Embracing a Thorn: Diasporic Identity and Zainichi Experience in the Documentary Film Our School

Lee, Jane, East Asian Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Seeley, Joseph

Zainchi in Japanese directly translates to “residing in Japan,” and generally refers to Korean migrants and their descendants who established permanent residence in Japan before 1945. After the Second World War, those who remained were faced with three options: 1) become naturalized Japanese citizens; 2) become South Korean citizens; or 3) adhere to the “Chōsen” nationality, a country that no longer existed. This paper focuses on the last group who chose to retain their Chōsen nationality and thereby were perceived by wider Japanese society as supporters of North Korea, exposing them to constant discrimination. In particular, this paper focuses on the education of this minority group through the study of a Zainichi-focused documentary film, Our School (2007). I argue that the shared experience of marginalization, exclusion, and hostility in Japan prompted North Korea-affiliated Zainichi to band together and nurture their Zainichi identity as an act of resistance.

First, I investigate Zainichi’s historical background and the educational institutions in Japan that uphold and foster this Zainichi identity. Second, I analyze the documentary film Our School, arguing that its “participatory mode” of documentary filmmaking effectively portrays the director’s message, trying to lessen the emotional estrangement that the South Korean audience has towards Zainichi. Third, by studying two specific aspects of the lives of Zainichi students in North Korea-affiliated schools that are portrayed in the documentary – the wearing of traditional Korean clothing and the learning of the Korean language – I review how the challenges that students face as minorities motivate them to construct and embrace their identity even tighter.

MA (Master of Arts)
Zainichi , Chōsen Gakkō, Zainichi Chōsenjin, Korean Diaspora, Diasporic Identity, Our School, Participatory Mode
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