[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 139 / July. 20 .2007 ]
Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
I have already presented in this Bulletin the activities of the Korean Mothers' School (Omoni Hakkyo) in Ikuno (Osaka) that will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next July 31.
One can say that the last 30 years offer the history of local activities of Koreans living in Ikuno and the literacy education programs held there. Those are the oldest literacy local programs performed by private groups for Korean residents.
The "Omoni Hakkyo" started in July 1977 at the Seiwa Church of the United Church of Christ, as "Ikuno Literacy School." That was the result of discussions at one of the groups of citizens on local issues where some of the first generation Korean mothers (Omoni) claimed that, since there was no school in Ikuno to learn Japanese characters, many were unable to read them.
At once, a few Omoni started literacy classes at the chapel of Seiwa Church (Osaka) under the help of 10 volunteers, but the word spread around and at its peak over 80 Koreans applied for lessons, with the result that about 30 volunteer staff was needed, as well as large facilities.
Divisions within the staff regarding opinions and ways to run the school exerted influence also on the Omoni and there was a period when the continuation of the school became threatened. That was no surprise, because those were times of much social unrest against compulsory fingerprints and ethnic discrimination and many people were attracted to such movements.
At that time many Omoni students and staff left the school, but activists and other personnel that happened to get in contact with Ikuno through the School became deeply involved in the local issues of Ikuno. For a while the number of students fell low, but in 1997 at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the school 48 students and 20 staff gathered together. At present, the numbers remain the same.
The population of Ikuno ward is around 150,000 of which 40,000 are Korean residents. According to the official statistics done in the 90's the rate of preschool children over 15 years old was high and most of them were Korean girls. The reason why many Korean women could not read and write has its roots in Korean Confucian tradition that affirms that there is no need for women to receive high education
Up to 1990, first and second generation Korean women resident in Japan did not enjoy the opportunity to go to School after settling in Japan, for many reasons, one of them being that, even after compulsory education was imposed many Omoni could not go to School because of poverty and ethnic discrimination.
To this it has to be added that Confucian thought in Korea dismissing education for girls did not help and, as a result, 2/3 of all Omoni started to learn Japanese characters when they were of advanced age already.
The rest were Omoni that arrived in Japan to marry Korean residents. During the '90s the numbers of those have increased to the point that, they make 80 per cent of all Omoni in Ikuno. Seemingly many attend classes feeling uneasy on the abilities of Korean residents to master the Japanese language. There is also a big gap between them and first and second generation Koreans with regard to education and ethnic identity and mentality.
Those Omoni at the time when the School was founded felt a lot of psychological stress and lack of freedom when they had to visit public offices and hospitals, and use public transport, because they could not read and write. But, once they were able to learn Japanese characters they could enjoy expressing themselves in writing and their range of action widened. And again, since at School they would deal with one another using their original Korean names they, pleasantly, could use the time regaining their Korean identity.
In 1975 the Persepolis Statement declares, "Although literacy is not the only means directed to obtain human liberation, it is, indeed, the basic condition for any basic social reforms." In this context, the Omoni of Ikuno have fulfilled their task to make local social reforms. Before attending the classes many kept reservations towards the Association of South Koreans (Mindan) and the promotion of ethnic education and culture, but the learning of how to read and write changed their life attitudes and got involved in movements like the support of trials against fingerprinting.
The literacy campaign that started at Seiwa Church, in 1977, has spread to Kyoto and Kawasaki where many Koreans are living and several Omoni schools were born as a result of the activities going on in Ikuno.

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