2014年08月19日

Chongryon school in Kawasaki struggles to survive financially

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Decline in students, government funding leads to unpaid staff, uncertain future
August 18th, 2014 Kosuke Takahashi

KAWASAKI, Japan – A pro-North Korea elementary school for Korean children in Kawasaki city, adjoining Tokyo, is struggling to survive financially due to a steep decline in students and the absence of local government subsidies.

Kang Moon Seok, 56, principal of the Kawasaki Choson Elementary School, located in the southern part of Kawasaki City in Kanagawa Prefecture, recently admitted to NK News that his school has been unable to pay its 10 teachers their salaries for two months.

“We all can’t live properly without salary,” said Kang, head of Kawasaki Choson Elementary School, one of the 71 affiliated schools of Chongryon, the pro-Pyongyang federation of Korean residents in Japan.

Kang said about 6,000 Zainichi, or ethnic Koreans in Japan, live in Kawasaki Ward alone.

This racial melting pot was created under Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Kang said many Koreans were forced by the Japanese military regime to come to work at military establishments in Kawasaki, such as steel and shipbuilding industries, namely NKK and Hitachi Zosen, especially after Japan started the Second Sino-Japanese war in 1937.

“In the case of Kawasaki, many Zainichi Koreans originally came from South Gyeongsang Province, located in the southeast of the current South Korea,” said Kang, a third-generation Korean resident of Japan.

“Meanwhile, as for Osaka, the most famous place with the highest concentration of Zainichi in Japan, many of them originally came from Jeju Island.”

Kang said his grandfather moved from Jeju Island to Osaka in 1937 by ship called “Kimigayomaru,” then moving into Kawasaki.

Kang, who refers to North Korea as “Choson,” said many Korean residents in Japan, including his grandfather, saw Choson as the only legitimate state and South Korea as a puppet state of the United States, thus many of Zainichi chose North Korean citizenship rather than South Korean in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

In the early 2000s, the school removed the portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that used to hang in classrooms because parents wanted to set aside ideology.

When this writer referred to Kim Jong Un without any honorific official titles such as “Supreme Commander” or “First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party,” Kang expressed his anger by saying “This pisses me off, as he is the most important person to protect Choson and he has guaranteed to protect Zainichi 100 percent.”

“We are not anti-Japanese people, but pro-Japanese people, living in Japan,” Kang said.

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The inside of the Kawasaki Choson Elementary School. Kosuke Takahashi

The following are excerpts from an interview with Kang at his school in Kawasaki City.

NK News: First of all, can you briefly tell us about your school? For example, how many students are here now?

Kang: This is an elementary school. Currently, we have 58 students, that is, 44 elementary school kids and 14 kindergarten pupils. This school was reorganized from an elementary and junior high school into the current form of an elementary school in 2005 due to the diminishing number of children, etc.

We used to have about 500 students in 1960s, when I myself came to this school as a student. That was the peak. Soon after that, six students in every class went back to Choson (North Korea) on the back of the “Return Country Campaign” (promoted by Chongryon).

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The inside of the Kawasaki Choson Elementary School. Kosuke Takahashi

NK News: That was when North Korea launched a propaganda campaign, “It’s an earthly paradise.”

…kids from Christian families also come to this school

Kang: At that time, many Zainichi could not get a job in Japan, so they wanted to go back to Choson. This is the real reason.

NK News: When was this school established?

Kang: The school was established in November 1946, two years before Choson was (officially) founded in September 1948.

NK News: Who established the school at that time actually?

Kang: Choren, or the Zainichi Chosenjin Renmei (League of Korean Residents in Japan), established it. Choren was the predecessor of Chongryon.

NK News: So, do many kids from pro-North ethnic Korean families come to this school now?

Kang: Not necessarily. There are many students whose families are not Chongryon members. This is the school for Zainichi. For example, kids from Christian families also come to this school.

NK News: So, is this school nothing to do with Chongryon now?

Kang: That’s not true. Of course, the school is associated with it. When something wrong happens to the school, people at Chongryon would kindly help us in many ways.

NK News: Out of 58 students, how many do come from Chongryon-member families?

Kang: What do you mean by Chongryon member? You mean activists at Chongryon? Or pro-Chongryon people? It’s hard to tell. But since Choren, Chongryon’s predecessor, established the school, we admit the school has been under the influence of Chongryon. For Choren, to establish schools for Zainichi was the most important thing at that time.

NK News: What subjects do you teach in here?

Kang: We teach Korean language, arithmetic, science, Japanese language, music, arts and crafts, health and physical education and social studies.

NK News: So you don’t teach Juche ideology?

Kang: You cannot teach it to elementary students. They cannot understand.

NK News: How much is the total monthly tuition parents have to pay?

Some families such as a fatherless family cannot pay tuition at all. But we cannot press such families for payment

Kang: Everything included, that amounts to about 30,000 Japanese yen (a little less than $300) per student. In April, it runs up to 40,000 yen as parents have to buy many textbooks at the beginning of a new school term.

NK News: That’s very expensive.

Kang: Yes, it used to be about 15,000 yen. But now, we cannot receive any funding from Kanagawa Prefecture and Kawasaki City. Some families such as a fatherless family cannot pay tuition at all. But we cannot press such families for payment.

Our 10 teachers here have not been paid for two months. And I also could not reiceive any salary for six months at one time. This is becoming sort of volunteer work for us. We all can’t live properly without salary.

NK News: What do you think of the abduction issue?

Kang: In 2002 when (North Korean leader Kim Jong Il) admitted the nation had abducted 13 Japanese citizens, such as Megumi Yokota, I was so shocked. I could not believe it. But instantly I had to think about my students. I thought the Japanese people’s wrath would surely turn on Zainichi. The phone was actually permanently engaged. Those phone calls said, “We will avenge!” and “Your child will be a drowned body in the river.” Since 2002 I have always been thinking how to protect my students. I have been driven by an instinct for self-preservation.

Japan is a basis for my life

I feel very sorry for the Yokota family. But some Japanese groups are using the abduction issue for their political purposes, bringing about hate speech toward Zainichi. So, I have complicated feelings about this issue.

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A book written by the parents of Megumi Yokota was there in the principal's office when I visited there on August 2. The principal said Kawasaki City government sent this book to every parent of the pro-North Korea school kids and one of those books was brought to the principal's office

NK News: Where is your national identity? What do you think of Japan as Zainichi?

Kang: I really care about Japan. I was born and grew up in Kawasaki. I had Japanese childhood friends. I have eaten the same Japanese food as you. I watched the same TV programs in childhood as you. I played the same Japanese games as you. Japan is a basis for my life.

NK News:What do you think of for the sale of the Tokyo headquarters building and land of Chongryon?

Kang: This became a big issue as it was thrown into politics. The Resolution and Collection Corp. (RCC), the government-affiliated debt collection agency, and Chongryon once reached an agreement on a sales contract. But Japan’s political intervention made this problem bigger. They are using this issue as a means of sanctions.

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Pictures: Kosuke Takahashi
posted by Kosuke at 00:02| Comment(0) | NK News