Monday, December 27, 2010


Blowback is a political term for untended consequences for policies that seemed clever at the time. Often, “clever” meant devious and malevolent methods, if not goals. Someone who is “too clever by half” is an American English idiom describing a person although appearing smart finds that his actions are consequently foolish. This aptly describes Japan’s policy of repatriating their colonial era Korean residents back to North Korea.

Over 90,000 people, most of them ethnic Koreans, were sent from Japan to North Korea from 1959 onward. The tragedy of this seemingly humanitarian venture is outlined in Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s Exodus to North Korea: Shadows from Japan’s Cold War. ANU Professor Morris-Suzuki draws on recently declassified documents to reveal the covert pressures used to hasten the departure of this unwelcome ethnic minority. Facing uncertain residence status after the American Occupation of Japan, lack of access to welfare, limited educational and job opportunities and ethnic discrimination in Japan, tens of thousands of Zainichi Koreans [Korean residents in Japan] were persuaded that a better future awaited them in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A special "Repatriation Cooperation Society," involving politicians from across Japan's political spectrum, was set up to distribute information encouraging Koreans to "return" to North Korea. Leading members included former Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichiro and prominent ruling-party politician Koizumi Junya (Koizumi's son became PM in 2001 and Hatoyama's grandson became PM in 2009). There was little humanity and much contempt in their enthusiasm to send Koreans and over 6,000 Japanese family members to North Korea.

For most Zainichi, their new home proved a place of poverty and hardship; for thousands, it was a place of persecution and death. One exception was Ko T'ae-mun, who had been a professional wrestler in Osaka. Repatriating to North Korean in 1961 with his family, he became the "father of North Korean judo" and lived a life of luxury and prominence. His dancer daughter born in Osaka, Yo'ng-hu'I, became the wife of North Korea’s current leader Kim Jung-Il and the mother of Kim Jung-Un, his father’s probable successor.

The younger Kim soon will rule over a nuclear North Korea and its power to intimidate Japan. Blowback for sure.

A background on Kim Young-Un’s mother can be found in an article by Kiyohito Kokita: "Kim Cho'ng-u'n's Mother Born in Tsuruhashi -- 'Sacred Spot' in Osaka Will Never Appear in Cho'ng-u'n's Legend" AERA in Japanese, December 6, 2010, pp 27-29.


  1. Correction: PM Hatoyama Ichiro's son was the liberal Hatoyama Iichiro. Hatoyama Yukio is his grandson.

  2. Thank you very much Bryan. I appreciate the correction.


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