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Chongryon: North Korea in Japan

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

North Korea’s small community, or bubble in Japan, Tokyo to be exact, is something not all people know of, however, about 6 months ago as I was waiting for a flight of heading toward New York, when I stumbled on a documentary about this ‘Bubble’ of North Korea’s in Japan. A North Korean Community within Japan, a group of people who had never even set foot in North Korea, but often hold the ideals of North Korea dearer than those of Japan.

To find the origins of this nation in a nation, you have to look back to the year 1910, when, after ten or more years of acting as an effective puppet state, Korea was annexed and formally became a colony of the widely expanding Empire of Japan. It was around this time that Korean’s, a united people began, to migrate to Japan, usually forcibly, and sometimes in search of work, but when the Empire of Japan began fighting in World War II, and subsequently fell to the Allied Powers, it was agreed that Japan’s former colonies should be ‘decolonized’ and be freed. Because of the Cold War just beginning, the U.S. and USSR rushed into Korea, with the North becoming a communist zone of control in 1945, and the South becoming a Democratic occupied zone in 1945, until 1948, when both became independent nations, with North Korea becoming a affirmed communist regime, and now the people of Korean origin suddenly had to choose which Korea they considered their’s: North or South.

Despite the fact that many of the Koreans in this particular enclave in Tokyo had a majority of their ancestors from the South, what you have to remember is that at the time in the late 40’s and 50’s the regime in North Korea was richer, and had a better economy than that of their southern counterparts. Some Koreans in this area returned to South Korea, however, Kim-Il Sung, the then leader of North Korea began to pay special attention to this community, sending money and pre approved learning items for children to their counterparts in Japan, and it was at this moment that these Koreans began to shift toward an identity more prevalent to the identity of the North. After this they would go onto set up a foundation or business called the ‘Chongryon’, which built a large network of community centers, banks, and schools, all based around the ideals of North Korea. The Chongryon would even go on to open up gambling parlors, and began to grow incredibly wealthy during this time, with many estimating their value being 25 Billion Dollars, with a lot of that money going toward the regime. However, this couldn’t last, and as missile testing began, funding slowly decreased, and now is only 12.6% of what it was prior to the 70s.

Also, North Korea began to send spies to Japan, disguised as fishermen, who would kidnap Japanese people, even a thirteen year old, who would help them to better understand Japanese people in order to send spies, with some of the abducted still being in captivity, this riled up many Japanese. The abductions made Japanese people angry and because of the fact that the Chongryon swore allegiance to the North Korean Ideology, they fell under attack, and it was around this time that Japan demanded the Chongryon pay off their large debts, and when they couldn’t, they were forced to declare bankruptcy with only a few schools left in their possession from their once great Korean Empire in Japan.

However, with schools, the Chongryon still was able to go at it, turning to the ideology that influencing the future, will engrave a place for their identity in the future, and now as North Korean support has began to evaporate, with so little money.

However, the regime that constantly threatens Japan, has tried to maintain ties, even having a group of the Korean students to a highly choreographed visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, which leads us really to today.

Now as nationalism in Japan and feelings against this community become stronger, the Chongryon people become more dependent on North Korea, and as North Korea becomes more aggressive, the people of Chongryon, are put in more danger, and they still hold relevance for the regime which raises the question, why would people who had never been to a country, who called a different country home, who had that home country constantly threatened, why should they stay loyal to North Korea, and now people in the community have begun to realize with the population slowly declining with many moving toward considering themselves Japanese or moving to South Korea, which means that soon, the Chongryon will not exist, so before this mini-nation evaporates, think about how this happens and what communities like these can mean and how they work independently as if they are their own nations.

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