Abe Keita (Franciscan Priest)
Since long ago I have been helping at the Japanese literacy classes for Korean women, as a staff member of the 'Omoni Hakkyo' school. Then, I decided to live in the Ikuno region where many Koreans live, in order to commit myself more to them. Four years have already passed since I moved there and I would like to introduce Ikuno to the readers of this Bulletin.
The population of Ikuno is roughly 150,000 people. Korean residents count for about 45,000. This is the largest Korean population in Japan.
Korean residents live in one community near the Korean shopping center town that fulfills the important task of providing housing and all daily needs of the Korean residents. At the same time, Korean groups, from the North and the South, as well as various Protestant groups of Koreans are dispersed and work around that region.
The production of "hep sandals" in small factories and workshops is the most famous industrial activity where Korean Ikuno residents are involved. Those workshops are dispersed around the region. As a matter of fact the name "hep sandals" was born in Ikuno.

Most Korean residents of Ikuno came formerly from Cheju Island in South Korea and many of them, belonging to the first and second generation, still know words and customs that have practically disappeared from Korea, their country of origin. In this way, they keep the old Korean customs better than the Koreans and the Confucian influence remains also quite strong. Korean residents carefully keep the old Korean festivals, like the old New Year and the Feast of the Deceased (Obon). One can realize that they preserve their ethnic identity by such events and life customs. On the other hand, native Koreans discriminate against them, because they are very Japanese-like and cannot speak the Korean language; they are just halfway (Panchoppari) Koreans.
Many of the Koreans living in Japan came to Japan very young, during II World War and due to various reasons could not go back to Korea. Ikuno region is full of Koreans that feel deep nostalgia and inferiority complex. In ways that overpass all suffering. In this respect there are differences among the Koreans who come to receive ethnic education.
Nevertheless, all kinds of groups based on opposite stands and ideologies have been active in Japan, through past campaigns against discrimination and the fingerprint system, to safeguard the rights and dignity of Korean residents suffering from unjust discrimination. The fingerprint system was abolished in 1992, but, since Japan still keeps and uses the fingerprints that were taken in the past, Koreans have filed suits against the government to recover their fingerprints. Ikuno region was the originator of a movement to demand that the law obliging foreigners to always carry their registration cards be abolished. All kinds of people still continue such activities and although, different from the past, their involvement in human rights action is not burning like a big flame so prominently, the fire is not extinct.
Last year, the hope for North-South unity, following the common declaration announced by both North and South Korea, looked nearer to reality. But, in fact, several years before that, in 1994, Koreans living in Japan established an organization of Korean volunteers to take care of their senior compatriots, whether they belonged to North or South Korea. Their activities continue under the slogan, "North-South unity through volunteer action." Again, Ikuno has taken the initiative to plan the events, "One-Korea Festival" to promote unity between North and South.
Ikuno's Ethnic Cultural Festival is also an event with deep roots in the region.Ikuno is a peculiar region where the largest Korean population resides. And as a result, there are so many events and activities concerning Koreans that it is difficult to report them. Next time I will provide some more information on this subject.