Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

In one of the past issues of this Bulletin I already reported about Ikuno's (Osaka) Korean Mothers' school (Omoni Hakkyo) that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next July. The last 25 years show the development of the literacy education of Koreans and of various local programs involving many foreigners living in Osaka. I want to report on the relationship between local activities and the programs of literacy education of the Korean Mothers' school, the first one to be opened in Japan.

In July 1977, the Seiwa Church of the United Church of Christ in Japan started in Ikuno (Osaka) a Literacy School that was the origin of Ikuno's Omoni Hakkyo. In spring of that year, at one of the meetings of a group of citizens to discuss the local problems of Ikuno, first generation Korean mothers raised the issue of many people living in Ikuno who could not read or write, due to the lack of facilities to learn. At once, a group of "omoni" with the help of 10 volunteers started lessons at Seiwa Church. After a while, the number of participants started to grow and the local of the church was unable to accommodate, at its peak, the 80 "omoni" and the 30 staff personnel.
Such activities were highly appreciated by the Koreans living in Japan and attracted the attention of the mass media. Since all kinds of people got involved in the programs, this brought divisions within the staff with regard to opinions and ways to run the school. The "omoni" were also caught up in the struggle and there was a period when the continuance of the school itself was threatened. There was nothing to be surprised at, because those were times of social unrest against compulsory fingerprints and ethnic discrimination, movements that attracted many people. In fact, many activists gathered in Ikuno at that time and several of them became volunteers at Ikuno.
For a while, the numbers of "omoni" fell to 10 persons with only a few volunteers. Then, going back to the original concept, the literacy programs were re-started in 1987 with an attendance of about 40 participants and tens of volunteers.
Since 1997 up to the present, when the school celebrates its 25th anniversary, there are 48 "omoni" and about 20 volunteers from Ikuno participating in the programs.

The Omoni Hakkyo has made a contribution to Ikuno in promoting literacy. Out of the 150,000 inhabitants of Ikuno over 40,000 are Koreans. According to surveys done in the '90s, the rate of preschool children over 15 years old was high and many of them were Korean women.
"Omoni" first and second generation Koreans, between 50 and 80 years old, that had come to live in Japan as forced laborers or other similar reasons, did not have the opportunity of getting education. Over-tasked with their daily lives they were too busy to attend school and, even after compulsory education was fixed, stopped going to school, due to ethnic discrimination practices. It seems that poverty left many of them unable to get education. Although the occasion to learn how to read and write differs from person to person, about 2/3 of the "omoni" got to learn how to read and write when they became of age. The remaining 1/3 are new comers whose numbers increased from the year 1997. Most of them come from South Korea to marry Koreans living in Japan, but feeling the difficulties of their Japanese language knowledge to live in Korean communities, they come to the classroom to integrate more into them.
Many "omoni" hurry to the classrooms immediately after work and among them there are some already 80 year old.
Confucian influence in Korea is given as a reason for having many women unable to read and write. According to many "omoni", their fathers did not want them to attend school, because "there was no need for women to go to school". It is different with those who have come to Japan after 1997 to marry Koreans here. They have already finished compulsory education in South Korea and they are now learning Japanese.
Those "omoni" unable to read and write can neither move freely by train or by bus, nor write an application for a hospital or a public office. Thus, they feel psychological stress and regret, but once they attend literacy classes their vision and field of action widen and, because they are able to express themselves in writing, they experience lots of joy. And again, since the staff of the "Omoni Hakkyo" uses the original names, not the Japanese given names, one can realize that the "omoni", regaining their Korean identity, use pleasantly the time of study.
Surpassing all imagination, one can realize that the participants to the literacy courses get to read and write, liberating themselves from their suffering past. Most of the "omoni" were forced to come to Japan or followed their parents that were obliged to work in Japan and once they were here, lost family members, their Korean names and their own country. But, no matter the Japanese names, they are forced to spend the rest of their lives together with the Japanese, without enjoying the same rights Japanese have. Normally, and after having lost so many things, the "omoni" will lose all hope, but they endeavor to spend the rest of their lives trying to master the language of the former invaders of their own country. I bow in front of their strength.
Some of them start new activities on the occasion of learning how to read and write. For instance, some persons that kept reservations towards the Association of South Koreans (Mindan), before attending the classes, became fully involved in it, so as to act as officers and started to participate in the promotion of ethnic education and culture, or they supported the trials against finger printing. Literacy education promotes solidarity with the socially oppressed to get up on their feet.
As it was expressed in the Persepolis Statement (1975) "although literacy is not the only means directed to obtain human liberation, it is, indeed, the basic condition for any social reforms". In the same context, the literacy movement of Omoni Hakkyo has fulfilled its task to make social reforms in the region of Ikuno.
The literacy campaign that started in 1977, in Seiwa Church, with a small group of people has taken roots in the region and the movement has spread to Kyoto and Kawasaki where many Koreans are living. (To be continued)

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