The Fabrication of “Forced Conscription”
The push ? pull perspective
Interviewer: Even so it is very interesting that when the people of the Korean peninsular thought of making money, they headed for Japan and not for Seoul, isn’t it?
Professor Chung: That is an important point. It was by no means unnatural that there was a flow of people from Korea to Japan at the time. The people of Korea were citizens of Japan just like the Japanese and even in terms of distance, the distance from southern Korea to Seoul and to Kyushu barely differ. In fact if one lives near Pusan one can see Tsushima.
Further, there were Japanese people in the Korean peninsula at the time. Whilst some among them were, no doubt, up to no good, there were quite a few who were held in appropriate esteem and respect by the Koreans. There were interpersonal relationships of all descriptions between ethnic Japanese and Koreans. So it was quite predictable that Koreans would want to start their lives over in Japan when they sought to escape their poverty.
What is more, the period of Japanese Empire was a time when peoples’ lives, including their economic activity and education were centrally controlled in Tokyo. So, rather than it being strange it was actually natural that young Koreans should aspire towards the mainland.
When we speak of human migration the classic, commonsense approach is to consider it from both the ‘push’ factors, or impetus and ‘pull’ factors or enticements and it is useless to consider the history of Korean migration to Japan without looking at the main reasons compelling Koreans to leave their homeland and those drawing them, at the same time, towards Japan. In this context there is quite a deal of overlap between the motivations of the Japanese who immigrated to South America after the war, the “newcomer” Koreans who came to Japan from the latter part of the 1980s and the Koreans who came to Japan in the pre-war wave of immigration. This means there is no reason to treat the fact of coming to Japan as something special. On the contrary, taking a universal perspective should also make it easier to understand Korean residents.
Morita Yoshio thoroughly researched the push and pull factors for those who voyaged to Japan from Korea before the war in his 1955 work, The treatment of Korean residents: transitions and situation today [Zainichi chosenjin shogu no suii to genjo] (Legal Training and Research Institute).
According to Morita’s work, the first push factor was the increase in the Korean population. The population of Korea increased greatly through annexation with Japan. Whilst this rapid population increase occurred amongst the peasants of southern Korea the productivity of their farming land did not increase and their livelihoods became extremely strained.
On the other hand, the main pull factor, the Japanese mainland was in a period of capitalist growth and Koreans were in demand as a labor force. The mainland was close in terms of distance and there were jobs in cities, factories and mines. Going to Japan would put food on the table and the voyage was cheap. The Japanese mainland thus became a place where the population growth on the Korean peninsular would be absorbed and the Koreans made the journey.
Moreover, there were a great variety of interpersonal relationships between Koreans and Japanese and if one considers that the mainland was not only the center of economic activity but also of education and other attractions, when people living in the southern part of the Korean peninsular decided to make a new start for economic and other reasons, the place that offered them the opportunity was not Seoul, but the Japanese mainland.