Mansudae Korea

Chongryon: North Korea’s Influence in Japan

The Chongryon, officially the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, is an organisation operated by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for ethnic Koreans who’s relatives were taken to Japan during the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula. Despite a 1953 report suggesting that 93% of the Chongryon were from the southern half of Korea, Kim Il Sung, the leader of the new socialist nation called on the Koreans living in Japan to coordinate closely with the government in Pyongyang and 3 years later, the Chongryon was officially formed.

Young members of the Chongryon visit the DPRK

Despite the majority of it’s members being born in Japan, the Chongryon operates a network of schools for the purpose of providing a education more in line with the party and state that the native Japanese school system. This unique organisation creates a cultural bubble within Japan, a significant adversary of the DPRK, where the ideas and ideology of Kim Il Sung and his successors are allowed to be taught and practised without major government interference. At the time of writing, the organisation operates 140 schools which teach a curriculum in line with the national curriculum of the DPRK and were initially funded by the Pyongyang government in the 1950s. The Chongryon even operate a university which continues to receive funding directly from North Korea. The organisation acts as a de-facto embassy in Japan for the DPRK despite the countries having no formal diplomatic relations, speaking out on numerous issues including a petition for Japanese newspapers to stop referring to their country as ‘North Korea’ but as the ‘DPRK’ or various other acceptable titles. The Chongryon has the authority to issue passports in the name of the DPRK and frequently organises trips to Pyongyang and other regions in the DPRK for it’s members. It provides numerous services for ethnic Koreans living in Japan and businesses still exist in the country which are official affiliates of the Chongryon.

Chongryon building in Tokyo

Japanese nationalism has become a significant issue for the Chongryon and there have been conflicts between the Chongryon and the Japanese government, even occasional attacks on Chongryon members and buildings have been recorded including an attack in February 2018 where two men in a van fired on the Chongryon building. Despite membership declining, the organisation still operates it’s schools and businesses and trips to the ‘fatherland’ are still regular and often promoted within the DPRK. The organisation exists in a weird limbo-land as a community of proud North Koreans who live and work in a country that they have been taught is an enemy of the country and of their people.

Benjamin Weston

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