The Movement for Literacy Education in the New Century

Abe Keita (Staff member of Ikuno's School)

An article that I wrote on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Ikuno's school appeared in No. 80 of this Bulletin. I was asked this time to report on the present situation of the Korean mothers' school (omoni hakkyo) and on the literacy movement of Ikuno town (Osaka), where many Korean residents live. What are the main changes taking place at this moment?

Ikuno's Omoni Hakkyo

I would like to start first by introducing the "omoni hakkyo". Most probably some of my thoughts were already expressed 3 years ago in this bulletin. Ikuno is a town of Osaka City with a population of 160,000 people. Due to the fact that almost 50,000 are Koreans who, in the past, have experienced oppression and discrimination living in Japan, they established ethnic groups to fight social discrimination and to look after their own culture and traditions. Many events, cultural and others, are often performed in Ikuno to revive Korean identity. The Korean Town is a well-known shopping center that symbolizes one of the Korean communities rooted in Ikuno.

Local volunteers started literacy lessons in Seiwa Church of the United Church of Christ in Japan, back in 1977, to answer the desires of Korean women residents of Ikuno. Thus, the Ikuno omoni hakkyo was the first Japanese literacy school opened for Korean residents.
At present the omoni hakkyo opens twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday evenings, at Seiwa Community Center of Ikuno. The students are second-generation Korean women whose parents had come to Japan, before World War (II). Most of them are in the sixties.

All the 20-person teaching staff is composed of volunteer students and citizens. About 50 Korean women, divided in small groups, attend the lessons that deal with Primary and Secondary education subjects. When the Korean women register they use their original names, and the staff is careful about calling them by their own names.

There are various reasons to learn how to read and write, but one main reason is that they were accustomed to trust all written documents to their husbands. At present, many have lost their husbands, so in order to be able to survive by themselves, they feel the need of becoming literate. In other words, since "necessity knows no law", they are forced to know how to read and write, so that they can pay visits to hospitals and fill in all kinds of official documents.

Many came to live in Japan before and after the War and, busy with their daily work and families or because they were suffering from discrimination during the first years of education, they were not motivated to learn and dropped from school.

On the other hand, Confucian influence in the Korean Peninsula before the war, and the traditional predominance of men over women, robbed women of their right for education.
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A Korean woman said: "When I was back home, boys were told that education was needed, but they told us, women, that we did not need to go to school. We could not receive school education in our own country, and when we came to Japan we were always busy. When we realized the need of education we were old already. To attend school you have to be young. In Korea many could not go to school in those days, and especially girls were not allowed to receive school education. In spite of that, to go to school was often my dream; it's almost unbelievable that I'm studying now". The truth is that Korean women were robbed of literacy in their own country as well as in Japan.

We can observe in this "omoni hakkyo" how the Korean mothers get liberated gradually from their painful past. Their strength surpasses all imagination. They came to live in Japan brought here as forced labor or due to various other reasons. They lost their own country, and, while in Japan, lost even their own names; they could not hold the same rights as Japanese residents, and many elder women having lost their families could not afford to go anywhere but Japan. People caught in similar circumstances usually lose all hope and despair.

But, it is different with these women. After coming of age, they strive to learn the language of their country's invaders, and make efforts to spend the rest of their lives in Japan and to express in writing their inner feelings, by publishing a collection of articles written by themselves. It is a very dynamic task to leave to the next generation, in writing, their memories with the experiences they have of ethnic oppression.
On top of this, they regain their identity by calling themselves with their own names during class and by participating in cooking Korean cuisine and dancing events, organized by the Korean Residents Association (Mindan). Their sphere of action grows steadily, and to quote Paulo Freire's expression, "liberation through literacy", they show us a dynamic liberated appearance.

Recent Changes

The "omoni hakkyo" has changed in the last 4 years. As a symptom of the generation change, the rate of the newcomers who, after marrying here, are living in Japan has risen to about 20% of all Korean women residents. The newcomers have been living in Japan for more than ten years and they are accustomed to Japanese language and customs. Since their children are already grown, they enjoy now more free time and many of them have a high probability of obtaining permanent residence status. They attend the "omoni hakkyo" literacy courses to meet the needs of daily life, but also to fill the communication gap with their children who only know Japanese.

But, there are of course many new problems. Korean girls who have recently come to Japan to marry and, hopefully, to take permanent residence here, realize that there is no public place ready to receive them. Many of those who come to marry in Japan these days only speak Hangul, and because their husbands have attended Korean schools and learn Hangul there, they can not become proficient in Japanese.
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On the other hand, they spend most of the time working in typical sandal factories and family businesses in Ikuno, with the result that the evenings are the only free time they have to study.

Almost all Japanese-language courses and other classes in Ikuno are usually open during the day, but evening schools have been functioning, from the very beginning, in places far from Ikuno. This is why they are difficult to reach. Osaka City runs evening schools for foreigners that open daily in the evenings, but most of the Korean women living in Ikuno can not attend them because of their work.

Again, since residents of the Korean Town of Ikuno can manage their daily lives without speaking in Japanese, there is no incentive for them to study after work.

Young Korean women, willing to study, knock on the doors of "omoni hakkyo" at the advice of old women, but because they can not speak Japanese and because the staff of the school can not handle Hangul, communication breaks down. Feeling the need to solve the problem, the school made a public appeal for suitable volunteers, and a bilingual Korean resident in Osaka has jointed the staff of the school. As a result there are now several more young Korean students.

The fact that tens of young Korean women unable to speak Japanese have recently visited the school, shows that, only in Ikuno, there are probably more than one hundred of young women.
One can find several reasons why there are no similar Japanese language courses given in Ikuno town. Firstly, the administration of Osaka City is run by a strong city assembly that will not fix any system to solve the language issue of foreign residents, unless this is brought to discussion by the assembly.

On the other hand, candidates, somehow aware of the local needs of Ikuno town, failed to make it in the elections for the city assembly. This was also a setback for reforms of the system. A different reason that makes it difficult to offer plans for opening a new school is that, there are no literacy programs backed by the Buraku Liberation Movement in Ikuno.

There are many Japanese-Korean bilingual Korean residents belonging to Mindan and other organizations that promote ethnic education, but they either hold negative attitudes towards teaching the Japanese language or do not dare to do it. They give importance to the preservation of their cultural heritage and language, but they do not show interest in working for assimilation to Japan. In other words, it is, ideologically speaking, impossible.

In Ikuno there are day and evening courses in Hangul for Koreans who speak Japanese, but one can not find the opposite, Japanese lessons for Koreans. In other words, there is practically no Japanese instruction, public or private, offered to newcomers from Korea. As a result, students coming to "omoni hakkyo" do not diminish; quite the opposite, Korean women newcomers increase.
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In the words of some staff members, "Our task here is like niche business". "Omoni hakkyo" is serving Korean women unable either to go to evening school or to attend Japanese courses. One can say that the literacy education conducted during 23 consecutive years by the volunteer staff of this school has shown that neither the Ikuno administration nor other private educational bodies made enough efforts to provide literacy education to Korean residents. This is in spite of the fact that there are more Koreans in Ikuno than in any other city in Japan.

The issue concerning the future literacy movement in Ikuno is how to approach the local administration to open evening "omoni hakkyo", so that the newcomers from Korea who do not speak Japanese can receive education. It is difficult to search for possibilities whether schools with volunteer staff and limited classrooms can be opened, especially for lack of facilities, but there is a need to keep offering proposals to official local commissions for public activities.
Final Remarks

The above-mentioned new issues challenge the literacy activities of Ikuno as we enter the 21st century. In the year 2002, "Ikuno's omoni hakkyo", the first literacy movement in Japan for Korean residents, celebrates the 25th anniversary. When the time comes I will be happy to report, again, on the changes of literacy activities in Ikuno, as they are interconnected with all other social changes that have taken place.
For more complete information, please,
refer to Bulletin no.80, or address;
"Seiwa Shakaikan"
5-10-29 Momodani, Ikuno-ku,
Osaka 544-0034 JAPAN
Tel. 06-6718-1750