2nd Issue of 2008 No.147

Minority Women - Standing Up and Linking Together
Zainichi Korean Women


1. Introduction

   "Apeuro” is a Korean word that means “moving forward” or “moving toward the future." The Apeuro Women’s Survey Project began in August 2003 with a group of five concerned women, but grew to include 42 members within its first year. The project was formally launched on July 25, 2004, when the survey on the situation of Zainichi Korean women began in earnest. A six-month deadline of January 2005 was set for completion of the questionnaires, with data collation due by August, just prior to analysis. A summary of the results was released in July 2006.

Survey Methods and Target Population:

  The survey took the form of a questionnaire and was conducted with Zainichi Korean women living in Japan's Kinki region, mainly in Osaka. Some respondents had acquired Japanese nationality. Most respondents were third or fourth generation Zainichi Korean women, while others were first or second generation. The survey was therefore able to examine the conditions faced by different generations of women and to assess differences in their attitudes and values.

  We targeted Zainichi Korean women belonging to certain organizations or groups. We did not intend to distribute the questionnaire widely. We knocked on the doors of each group or individual to deliver the questionnaire in-person. Most respondents were family members, relatives, friends and colleagues of the 42 Apeuro members. We were later able to reach out to more people through this network. In the end we reached 818 women.

Survey Results

1. Nationality of Respondents

South Korea 578 70.7%
Korea (inc. North) 168 20.5%
Japan 58 7.1%
N.A 14 1.7%
Total 818 100.0%

<This is not 'nationality' as defined by international law, but rather as defined by Japan's alien registration law.  >

Circumstances concerning the nationality of Zainichi Koreans are complex. Being born as a third or fourth generation Zainichi Korean does not automatically qualify a person for Japanese nationality at the time of his or her birth (nationality in Japan is based on jus sanguinis). Zainichi Koreans have a strong tendency to retain their Korean nationality as a token of their identity in the context of a Japanese society that does not encourage Zainichi Koreans to use their ethnic names. In the Apeuro survey project, a high rate of use of ethnic names is evident. Of the 818 respondents, 450 women “always” or “usually” use their ethnic names. However, this does not reflect the general situation because the survey was conducted with women who have above-average ethnic consciousness. Respondents also displayed similar tendencies in the use of their ethnic names, enjoyment of ethnic education and acquirement of Korean language.

    Historically, Zainichi Koreans have faced a constant risk of being assimilated into Japanese society. The above figures show this risk has been overcome and that ethnic identity has been passed from one generation to another. However, Zainichi Koreans still face situations in which they are urged to choose which of their ethnic and Japanese names they will use at major life turning points including employment, educational advancement, and marriage.

2. Work

     How do Zainichi Korean women face multiple forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality and gender in their workplaces? The chart below shows the employment status of respondents grouped by age, excluding those who did not answer this question.

Age range

      Among respondents who are currently employed, 58 are self-employed in occupations such as farming, 52 work in family businesses, 16 are corporate managers or executives, 221 are full-time employees, 40 are contract workers, and 179 are part-time workers. Nearly 30% of respondents are full-time employees, while about 20% work on a part-time basis.

   Regarding hours worked per week, 113 respondents work less than 10 hours, 96 work 11-20 hours, 62 work 21-30 hours, 123 work 31-40 hours, 131 work 41-50 hours, and 62 work more than 51 hours.

   Regarding the use of ethnic names in employment, 274 (33.5%) respondents are employed under their ethnic names, 75 (9.2%) state they want to use their ethnic names in employment but do not do so, 142 (17.4%) state they have never thought about doing so, 35 (4.3%) state they do not want to use their ethnic names, 18 (2.2%) do not use their ethnic names at the request of their employers, 29 (3.5%) gave some other response, and 245 (30.0%) did not answer this question. The follow-up question "Why do you not want to use your ethnic name or have never thought about doing so?" elicited the following answers: Nine respondents answered, "I cannot find jobs using my own ethnic name," 109 answered, "I have never used it before," eight answered, "I do not want to stand out," 13 answered, "I am hiding the fact that I am Zainichi Korean," and two answered, "I am not able to do business under my ethnic name." 26 respondents gave other answers, and 10 did not answer this question.

   To the question "Have you ever been discriminated against based on your nationality or origin when applying for work?" the following answers were given: 34 answered, "I have been rejected based on my nationality or origin," 86 answered, "I have felt discriminated against," 290 answered, "I have not been discriminated against in any particular way," 113 answered, "I do not know," 14 answered, "I was rejected when I used my ethnic name," and 29 gave other answers.

   The following accounts were given by some respondents with regard to their experiences of discrimination.

Some comments from women:

(experience of racial discrimination)

  •  “During my childhood, when I got into an argument with my friends, they would call me 'Chousen' (Korean) in a derogatory way. When I was in the sixth grade of elementary school, my teacher said something spiteful to me about my graduate certificate because of my race. When I grew up, I found I could not become a government employee. Even in a private company, I would never be posted to positions involving money (such as accountant or general clerk). When I applied for naturalization for my son, who has disabilities, he was rejected. I think they exclude those who would be perceived as a burden on the government based on annual income by requiring people to earn an annual income of three million yen and not to become a financial burden on the state. We will never have the right to vote. Some people have to accept great restrictions in their national pension allowances. Police and lawyers do not take us seriously.”

  • “I have just been naturalized. But other than gaining voting rights and no longer needing to register as an alien, nothing has changed. My life is the same as before. We still practice traditional Korean ancestor worship ceremonies. Restrictions still exist on some job applications (certain jobs are only available to Japanese nationals) and prejudice still exists against Koreans if they want to marry Japanese.”

  • “I have Japanese citizenship, but one of my friends who used her Korean name when applying for a job was rejected. It was a part-time position, but they rejected her because of her foreign nationality. Both of us grew up in Japan. I was rejected by the mother of my old boyfriend because of my Korean nationality. I was told, ‘We don’t want our son dating a Korean!’”

< experiences of gender discrimination>:

  • “Zainichi Koreans need to improve their human rights awareness, especially that regarding female employees’ entitlement to menstrual leave, maternity leave and childcare leave. Men should also have the right to take childcare leave. Although a woman may not be hired if there is a possibility she will take childcare leave, workplaces must firstly be made more accessible to women to create gender equality in the workplace.”

  •  “Women are not easily able to give birth and raise children, even thought it is their right to do so. This right has been removed in contemporary times. We have to fight to survive... Why must this be the case? I don’t want to have to struggle.”

  •  “When I worked at a company owned by a fellow Korean, I was treated like a hostess during work parties. I find it strange that most women’s jobs are part-time.”

  •  “I’m married to an eldest son who works in a [Korean] family-owned independent business, so more than discrimination against women in general, since getting married I have come to realize how hard it is to be a bride. It is exactly the same situation as if I were married to the same type of man in a Japanese family. Everything is built upon my perseverance. I had to work really hard while raising children. This is a case of women discriminating against other women - are there any measures being taken to deal with this? Or is this a personal family problem and, therefore, not the same as discrimination against women?”

The survey indicated the following:

  • The M-shaped labor curve cannot be seen in the labor rates of Zainichi Korean women. The reality is that they work much longer, even into later years of life.
  • Considering that 57.1% of respondents earn an annual income of less than 2 million yen, it is clear that less than half of respondents are able to support themselves on their own income.
  • Only those women who earn a relatively high income are able to take childcare leave. The overwhelming majority of women do not work in environments where they can easily take this leave.
  • The existence of nationality requirements for jobs clearly stands out as a serious issue. These requirements indicate a lack of formal recognition of equal opportunity in the workplace.
  • Despite changes in invisible barriers in the workplace, such barriers definitely still exist.
  • The workplace environment does not allow the full expression of a person’s ethnic name. Diverse individuals cannot demonstrate their strengths and their energy is stifled. Zainichi Korean women are forced to endure, sacrifice and take on specific roles in the home, workplace and society, but are not expected to grow. Many women feel this to be unfair and are angry about the situation.

4. Violence against Women

   The situation surrounding Zainichi Korean women with regard to the problem of domestic violence is not well known. We asked several questions regarding the problem of violence against women with a view to identifying some possible remedies or assistance to those who suffer from it. Of the 818 respondents, about 20% have experienced physical and/or verbal violence from their male partners. We do not place much emphasis on the number of women who experience such violence, but it is important for us to spotlight the problem that women are subjected to violence.

    Through the survey, it has become clear that many women have been subjected to violence not just once, but repeatedly. 33.1% of the 145 women who reported being kicked or beaten by their partners “several times” or “one or two times” said they experienced violence within the past year. We want to find ways to solve the damage caused by domestic violence and eliminate the problem with the cooperation of the administration and society as a whole.

    It was not surprising to find that most women who have been hit, kicked or beaten by their partners one time or more also reported other forms of abuse such as receiving no money from their husbands for living expenses, restrictions being placed on communication with their parents or friends, and forced sexual intercourse, etc. This shows they suffer not only from physical abuse, but also mental and psychological abuse. It should also be noted that many victims of violence are aged over 40.

   Respondents who experienced verbal violence reported being subjected to the following abuse from their partners:

  •  “Get out of the house!”
  •  “I am the one who feeds you”
  •  “You’ve ruined my life” “You, Korean!”
  •  “Give my money back to me, I am the one who earned it.” “You’re slow and stupid! You only know how to bear children”
  •  “You are dirty because you are Korean” (from husband’s parents)
  •  “You know who supports your life. You are useless. As a woman, you cannot do even household chores”
  •  “Women should be disciplined through beating and slapping”


Verbal abuse has great power. The above abuse demonstrates the attitudes of men, disdain against women, male domination over women, enforcement of stereotyped gender roles and ethnic discrimination. Women understate the violence they suffer because they believe it to be shameful. During their childhood, many respondents witnessed violence inflicted on their mothers by their fathers. Through these events in their homes they have come to believe that women should endure physical and verbal abuse by their husbands. They seem to accept such abuse unless it becomes very severe.

   The survey also revealed the lack of a public place where women can easily access counseling when they are subjected to violence. We strongly believe in the need for such a place.

<from the book "Minority Women -
Standing UP and Linking Together"
published by IMADR-JC, 2007>

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