A personal hero, Chong Hyang Gyun, retires her nursing post at 60


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Hi Blog.  Although I like to devote Mondays to “bigger news”, I’d like to take this day to salute a personal hero of mine, former nurse Chong Hyang Gyun, a Zainichi Korean who, like any other qualified civil servant in Japan, expected to be promoted commensurate with her experience and dedication.

But not in Japan.  She in 1994 was denied even the opportunity to sit the administrative civil service exam because, despite her being born in Japan, raised in Japan, a native speaker of Japanese, and a taxpayer in and contributor to Japan like any other, she was still, in the eyes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a “foreigner”, therefore not to be trusted with administrative power over Japanese (the old “Nationality Clause”, kokuseki joukou, struck again).

So she sued for the right to sit the exam nearly twenty years ago.  Over more than ten years she lost, won, then ultimately lost in the Supreme Court, which, in a landmark setback for civil rights and assimilation, ruled there was nothing unconstitutional in denying her the right to chose her occupation and employment opportunities.

Now she’s retired as of April 1 (although rehired and working fewer hours).  I’m just grateful that she tried.  Some occupations are completely denied to NJ, including public-sector food preparation (for fear that NJ might poison our bureaucrats) and firefighting (for fear that NJ entering Japanese houses and perhaps damaging Japanese property might cause an international incident), that it becomes ludicrous for NJ to even consider a public-service job in Japan.(*)  Especially if the “glass ceiling” (in fact, an iron barrier, thanks to the Supreme Court) means you can never reach your potential.  The Chong-san Case made that clear, to Japan’s shame.

A report on workplace discrimination in Japan from Chong-san (Japanese) archived on Debito.org here.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(*) Apologies for the lack of links to substantiate the firefighting and food preparation claims.  My source was “Darling wa Gaikokujin” mascot Tony Laszlo’s Issho Kikaku website, which dozens of activists worked on in the late 1990’s, whose historical archives have all since mysteriously disappeared now that Issho Kikaku is moribund.


Korean worker who sued Tokyo govt retires
The Yomiuri Shimbun Apr. 3, 2010, Courtesy of JK

Public health nurse Chong Hyang Gyun was all smiles when she retired from the Tokyo metropolitan government recently, even though it had refused to let her seek promotion because of her South Korean nationality.

A second-generation Korean resident of this country, Chong sued the metropolitan government in 1994, demanding she be allowed to take a promotion exam for a managerial post. The trial went on for 10 years of Chong’s 22-year career with the metropolitan government.

Ultimately, Chong was not able to be promoted because the Supreme Court overturned her victory in a lower court. Upon her retirement, however, she smiled and said, “I have no regrets.”

Chong officially retired Wednesday, as she had reached her mandatory retirement age of 60.

Chong was born in Iwate Prefecture. In 1988, she was hired as the first non-Japanese public health nurse to work for the metropolitan government.

Her application to take the internal exam to become a manager was refused, however, because of the metropolitan government’s “nationality clause,” which prohibits the appointment of non-Japanese employees to managerial posts.

The Tokyo District Court decided against her in 1996, ruling that the metropolitan government’s action was constitutional.

In 1997, the Tokyo High Court ruled that the metropolitan government’s decision violated the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to choose one’s occupation, and ordered the Tokyo government to pay compensation to Chong.

The metropolitan government appealed this decision and in 2005, the Supreme Court nullified the high court ruling and rejected Chong’s demand.

After Chong openly expressed her disappointment at a press conference about the Supreme Court ruling, she received critical e-mails and other messages. Chong also said she sometimes felt it was hard to stay in her workplace.

However, a sizable number of her colleagues and area residents understood her feelings.

“I was supported by many people. I enjoyed my job,” Chong said.

For two years from 2006, Chong worked on Miyakejima island, helping residents deal with difficulties resulting from their prolonged evacuation.

Just before her retirement, Chong visited health care centers in Tokyo and other related facilities as chief of a section for preventing infectious diseases and caring for mentally handicapped people.

She was rehired from April as a nonregular employee at her workplace’s request, but she will work fewer days.

“I’ve been tense ever since filing the lawsuit, trying not to make any mistakes in other areas. Now I can finally relax,” Chong said.

Chong recently has been interested in supporting Indonesian nurse candidates in Japan. During the New Year holidays, she held a gathering to introduce them to Japanese culture.

“Now that a greater number of foreigners are in Japan, society as a whole should think about how to assimilate them,” Chong said.

She said she believed her lawsuit has helped raise those kind of questions.

(2010年3月28日20時29分 読売新聞)










(2010年3月28日20時29分 読売新聞)

5 comments on “A personal hero, Chong Hyang Gyun, retires her nursing post at 60

  • Thank you, Chong-san, that you had the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe is right.

    It is regrettable that your case was over turned in the end, but I can only hope that others will be like you and fight for a change.

    Thank you once again and I hope you enjoy your retirement.

  • I wish I could have this in Japanese. I know a few that would like to see this. But I understand how time consuming doing that (for many a worth-reading article) is.

    To Chong-san, given the time and context you lived in this country, I applaud your living testimony and perseverance. I hope the right people will realize the injustice of holding back a fellow human being, especially one that desired to contribute herself for the greater benefit. I am sorry your case was overturned, but your life’s effort is beyond reproach and ruling. Indeed, I hope your legacy will have an impact for us all.


    — Just dug up and added the Japanese version.

  • jjobseeker says:

    Hey Debito:
    Some fairly interesting news over the weekend with former Economy Minister Yosano quitting the LDP, but it looks like he and our pal, Hiranuma Takeo, want to start a new political party!


    Here’s the interesting “conspiracy theory” of the day. Today’s broadcast of Super Morning on TV Asahi seems to suggest that Yomiyuri’s Watanabe and the ever popular Governer Ishihara are giving their support behind-the-scenes. Hmmm. Hiranuma? Ishihara? Watanabe? If we want to talk about enemies to positive and constructive discussion about integration in Japan, I think one is about to be born. I wonder what they’ll call the new Party?

    I vote for “Get off my lawn” Party.

    — Good. The more they fracture, probably the less likely they’ll be in power. Smoke out these bigots from hiding and get them to show their xenophobia in all its nasty glory.

    平沼赳夫氏:4月中にも新党発足 保守の「第3極」目指す
    毎日新聞 2010年4月2日






    毎日新聞 2010年4月5日



  • betty boop says:

    i would like to thank her for all her hard work on all fronts. it speaks volumes that they didn`t want let her retire completely. a person valued. my hat is off to her!!!!

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