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  • It's graduation day at a children's school in Tokyo.

  • From the metro station it's just ten blocks to their school,

  • but these children aren't totally safe. Old men from their community have to stand at

  • every corner to make sure that these kids aren't harassed or bullied.

  • It's happened before. In fact, there's been a lot of rallies in Tokyo lately:

  • protesting these kids and their school.

  • This is because, even though these kids

  • and their parents were born in Japan, they're not Japanese.

  • This is North Korea's bubble in Japan.

  • It's a community of about 150,000 Koreans,

  • holdovers from the 1940's when Japan's military forcibly brought over

  • their relatives.

  • They run a network of schools, where they teach their kids

  • about Korean history, teach them Korean language. They teach them the ideology of

  • the great leader Kim Il-Sung.

  • The guards are here this morning because three days ago,

  • North Korea tested a bunch of missiles that landed right off Japan's shores.

  • Before the students can leave, they have to change out of the traditional Korean clothing.

  • But this community isn't giving in to the pressure.

  • Their schools are the place where they can protect their identity

  • and quietly revere their great leader and the homeland that he founded.

  • A place none of them have ever lived.

  • This North Korean bubble is a nation within a nation,

  • whose borders are made out of culture, language, history, and ideology.

  • And it shows how borders exist as much in our minds as they do on maps.

  • In 1910 the Korean Peninsula was annexed by Japan's expanding empire. During its rule

  • the empire brought tens of thousands of Koreans to Japan, mainly to work and to

  • serve in their army. Or in the case of Korean women, to serve as sex slaves in

  • brothels for Japanese soldiers.

  • Japan's empire grew until 1945 when World War II,

  • brought its sudden defeat and the loss of much of its empire, including Korea.

  • The Koreans who were in Japan were free, but they found themselves in a country that

  • didn't recognize them as citizens. The United States and the Soviet Union

  • quickly filled the power vacuum of this newly liberated Korean Peninsula and two

  • new countries were formed: the U.S. backing the new South Korea, and the

  • Soviet Union backing the North, installing a rising leader, Kim Il-Sung

  • who a few years later invaded the U.S.-backed South, starting the Korean War.

  • Most of the Koreans in Japan went back to Korea, but about 600,000 decided to

  • stay in Japan.

  • The Korean War changed everything,

  • creating a bitter division between these two new Koreas. So the Koreans in Japan

  • could no longer just be Korean. They suddenly had to choose which Korea they

  • affiliated with. Almost all of them had originally been from what was now South Korea,

  • but this new North Korea began paying special attention to the Koreans

  • in Japan, sending the money and helping them build schools and businesses.

  • Effectively, helping them build a cultural border, to help protect their identity and language

  • against the Japanese society that sought to change or destroy it.

  • This school where the graduation is taking place, was built with funding from

  • Kim Il-Sung in those early days, after the war.

  • For these stateless Koreans in

  • Japan, this support from a faraway government built trust and loyalty to a

  • regime that they had never actually lived under.

  • The North Korean backed organization in Japan called themselves the Chongryon and

  • over the following decades they built a network of schools, banks, and gambling parlors.

  • They became rich, and started sending millions of dollars back to

  • North Korea to support the regime. In their heyday the Chongryon was worth

  • around $25 billion dollars.

  • But something happened that would mark the

  • beginning of the end for this North Korean business empire in Japan.

  • In the late 70's North Korea started sending spies disguised as fishermen to Japanese

  • beaches, to start kidnapping Japanese citizens. They brought them back to North Korea

  • so that they could use them for their language and cultural

  • understanding of Japan, so they could help train their spies. The victims, including

  • a 13 year old girl who allegedly died in captivity, gripped the nation's attention for years,

  • their stories making their way into pop culture,

  • their faces known to every citizen. Around the same time, North Korea

  • began developing its long-range missile program, a program that would eventually

  • lead North Korea to having nuclear weapon delivery capabilities. Both the

  • nuclear and abduction issues came to a head in the early 2000's, when North Korea

  • withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a treaty that

  • prevents countries from building more nuclear weapons. The regime also

  • officially admitted that they were behind some of the kidnappings of

  • Japanese citizens. This set off a wave of violent attacks and hate speech

  • against North Koreans living in Japan.

  • The Japanese government demanded that the Chongryon repay its outstanding debts.

  • When the organization couldn't do this, they were forced to declare bankruptcy.

  • Many of their buildings, including their headquarters, were seized.

  • The organization was left in financial ruin, with only its network of a few dozen

  • schools standing. These schools became the next target for Japanese animosity

  • towards North Korea.

  • Korean students suddenly found themselves in the middle of this heated

  • international conflict.

  • This graph shows the amount of state funding for

  • Korean schools by Japanese prefectures over time.

  • 2006 was the year that North Korea tested a nuclear weapon. And you can see the

  • immediate drop-off of funding every year thereafter. Prefectures providing

  • tuition subsidies for Korean schools went from 28 in 2006, down to 12 today.

  • Education officials specifically cite the abduction issue as well as the

  • general "situation" in North Korea, as their motive for defunding the schools.

  • Japan's Ministry of Education declined my request for an interview

  • on this, but I did talk to an anti-Korean activist who defended these

  • actions by putting the issue into terms that I, as an American, could understand.

  • As I visited these schools and talked with these people who live in a country

  • that is openly hostile towards them, I found myself torn. This organization

  • pledges allegiance to a regime that has committed some of the most horrific

  • atrocities that our modern world knows.

  • Each and every conceivable human right is violated.

  • There are 80,000 to 100,000 people who are languishing in political prison camps.

  • Yet at the same time, they are also victims of severe structural discrimination.

  • The U.N. and other international bodies have repeatedly condemned the Japanese

  • structural discrimination against Koreans. The North Korean community often

  • cites this as validation for their plight, but the U.N. has also called North Korea's

  • human rights violations so grave that they have "no parallel in the contemporary world".

  • When you ask them how they reconcile this contradiction, the

  • response is always some version of:

  • "any country has human rights issues."

  • At first I found this astounding, that

  • there could be such a willful ignorance to the atrocities of the North Korean

  • regime, but the more embedded I got into this North Korean community in Japan, the

  • more I realized that, to this marginalized community, North Korea

  • represents more of a refuge of safety for their identity - something they crave

  • while they're living in a country that is actively working to diminish their

  • heritage and culture.

  • While younger generations are more likely to assimilate into Japanese society,

  • the Chongryon have done an exceptional job

  • at cultivating the strong Korean identity despite all the pressure and

  • hardship. In their last year of high school the students have an opportunity

  • to go visit North Korea.

  • Seeing and hearing the accounts of this highly

  • choreographed visit to Pyongyang, is all you need to understand the

  • relationship that this disenfranchised community has towards its adopted homeland.

  • I visited the North Korean university where they've curated a museum dedicated to

  • everything Korean. Every rock, tree, species of fish, plant, animal, root, that

  • has ever existed on the Korean Peninsula is found in this museum, which was built

  • with support from the North Korean government. I had never seen such a

  • meticulously comprehensive collection to enshrine a place in a history.

  • This place does not exist for visitors. It's much more of a statement that, in spite of

  • intense pressure and hostility, Korean culture endures in Japan.

  • North Korea isn't their home country in the way that you would think. They weren't born there,

  • they've never lived there, but they see it as their home country because the

  • country that they were born in actively works to make their lives harder.

  • Like in many parts of the world, right-wing nationalism is surging in Japan.

  • Anti-Korean rallies are on the rise, according to an investigation by

  • Japanese law enforcement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a fierce nationalist and

  • he's caught up in a scandal right now for having given secret donations to an

  • ultra-nationalist kindergarten with anti-Korean views. Japanese nationalism leads

  • to discrimination against Koreans. This causes the Koreans to resist Japan

  • as their home country, looking to a country they've never lived in for

  • support and protection of their identity.

  • Affiliating with this universally

  • reviled regime, that routinely vows to destroy Japan creates more resentment

  • from the Japanese population and politicians, leading to more

  • discrimination which leads to again deeper commitment to North Korea as a protector.

  • And in my mind there's no doubt that the cycle will continue.

  • While I was in Japan making this video, I also spent a lot of time with these

  • ultra right-wing groups who are anti-Korean and I didn't go into that much in

  • this video, but I made an entire separate video about the rise of right-wing

  • politics in Japan and kind of the anti-Korean sentiment and where that comes

  • from, from like a historical perspective.

  • And of course: big THANK YOU to lululemon

  • who is a sponsor of Borders, they sent me these ABC pants a while back that I've

  • been wearing. They are sturdy, and flexible and you can wear them when

  • you're hiking or when you're at home. So thank you lululemon, but more importantly

  • thank you for supporting Borders and making this project possible. I'm gonna

  • leave a link here for the lululemon shop for men online, and you can check out

  • your own pair of ABC pants.

  • Alright, we're three episodes into

  • Borders, we have three to go. Get ready for next Tuesday when I publish the fourth.

  • And wish me luck in the meantime I've got a lot of editing to do.

It's graduation day at a children's school in Tokyo.

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B1 US Vox korean korea north north korea japanese

Inside North Korea's bubble in Japan

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    Samuel posted on 2018/03/19
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