Considering the pariah status of North Korea in international circles, it can nevertheless boast diplomatic relations with 165 different states.This does not include the US, who it regularly threatens to transform into a sea of fire, or Japan, which is still desperately seeking answers to the whereabouts of a number of citizens kidnapped by the state over three decades ago.
Almost every week, a member of the family of the disappeared will crop up online or on national TV, and Japanese news rarely mentions the state without raising the lingering issue. As a consequence, the Japanese public views of North Korea are the most damning in the world. In a survey conducted last month by GlobeScan, not one respondent viewed the North’s influence as positive.
So it’s perplexing to read on paper that around 10,000 pupils in Japan study in schools that teach allegiance to the North’s Dear Leader and his father, Kim Il-sung.
10,000 pupils in Japan study in schools that teach allegiance to the North’s Dear Leader and his father, Kim Il-sung.
These children are ethnic Koreans whose families resided in Japan between 1905 and 1945. At the time, they were registered as ‘Joseon’, the name for the undivided Korea between the 14th and 19th centuries. After the annexation following the Korean War, Koreans residing in Japan were given the opportunity to switch to South Korean. Those that opted to keep their Joseon nationality became default North Koreans.
As a result of this historical accident, around a quarter of the ethnic Koreans residing in Japan are members of Chongryon, a pro-North Korean organisation based in Japan which runs a network of banks, secondary schools and a university in Tokyo.
Although more historical anomalies than a North Korean propaganda factories, due to the lack of diplomatic relationship, these Joseon schools serve as North Korean ambassadors in Japan. They were also funded for decades by North Korea, are run on different curriculum to the rest of Japan, go on school trips to the North Korean capital, and discourage assimilation into Japan.