Seminar - Heaven across the water: Migration and memory of North Korea’s Zainichi returnees

This study examines the nature of the migration of Zainichi Koreans from Japan, to North Korea and back to Japan across almost sixty years and several generations and how this movement has shaped their lives in contemporary Japan.

I frame this study around 3 central questions: who are the people who have returned from North Korea to Japan and why have they made this journey? How does such on-going migration relate to the broader political, social and economic changes in Northeast Asia? How has migration come to be understood by Zainichi returnees as a process of pursuing happiness and freedom from discrimination?

The lives of Zainichi Koreans who ‘repatriated’ to North Korea and those who have managed to return to Japan are caught up in the vicissitudes of on-going Cold War confrontation in Northeast Asia. My research highlights the diverse motivations, experiences and actions of these individuals in North Korea and Japan and the significance of kinship ties and social networks in the migration and settlement process. This study underlines the importance of memory to creating and maintaining identities of migrants who traverse ideological, political, linguistic, cultural and class boundaries, traveling through time and space in search of that most elusive of human desires – happiness.

 

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