Hi Blog. Here’s a campaign I was not aware of (again, Sapporo is a long, long way from Tokyo and Osaka). Read on to hear about a naturalized Korean-Japanese’s campaign for a prefectural seat in Osaka, campaigning his Korean roots overtly. I’m not going to spoil the surprise and tell you how it turned out until the end of the article….
Asahi Shinbun 04/06/2007
By Hiroshi Matsubara, Staff writer
TAKATSUKI, Osaka Prefecture–Lee Kyung Jae has repeatedly urged Korean children in Japan to cherish their ethnic roots. He has arranged festivals that promote Korean culture and long battled discrimination directed at Korean communities.
But to take his efforts to the next level, Lee, a 53-year-old second-generation Korean resident of Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, did what had been considered unthinkable: He gave up his long-cherished Korean nationality.
Members of Korean communities have argued that one’s nationality is essential to their identities. Yet when they seek voting rights for foreign residents in Japan, they are met with the legal provision that only Japanese citizens can cast ballots.
So Lee and others decided to take an ironic method. They obtained Japanese nationality to bring the voices of foreign residents to local and national politics.
“As I have spent all my life as a minority, I am keenly aware of the rights of the elderly, the disabled and others who are regarded as socially weak,” he told passers-by at JR Settsu-Tonda Station recently.
“I would like to ask voters to sympathize with the sentiments of foreign residents and allow me to become the first Korean-Japanese assembly member in Osaka,” he said.
Lee is running for a seat in the Osaka prefectural assembly election Sunday.
He is the first candidate of foreign origin who has run in a local or national election on a campaign to represent the interests of an ethnic group, according to the Korean Residents’ Union in Japan (Mindan).
To become eligible to run, Lee, an operator of a nursing-care organization, obtained Japanese nationality in June last year.
He stands in front of train stations every morning, calling for the “conscience” of Japanese people to hear the voices of foreigners and other social minorities and to turn Japan, with its growing foreign population, into a truly multicultural society.
Lee’s parents immigrated to Japan and worked at a military warehouse during World War II. After graduating from high school, Lee set up a citizens group to teach Korean children about their ethnic roots and to organize cultural festivals. He was also involved in human rights movements for non-Japanese, including the campaign aimed at abolishing the mandatory fingerprinting of foreigners for their alien registration.
In addition, he has joined the movement for foreign residents’ suffrage in local elections since the early 1990s.
Although Lee has won praise for his work, his campaign faces a serious problem: Many members of his main support base are not allowed to vote.
At the end of 2005, Osaka had 142,712 people with Korean nationalities, or 24 percent of 598,687 Koreans nationwide.
Lee is now counting on Koreans who have obtained Japanese nationality, whose number may exceed those who have maintained their Korean nationalities.
“Many ethnic Koreans apparently opt to live as Japanese by hiding their ethnic origins, and I hope my campaign will be an opportunity for them to solidify their ethnic identity or to openly express it to their Japanese neighbors,” Lee said.
A 61-year-old second-generation Korean resident of Takatsuki said she has been waiting for a long time for someone like Lee to take such action. However, she regrets that she is unable to vote.
“We no longer face overt discrimination, but we have yet to live completely free from concerns about our neighbors’ potentially negative looks or words,” said the woman, a supermarket worker.
The woman uses a Japanese name, but has asked her Japanese neighbors, including those who do not know her background, to vote for Lee.
Two of the woman’s four children, who have obtained Japanese nationality to avoid discrimination, live in Takatsuki and are thrilled to have Lee as a voting option, she said. “By having a representative in local government, I may feel more attached to the local community,” she said.
Lee estimates that his electoral district of Takatsuki and the town of Shimamoto have several thousand Korean-Japanese who are eligible to vote. He said he will need about 13,000 votes to win a seat on the prefectural assembly. That means he needs votes from the Japanese as well.
“I am still worried that Japanese society will again reject me in the form of scarce votes,” Lee said. “But even if my campaign ends in failure, I hope it will encourage future generations to aspire to become political representatives of their ethnic group.”
During a preliminary campaign for the Upper House election in July, Kim Jeong Ok, a second-generation Korean in Tokyo, recently visited local chapters of Mindan. He asked Mindan members to collect votes from Japanese members of their families, as well as neighbors and ethnic Koreans who have obtained Japanese nationality.
“I decided to run for the election because the relatively homogeneous composition of the Diet is the primary cause of the rapid nationalistic swing of politics today,” Kim, 51, said.
Kim, who works at a nonprofit organization that supports disabled people, obtained Japanese nationality in December 2005 in a bid to campaign in the Upper House election. He will run on the ticket of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) in the proportional representation part of the election.
But Kim said his campaign will not be easy. Even his relatives, including five siblings, who use Japanese names will not openly support him for fear of revealing their ethnicity.
“Representing these voices in national politics will be the way to achieve an equal partnership between the majority and minority residents, including foreigners of all ethnicities,” he said.(IHT/Asahi: April 6,2007)
Mr Lee lost. Badly. There were five seats to fill, six candidates. Here are the numbers:
自民党 吉田 利幸 30,385 1
公明 林 けいじ 27,921 2
民主 大前 英世 26,980 3
共産党 宮原 たけし 20,342 4
社民党 小沢 福子 19,475 5
無所属 い 敬宰 2,543
He’s at the bottom. Not even close. Ouch.
Rumor had it (from–where else–2-channel etc.) that he wanted to discriminate against Japanese after he got elected (“nan to shite mo Nihonjin o sabetsu shite shinitai”). Hard to believe he would be so stupid to say something like that.
But I can’t seem to find a website dedicated to his campaign telling his own story and combatting those rumors. That’s pretty odd too.
Anyway, thanks for trying. Debito in Sapporo
3 comments on “Asahi: Naturalized Korean-J runs as minority for Osaka Pref Seat”
MATT DIOGUARDI COMMENTS:
I didn’t get very far with this today. Let me give you just the most relevant information and you’re welcome to use it as you will.
Lee Kyung Jae’s name is listed in several places as:
If you use that name at Google or Yahoo you will get many hits.
There was a long lecture he gave in 2001 with the following title:
There were some controversial statements he made during the speech. Now, I’m not clear on this, so this might be an error, but I believe the controversial comments were at some point removed from the on-line version of the speech. At least this is what is claimed, and at this point, though I’m VERY unsure, I think the claim is probably correct.
The current version is here:
An archived version, which contains the remarks is here:
The remarks claimed to have been removed are as follows:
It seems likely to me that he made these remarks, but that perhaps they need to be put in context, and he might have been making a joke of sorts. I’m sure he wasn’t planning at making a run for office when he made these remarks. (If he did indeed make them.)
I’m not even sure if I understand the above passage correctly. I have read the first 2/3 of the lecture from which this quote is supposed to have come. To the extent I correctly understood the lecture, it was very thought provoking. I’m hesitant to say more than that without reading it more carefully.
My information on Lee Kyung Jae is still scarce, but from what I’ve found he sounds like really cool guy. He’s hated by the far right, and the comments above have been posted in many, many places.
Lee Kyung Jae has a Wikipedia (日本語) entry here:
Sorry if this message is a bit garbled. I’m interested in this issue, and if I have time, will try to look into it some more and maybe post an entry at my blog.
THANKS VERY MUCH FOR THE RESEARCH, MATT. PROBLEM IS, IF YOU’RE GOING TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN, YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE GOOD IMAGE CONTROL. (I SPEAK FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE–LOOK HOW EASILY IT WAS FOR INTERNET TROLLS TO BESMIRCH WHAT WE’VE BEEN DOING RE THE OTARU ONSENS CASE.)
IF MR LEE WANTS TO PUT HIS COMMENTS IN CONTEXT FOR THE VOTER, HE HAD BETTER USE THE NAME HE PUT ON HIS CAMPAIGN POSTERS. NOT THE KANJI FOR LEE, BUT THE HIRAGANA FOR “I”, OR ELSE SEARCH ENGINES AREN’T GOING TO REPRESENT HIM PROPERLY. PEOPLE JUST AREN’T GOING TO RESEARCH TOO DEEPLY–THEY HAVE NEITHER THE TIME OR THE INCLINATION. PITY. DEBITO
(REPOSTING HERE, SINCE THIS REPLY APPEARED UNDER A DIFFERENT BLOG ENTRY. DEBITO)
Matt Dioguardi Says:
April 14th, 2007 at 7:27 am e
This whole case fascinates me.
I agree with you that Lee Kyung Jae did poorly in the public relations department. The far right did a better job of getting THEIR message out about him, than he did of getting out his OWN message out. If you search for the quote that is constantly ascribed to him, you get over a 1500 pages. If you search for a Lee Kyung Jae home page, you can’t find one. His Wikipedia entry is NOT locked down, so anyone could have edited it, including Lee Kyung Jae or a friend.
Again he sounds like a really cool guy with a message of coexistence. He was someone who once got arrested for not giving his fingerprints to local authorities, and he has been active in many ways to help the Korean community. Recently his message has really been pro-integration. Become Japanese, but don’t forget who you are.
I’m perplexed by his whole campaign though. I’m not sure what it was he wanted to achieve. But inadvertently he’s allowed certain issues to be raised that probably confuse the situation for foreigners.
For example, if many immigrants were allowed to come into Japan and establish themselves, would “yamato Japanese” (whatever that may mean) become a discriminated minority? What would happen to Japanese culture, would it be lost? How about the Emperor system, would all these new foreigners do away with it?
Trying to establish the correct problem context is vital, and the far right seem to want to view the problem as above, and has used Lee Kyung Jae’s campaign as a sort of springboard to do so. I think the problem with the question raised is inherent in the questions. That is, I don’t think these questions should be answered as they are formulated but instead, more appropriate questions need to be asked.
Controlling the problem context is really important here.
Looking at this situation, I have to say, you were certainly right to take legal action against 2ch.