Patriotic Revolutionaries and Imperial Sympathizers: Identity and Selfhood of Korean-Japanese Migrants from Japan to North Korea

Markus Bell, University of Sheffield
Koreans leaving for Japan alight from buses at Niigata port to board the passenger liner for North Korea, early 1960s. Source: ICRC archives.
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Abstract

Although the outward migration of North Korean refugees has received increasing attention in scholarly circles, little research has been done on migration to North Korea. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, this article considers the changing political identification of migrants from Japan to North Korea, from 1959 to the 1980s, and their relationship to both the ethnic homeland and the former colonizer. The author suggests that the North Korean state’s effort to contain the imagined threat posed by arrivals from Japan was undermined by transnational exchange between divided families. Specifically, women on both sides of the Sea of Japan (East Sea) engaged in kin work that alerted ethnic Korean immigrants to their ambiguous status as both fraternal comrade and outsider in North Korea. This article illustrates how mobility provided opportunities for new identities to emerge, as individuals who considered themselves Korean compatriots developed identifications that translocally connected them to kin and communities in Japan.

Keywords: identity, migration, selfhood, transnational kinship, North Korea, Japan, Zainichi Koreans