in ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. “Whether conscious or unconscious— whether we want it or not—it really affects the way our mind shapes things.” When interacting with Koreans and Korean Americans, she is reminded of being Japanese, and when she is with Japanese and Japanese Americans, she is reminded of being Korean. “I am zainichi,” she said, “That’s all I can say.”
For zainichi, revealing one’s ethnic cultural background can require a great deal of explaining. “For a long time, I just said I was Japanese and American because people understood right away,” Kei, now 30, said. “But now I try to make more of an effort to say I am Korean.”
Members of Eclipse Rising not only provide support to each other, but also, as part of their mission, advocate to improve the status of minorities in Japan. In 2010, the group sent a delegation to Japan, where they met with various minority organizations, including other zainichi Koreans, Burakumin (a social minority in Japan), Nikkei Latin Americans, Okinawans and migrant workers of various nationalities. “What we emphasize first is that we must start loving ourselves, then each other and then the community,” said Kyung Hee. “But we also try to do international solidarity work because we believe the minority situations here and in Japan are relational.”
Since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Eclipse Rising has also been fundraising for victims in Japan. In partnership with the Oakland-based Japan Pacific Resource Network, they created the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, which aids “those who may be underrepresented or neglected when it comes to receiving disaster aid from the Japan or mainstream [nonprofit organizations].” This includes groups helping to rebuild damaged or destroyed ethnic Korean schools in Japan that aren’t receiving full aid from the Japanese government because they are not considered “legitimate” schools.
Since the 1990s, an estimated 10,000 or more zainichi Koreans have naturalized each year. (Zainichi Koreans have been able to naturalize since 1952, though this was not a popular option for those who experienced the assimilationist policies of Japanese colonial rule.) Still, it not unusual for zainichi Koreans to hide their ethnicity from their friends, peers and sometimes even their children. Stories about high school students in Japan finding out they are Korean when they apply for a passport are common.
Even in the 21st century, only 8 percent of zainichi Koreans, who represent the nation’s largest ethnic minority, use their Korean names full-time. By using Japanese aliases, they can avoid the stigma and discrimination that can go along with having a Korean name. This, too, however, can take its toll. “Even if it’s normalized, it takes a lot to constantly hide who you are,” said Kei, who wrote her master’s thesis on zainichi Korean American identity.
But she and her peers at Eclipse Rising want that to change. The now century-old history of Japanese Koreans shouldn’t be lost, and zainichi should be as proud of their heritage as they are of their names.
That’s easier said than done, especially for the older generation. Kei’s mother, an art teacher who lives in San Jose, is still not “out” to most of her friends. She doesn’t deny her Koreanness, but she doesn’t bring it up either.
“It doesn’t mean that she is ashamed of being Korean,” said Kei, who works as a community organizer at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., and also tutors children and adults. “She just does that because that’s what she was used to doing that to protect herself. That’s how she survived in Japan, and still, it kind of follows her to the United States.”
And, yet, Kei said she notices that zainichi references sometimes surface in her mother’s artwork, where repetitions of question marks or a sketch of a hanbok serve as a visual cue— there is something more to Kyoko than what her name implies.
Eighteen years ago, on his deathbed, Kei’s grandfather had told her mother that he regretted having never taught his children more about their Korean heritage. He had wanted to protect them. “What I really want you to know is that I’ve always been proud of being Korean,” he told her. “And you should be, too. You should know where you come from.”
Two generations later, Kei, a passionate activist, has chosen to live out her grandfather’s words. The people of Eclipse Rising helped her get to that place. It gave her, finally, a community to call home.
“These are people that I really care about,” Kei said. “Together we have tried to navigate…what it means to be zainichi Korean in the U.S. and change things so that it’s better. I will be forever grateful.”

Monday, May 7, 2012

Revisiting Japan A Year After the Tsunami Back to School

KoreAm covers the story of a Korean school in Fukushima, thanks to Eclipse Rising's connections! Our fund, the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, which has donated to this Korean school, is mentioned!

For full story with photos, go to:

March Issue: Revisiting Japan A Year After the Tsunami Back to School
Photojournalist Mark Edward Harris visits a Korean school in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, one year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear disaster in the country.

Story and photographs by Mark Edward Harris

There are a number of reasons students change schools, such as a family moving to a different neighborhood, but for the children at Woori Hakkyo (“Our School” in Korean) in Koriyama, in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, it would be nuclear fallout that spurred their en-masse transfer. This unlikely scenario became stunning reality soon after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Tohoku on March 11, 2011, killing more than 15,000 people, injuring some 6,000, and destroying tens of thousands of buildings. The earthquake also triggered powerful tsunami waves, reaching upwards of 40 meters, that severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the coast, located less than 40 miles from the Koriyama Korean school. When the escaping nuclear material created a real and present danger, the students were relocated to a Korean school in neighboring Niigata Prefecture. Students lived in a dormitory while their parents remained in Koriyama, where many had their businesses, according to school principal Goo Yong Tae. Last December, the school’s 16 students and eight teachers were allowed to return to their original campus, and last month, I had the opportunity to spend the day with them, along with Goo and Shim Ryong Han, the chairman of the school’s board of education. One year after Japan’s strongest earthquake, all appeared resolved to move forward and focus on their educational goals, though ominous reminders of the disaster were ever-present and contrasted starkly with the handmade “welcome back” signs from well-wishers: A government-mandated radiation monitor was installed at the school, and a huge mound of radioactive topsoil—that had been scraped off the school grounds—was piled up on the far side of the school’s soccer field and covered with a tarp. Goo said the government hadn’t decided what to do with the pile yet. The school staff meanwhile keeps a daily log of the radiation levels at the campus.

The Koriyama school is one of two Woori Hakkyo schools located in the disaster region; the other in Tohoku was destroyed and has yet to be rebuilt. Part of the challenge in rebuilding the Tohoku school, or in decontamination efforts at the Koriyama school, is that such work is not fully funded by the national or municipal governments. The Japanese government justifies its lack of aid by citing that the Woori Hakkyo schools receive financial support from the North Korean government. Goo told me there are about 2,000 ethnic Koreans, referred to as zainichi, living in Fukushima Prefecture. Most of them were born in Japan, and don’t care if their ancestors were born in what is now North or South Korea. They are simply proud of their Korean heritage.

Two Northern California-based groups, the Japan Pacific Resource Network and Eclipse Rising (made up of zainichi Korean Americans), established the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund last year to raise money for ethnic Koreans and other minority groups in Japan who may be underrepresented or neglected in post-disaster relief aid. The fund has already awarded grants to NPO Woori Hakkyo, a nonprofit organization that supports students who attend the Woori Hakkyo schools. (There are Korean schools backed by the South Korean government in Tokyo and Osaka, but they operate separately from the North Korea-supported Woori Hakkyo schools, said Goo.)

At the Koriyama school, save for the portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il hanging in the principal’s office, there was little indication of influence from above Korea’s 38th parallel. Students here enjoy a 2-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and take math, history, science, economics, Korean history, Japanese history and English classes. Though snow was piled several feet high outside the concrete building, there was a tangible warmth nurtured by the school’s staff and students. After a communal lunch in the cafeteria that included kimchi, some of the children chased each other around the soccer field. The mound of radioactive topsoil located just behind the soccer net seemed to go unnoticed. Children, no matter what situation they find themselves in, tend to have to the unique ability to remain, thankfully, children.

For more information on the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund, visit

 This article was published in the March 2012 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today!

Friday, April 13, 2012

School battles stigma as it tries to rebuild after tsunami

(Yonhap Feature) School battles stigma as it tries to rebuild after tsunami
By Won Jiyoon
Contributing writer
SENDAI, Japan, March 28 (Yonhap) -- For the past 12 months, students at Tohoku Chosen, a local elementary and high school, have been taking classes taught in a cafeteria and dormitories. The school's main five-story building vanished after an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami wiped out much of Japan's northeast in March last year. The land where the school once stood is still barren, blanketed by snow, and there is no knowing when things will return to normal.

Like many others, Tohoku Chosen is seeking government financial assistance in rebuilding. A concern for school officials and students is that they might be treated differently because of the school's affiliation with North Korea.

Tohoku Chosen, established in 1965, is one of approximately 140 schools throughout the country founded by Chongryon, an organization of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan. Students and administrators at these schools have complained of social and political harassment because of their allegiance to North Korea. In 2002, the country shocked its Asian neighbor by admitting to kidnapping Japanese nationals decades ago. Pyongyang-Tokyo relations remain on thin ice, with North Korea raising tension in the region with its missile and nuclear weapons development. Bitter history from Japan's 36 years of colonization of the Korean Peninsula has also hindered better relations.

Students at Tohoku Chosen stop their snowball fight to pose for the camera. They were playing next to the destroyed school site, using parked cars as cover. (All photos courtesy of Won Ji-yoon)

Tohoku Chosen's principal, Yun Jong-chol, is trying hard to make the Japanese government understand that his students need a new school. He is working as hard for recognition that his school is like any other school in Japan.

"We don't teach students that the Japanese government or Japanese people are bad," Yun said.

Most of the Korean residents in Japan arrived during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule over the peninsula, some as forced laborers during World War II. Many have not switched to Japanese citizenship and are often referred to as "Zainichis," meaning residents of Japan.
Yun believes that the primary problem is that the Japanese government doesn't guarantee educational support for Chongryon schools.

"Teaching Korean and Korean writing in Chongryon school is not harmful to the Japanese society," he said. "But Japanese government wants Zainichi to become Japanese, at least when we are dealing with education."

A Tokyo woman in her mid-30's, a resident of Japan who has a Korean citizenship, said she knows there is a stigma that goes with being affiliated with Chongryon.

"Many in Japan believe Chosen schools are nurturing revolutionaries, spies and are creating bombs to attack Japan," she said, asking not to be identified by name.

Hiroshi Kato, an official with documentation and private school affairs division of Miyagi Prefecture, said the government provided 1.5 million Japanese yen (US$18,000) to Tohoku Chosen for earthquake-related damages last year. Yun, the school principal, is asking for 100 times that.

"Our goal is to have 100 million yen to 200 million yen for the school's reconstruction," he said. "I'm negotiating with the Japanese government, and hope to get the funds approved. Only then can construction begin on a new school."

Kato has said there are currently no plans to provide further subsidies this year because of lack of funds.

Some aid groups from South Korea, who is technically still at war with the North because their fratricidal war (1950-53) ended only with a truce, have sent relief packages, including water and shoes, but restoring proper classrooms has been slow, school officials say.

Dance teacher Kim Young-im practices dance moves before teaching her students at the school cafeteria.

For the students, it is hard to understand daily inconveniences.

Che Hwan-su, 11, may be too young to fully understand what he is going through. He only knows that studying at a dormitory is not fun.

"I am sad because the dorm is too small and I can no longer play hide and seek game with my friends in a classroom," he said.

Jin Su-chul, 13 misses the blackboard.

"I used to draw pictures or write something down on the whiteboard for fun," said Jin. "So without a blackboard I feel I am just playing at school, not studying. I can't concentrate."

Girls are practicing their ballet moves in the cafeteria, a little dulled because of layers of clothes they have to wear for the chilly weather. Each time they make mistakes, they communicate in both Korean and Japanese to coordinate their steps better. This, Yun says, is what makes him proud of his school -- keeping Korean language classes and teaching students well enough to speak and write Korean from generation to generation.

Che Yun-su, 13, is hoping to have a new school "within a month." But he knows it will likely take a lot longer before his school life returns to normal.