Korean Residents Still Grappling for Foothold Here [part 3]

‘Alien law’ and the hidden walls of society

OSAKA — A subject many residents of Osaka’s Ikuno Ward make their voices heard on is the mandatory fingerprinting under Japan’s Alien Registration Law of 1952.

Local fingerprinting refusers such as the Rev. John McIntosh of Canada and lay missionary Ronald Fujiyoshi of Hawaii work closely with the KCC in publicizing their pending court cases and participating in the anti-fingerprinting movement.

Like hundred of other refusers nationwide, McIntosh and Fujiyoshi focus on the mandatory fingerprinting provision as the symbol of Japan’s ill-treatment of Koreans over the years.

Korean residents know the procedure well at the Ikuno immigration department.

All Korean youths, even those born in Japan, must make “the trip” to the ward office on their 16th birthday to imprint their left index finger for identification purposes, according to Justice Ministry regulations.

For many Korean residents it can be a humiliating experience at the Ikuno office. To be fingerprinted, they must stand behind a white, half-dome plastic shield located at the front of the room. As if to draw further attention to itself, the portable plastic stand leaves only a person’s legs visible to those in the crowded waiting room.

Local immigration officials also know about Korean residents because of the mandatory registration for foreigners.

For instance, there are 10,281 Koreans under the age of 16 in Ikuno, according to recent ward office statistics. There are also 28,447 Korean residents over the age of 16. The number of Korean fingerprinting refusers in Ikuno as of May 30: 65. The number of Koreans with “permanent alien” status: about 33,000.

But numbers alone don’t begin to tell the stories of the 9,682 Korean families living in Ikuno, many of whom have their Japanese family names posted next to their Korean names on their front doors.

Suh, the accounting professor, sees many special difficulties facing Ikuno’s Korean community. Among them are societal pressures to fit in among the Japanese, differences in religion, the generation gap — not to mention political tensions between North and South Koreans living here.

“I believe that Ikuno is a very unique town in Japan, but the problem is the Korean people are divided into two: north and south. That is quite a big problem, and we have to solve it. Also, the names. Even though we Koreans know each other, some people use their Japanese names.”

Suh, who started a scholarship fund for Koreans in Japan 31 years ago, believes a wider-ranging education of the younger Korean generation is the key to overcoming those obstacles.

But perhaps the biggest barrier facing Koreans in Ikuno, and throughout the country, is the one in the minds of the Japanese, said Suh.

“I dare to say that the most important problem is the Japanese mental wall,” he said.

“It’s not just a matter of fingerprinting, labor or education problems. The first thing we want, and what we’ve got to do, is to get rid of the Japanese mental bloc, their narrow-mindedness toward other people.”

He added: “If the Japanese were open-minded, there would be no problems with Korean fingerprinting and education.” (B.C.)