[Reportage] Chosen Gakko students have protested Japan’s exclusionary education policies for 7 years

Posted on : 2020-02-24 16:34 KST Modified on : 2020-02-24 16:34 KST
Abe administration has only grown more stubborn in its prejudice
Students protest the Japanese government’s exclusion of Chosen Gakko from its free education policy in Tokyo on Feb. 21. (Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent)
Students protest the Japanese government’s exclusion of Chosen Gakko from its free education policy in Tokyo on Feb. 21. (Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent)

It took the woman a while to speak, and for a moment she gazed out at around 1,000 students from Chosen Gakko high schools and Korea University who were lined up around an exit at Toranomon Station, on the Tokyo Metro. “The years we spend in middle and high school are a truly precious time,” said Song Hye-suk, with a distinct quaver in her voice. “As a parent, it’s so sad to see you coming out for this struggle at this precious time in your lives.”

(The Korea University mentioned here is a university in Tokyo linked to the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, also known as Chongryon, and is unconnected with the university of the same name in Seoul.)

Song was speaking at the 200th demonstration against the Japanese government’s decision to exclude Chosen Gakko (North Korea-affiliated schools) from a program designed to provide free high school education. The demonstration took place on the afternoon of Feb. 21 in front of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), in the Chiyoda Ward of Tokyo. Song is the leader of a group that wants the Japanese government’s free education program to be extended to Chongryon-affiliated kindergartens and daycare centers.

Weekly demonstrations reach number 200

These demonstrations have been held every other Friday since 2013, seven years ago, with the protesters largely consisting of students from Chosen Gakko. That was the year that the Japanese government, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, revised government regulations to make Chosen Gakko ineligible for the government’s free high school education program. Japan had adopted a policy of free high school education in 2010, under the Democratic Party, but deferred the inclusion of Chosen Gakko because of their connection with North Korea.

Despite the seven years of demonstrations, the Japanese government has only dug in its heels further about blocking Chosen Gakko from its free schooling programs. While graduates from the schools have filed damages lawsuits in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukukoka, claiming that the government’s action is illegal, they’ve all been defeated either in a district court or on appeal. The plaintiffs’ defeat in cases in Tokyo and Osaka has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Japan. The courts have ruled that the Japanese government is acting within its discretion when it concludes that government funding, if given to Chosen Gakko, might be used for purposes other than tuition, because the schools are under Chongryon’s influence. Chosen Gakko have countered that they report all their finances to MEXT and that, if there are irregularities in the reports, the government could carry out an audit. On top of that, the Abe administration launched a program for free early childhood education last year, but program subsidies aren’t available to international schools, including Chosen Gakko. Meanwhile, the program is being funded by a hike in the consumption tax that’s paid by Korean-Japanese and indeed by all foreigners in the country.

Song’s children are attending Chosen Gakko; one is in the sixth grade of elementary school and the other is in kindergarten. “Since they left Chosen Gakko out of the free high school program, I’d already been worried that they’d do the same with kindergartens. When people called for more schools to be made eligible for the free early child education program, the central government handed that decision over to local governments. That was a sneaky move,” she said.

Kim Hui-ju, a 21-year-old Korean-Japanese university student, has been attending the demonstrations since high school. “The Japanese government is trying to deny [Korean] ethnic education,” Kim said.

Both Japanese and Koreans united against Abe’s discrimination

Also at the demonstration was Shunichi Mizuoka, a lawmaker with the Constitutional Democratic Party. “Excluding Chosen Gakko from the free high school and early childhood education programs is a form of discrimination, and I consider it embarrassing, both as a Japanese person and as a member of the Diet.” Mizuoka was one of several dozen Japanese at the demonstration that Friday.

A teenage girl at the protest identified herself as a first-year high school student at a Chosen Gakko. “When I became a high school student, [the exclusion from the free high school program] started to impact my life. While joining these demonstrations, I’ve been shocked to see that, as we stand here chanting, passengers just walk by without even pausing,” she said.

The protesting students continued chanting a song that contains a mixture of Korean and Japanese lyrics. “How much shouting will be enough? Our voices have been stolen. Can you hear them? Are you listening?” The lyrics come from a song called “Let the Voices Gather, Let the Song Come.”

One of the students in the demonstration held up a placard that said, “Please listen to us,” while pedestrians walked by.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

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

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