Japanese support for Joseon schools’ inclusion in free education policy becoming widespread

Posted on : 2010-03-12 14:32 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
In the wake of increasing support from Japanese lawmakers and citizens, the schools may be included in the Hatoyama government’s new free education policy

The main entrance to the Tokyo Joseon Middle and High School located near Jujo Station in the Kita District of Tokyo customarily opens in a narrow fashion in order to prevent intruders from entering who may assault the students.

However, since early this month, a number of prominent figures have passed through the narrow entrance to visit the school because the Tokyo Joseon Middle and High School has been placed at the center of controversy after Hiroshi Nakai, National Public Safety Commission chairman and minister of state for the abduction issue, said, “We should pursue a policy to make Joseon schools an exception from the free high school education policy” on Feb. 21, and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama gave a positive response.

Seiji Mataichi, vice chairman of Japan’s Social Democratic Party visited the school the morning of March 3, while Makiko Tanaka, chairwoman of the Culture and Science Committee of the House of Representatives with 22 other lawmakers also visited the school the afternoon of the same day.

In response to the situation, the school’s President Shin Kil-woong, 61, said carefully, “We consider these visits to mean that Japanese society recognizes our school as an institution.” The Tokyo Joseon Middle and High school is the only Joseon school that offers high school courses in Tokyo.

Shin was born in 1949 in Tokyo and graduated the same school and Joseon University in Tokyo. After graduating, he wanted to become a teacher at a school on Jeju Island, the location of his parents’ hometown, however, due to the division of Korea that prevented him from doing so, he returned to his alma mater.

In response to the controversy surrounding the school’s possible exclusion from the free high school education policy, Shin said, “Those arguments are absurd.” Shin added, “We do not teach from an anti-Japanese ideological standpoint.” Shin said that Minister Nakai’s remarks were the result of a lack of understanding about Joseon schools. Shin also said, “The biggest problems lie in the beliefs about the links between Joseon schools and North Korea, and the links between education and politics.” He emphasized, “Although North Korea has supported Joseon schools financially and spiritually, the Joseon schools’ education philosophy remains completely different.”

The curriculum that has been adopted at Joseon schools is similar to the curriculum currently used at ordinary Japanese schools. The school is also a part of the Japanese school system. However, there are some differences that exist since Joseon schools teach courses related to the Korean language, Korean history.

President Shin emphasized, “The teachers and students are not engaged in an anti-Japanese teaching philosophy, however, we would like to paint an honest portrait of history.” Shin’s remark is an example of the Joseon school’s teachings, which also say that North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens was wrong.

The fact that portraits of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung and current leader Kim Jong-il currently hang on the walls of classrooms may be the root of misunderstandings that have arisen in Japanese society. President Shin said, however, “The fact that North Korea has given so much support to the foundation of the Joseon schools, and has also continued in providing financial support is something to be considered.” Shin added that in some Joseon schools, the portraits of North Korean leaders were removed through the decision of students’ parents.

In regards to the argument that the taxes paid by Japanese citizens should not be used for Joseon schools, Shin refuted the point by saying that the parents of the school’s students also pay taxes.

Roughly half of the students at the school are of South Korean nationality. Until the 1970s, 80 percent of students were of ‘Joseon’ nationality, which was the predecessor of the current North Korea and South Korea during the Japanese colonization period. Currently, however, there have been increasing numbers of students of South Korean nationality. Shin said that students of Japanese nationality number 2 to 3 percent of the student population.

When the Hankyoreh reporter entered the classroom, a female teacher wearing a Hanbok was engrossed in teaching. When President Shin introduced the reporter by saying that the reporter was from South Korea, the students erupted in applause. The classroom was seemingly no different from that of a classroom in South Korea. A number of female students asked the reporter, “Do you know Tiara?” They asked questions about a number of entertainers in South Korea including Tiara.

There are currently 585 students enrolled in the high school and 167 students enrolled in the middle school. The Tokyo Joseon school has suffered from financial difficulties like most Joseon schools in Japan, since the teachers manage the school only through tuition fees with few subsidies from the Japanese government.

The annual budget of this school is 400 million Yen ($4.4 million). The rent for the school’s building, which is owned by the Finance Ministry, is 45 million Yen per year. The Tokyo City Government allocated 6.3 million Yen in subsidies, while the subsidies from North Korea amount to only 100 thousand Yen annually.

President Shin said, “The wage of first-year teachers is just around 100 thousand Yen per month.” Shin added, “A total of 56 teachers have experienced a delay in payment for many months.” 

In addition, Shin also said, “The Joseon school is a precious place for Korean language education for Koreans living in Japan who cannot return home to North Korea or South Korea, but also do not be naturalized as Japanese citizens.”

Before leaving the school, the reporter found stacks of letters on President Shin’s desk. Shin explained that the letters mainly came from Japanese citizens who wanted to express their support for the idea that Joseon schools should not be excluded from the Japanese government’s free education policy. Shin said, “This is the first time that Joseon schools have received so much support from Japanese citizens nationwide.”

By Jeong Nam-gu, Hankoyreh Correspondent in Tokyo

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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