Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

The first time I started to work in literacy classes for Koreans living in Japan in the Ikuno region (Osaka) was in 1995, when I was working in an institution of Kamagasaki. At that time, The Korean government had not yet disclosed its "Taiyo open policy" and Japanese-Korean relations were not as friendly as now, the holding of the Korean-Japan World Cup had not been yet decided. On the other hand, the unsolved postwar issues concerning Japan and Korea seemed to affect all local activities where Japanese and Koreans would be involved. I got the impression that the awareness of ethnic discrimination was also reflected among Koreans living in Japan and all those who participated in local activities.
As a result, the appeals to the authorities concerning the violations of human rights had a colorful style of fighting with the supporters, in an attitude of opposition to Japan that looked much stronger than it is now. With regard to this, Japanese that tried to participate in those activities felt a heavy burden that drew them from getting involved.
Again, as I mentioned above with regard to Japanese-Korean relations I felt much their influence when I visited South Korea for a training seminar in 1995. At that time, they were destroying the old Korean Governor's Palace and the Korean mass media reported extensively that 50 years had passed since the end of the Pacific War, but Japan neither made official apologies nor offered compensations. I received the impression that the Japanese press did not cover such reports but, when I was back in Japan I saw posters in Ikuno announcing public gatherings concerning Japanese postwar compensation issues, similar to those reported in South Korea. This seemed to me to show that Osaka's Ikuno "little Korea" and South Korea have become closely interlinked..

The official conversations between North and South Korea in the year 2000 advanced the exchanges between South (Mindan) and North (Soren) Korean organizations in Japan and facilitated the access of first and second generation of Korean "omoni" (mothers) living in Japan to attend literacy classes together. I felt that small changes in the mutual relationship of countries also provoked changes in other fields and people with different nationalities, living in Japan, could communicate with each other here.
Abductions as well as the hard treatment of Koreans by the Japanese built barriers and the socially weak were sometimes hurt, but since Koreans living in Japan conduct volunteer activities together, more than in their own country of origin, the time will come, I think, when all these efforts will produce powerful results.

As I have just mentioned, I feel that official issues of Japanese-Korean relations and the North-South Conversations made impacts also in the local activities of Ikuno, and thinking in wider terms, the biggest change since the time I got involved in those activities till now has been an orientation from an opposition attitude to dialogue. South Korea announced its "Taiyo open policy" and followed a course of a closer cooperation with Japan that brought the implementation of a Year of common exchanges and the holding together of the World Cup. As a result, Koreans living in Japan were able to participate with their supporters and others not only in activities organized for them, but it also became easier to take part in other plans and exchange events, so that the number of participants increased. Again, first and second generation Koreans that reached old age increased also in numbers, at the time when the new insurance system for the care of senior citizens started, a factor that produced many young volunteers different from those who were active in other movements. Anyhow, those were changes I noticed during the time I got involved in those local activities and I got the feeling that they were "signs of the times", to use a Christian expression.

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