Japanese Should Stop Calling DRPK “Kita-Chosen”

Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

This summer, I went to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or in Japanese, Chosen Minshushugi Jinmin Kyowakoku (in short, “Chosen”), with three of my girlfriends.

Western media propagates this country as a “fearful dictatorship,” but what I saw, though it should come as no surprise, is a country where ordinary people work, go to school, play when they can, raise children, look after aging parents, and try to be good citizens.

When I recall my visit to Pyongyang, the scenery that comes up in my mind is a well-organized city rich with green, and the shiny surface of the Taedong River that runs through the city.

As we walked along the riverside one early morning, we saw people fishing and exercising, and I was reminded of a similar scene in my hometown of Vancouver, which is also a water-rich city.

The beer brand named after this river, “Taedonggang Beer,” is famous, and I enjoyed tasting not only their malt beer, but also their refreshing rice beer and smooth stout beer.

We were lucky in that the national holiday on August 15, “Homeland Liberation Memorial Day,” fell during our stay in the country.

We saw celebratory banners everywhere, and the supermarket we visited had a special “Liberation Day sale.”

Needless to say, “Homeland Liberation Day” is the day on which Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

The Korean Revolution Museum, which we had visited the previous day, remembers this history as “over 40 years of colonial rule,” counting from the 1905 “Eulsa Protection Treaty” by which Japan deprived Korea of its diplomatic authority.

There, late Chairman Kim Il-Sung, who is revered as the Founding Father of the country, is remembered as a hero who “defeated two empires in one generation,” as he fought in the 1930’s anti-Japan guerilla war through the frozen winters of Manchuria, and then repulsed the United States in the Korean War that erupted in 1950.

In the DPRK too, there are victims of forced mobilization, of Japanese military sex slavery, and of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Efforts to uncover the truth and secure compensation have been even more delayed than those in the South. There is the unresolved issue of stolen cultural assets as well.

In Kaesong, the ancient capital of the Koryo Kingdom, we visited the tomb of King Wanggon, designated as a World Heritage Site.

The guide there told us that cultural treasures in the tomb were stolen during the Japanese colonial period. I felt a pain in my chest.

At the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom, we saw up close the demarcation line which President Moon Jae-in, and then President Donald Trump, stepped across, both at the invitation of Chairman Kim Jong-Un, at the Inter-Korea Summit on April 27, last year and the Kim-Trump summit on June 30 of this year, respectively.

We heard from our local guides that 80% of foreign tourists to the DPRK are from China, and the rest are mostly from European countries.

On the day of our visit, the DMZ was swarming with international tourists, making it difficult for us to take photos.

Now that I have travelled to the DPRK, I strongly believe that it is wrong for Japanese people to call the DPRK “Kita-Chosen” (North Chosen) which is not the country’s proper name, while they call the southern state what it is, “Kankoku.”

The fact that Japanese people do not call the country by its proper name means that they do not recognize the DPRK as a country.

The DPRK has officially protested this form of address, and many Zainichi Koreans (Koreans in Japan), who have their ancestral roots in Korea, detest it too.

As soon as I set foot in Pyongyang this summer, my guides asked me to call their country by its full name, Chosen Minshushugi Jinmin Kyowakoku, or by its abbreviation, Chosen, not Kita-Chosen.

The name Kita-Chosen serves to deny the validity of the country as its own country, and is also reminiscent of how the Japanese called the northern part of the Korean peninsula “Hoku-Sen” (North Chosen) during the colonial period. For many, it is symbolic of Japanese colonialism against Koreans.

The ongoing negative campaign against the DPRK by the Japanese government and media contribute to the connotation of the word Kita-Chosen itself as something bad, something that most Japanese people almost automatically frown at as soon as they hear.

I believe that when one uses a certain name knowing that the addressee rejects it, one is committing an act of violence.

It is no different from the Japanese government bulldozing forward with the construction of the new Henoko base, knowing that the majority of Okinawans oppose it.

At the end of the visit, one of our guides, Mr. Kim, 27 years old, said to me, “I believe Korea is the only place in the world where one people (minjok) has been divided like this.”

His word weighed heavily on me, as a Japanese person, who shares responsibility for Korea’s division.

This is a modified English translation of No. 29 of the author’s series Norimatsu Satoko no me
[Norimatsu Satoko’s Eyes] that appeared on Page 3 of Ryukyu Shimpo, September 11, 2019 edition.


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