From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 10 NO. 2
Alienating Ethnic Kin: Assessing Immigration Integration Policies for the Brazilian Nikkeijin in Japan and Joseonjok Marriage Migrants in South Korea
Cornell International Affairs Review
2017, Vol. 10 No. 2 | pg. 1/1
IN THIS ARTICLE
In recent decades, Japan and South Korea have become hosts to ethnic return migrants who have returned to their ancestral homeland after once emigrating overseas. Since the 1980s, the Brazilian nikkeijin, or members of the Japanese diaspora, have returned to Japan as labor migrants. From 1992, joseonjok, or ethnic Korean Chinese, migrant women traveled to South Korea to marry Korean men. Japan and South Korea have targeted these groups for their ethnic affinities – the attraction and kinship between the homeland population and returning migrants – on the presumption that they would integrate well into these two societies, where a "virtual equation between the state, nation, and ethnicity"2 exists. However, these ethnic affinities between the diaspora and the homeland population did not materialize.
Academics such as Takeyuki Tsuda and Keiko Yamanaka, who focus on the Brazilian nikkeijin case, and Dong-Hoon Seol and Caren Freeman, who focus on the joseonjok case, have provided much anthropological scholarship on the difficulties these ethnic return migrants face upon returning "home." Unfortunately, English-language scholarship has not followed up on the pivot of both the Japanese and Korean national governments to finally address immigration integration issues that the return migrants face.
In Japan, following the 2008 economic crisis, Cabinet Office issued the Nikkei Teiju Gaikokujin Shisaku Ni Kansuru Koudou Keigaku (henceforth the Action Plan for Nikkeijin Foreign Resident Policy), in August 2010. In South Korea, the Damunhwa Gajok Jjiwonbeop (henceforth the Support for Multicultural Families Act), enacted in 2008, is a broad set of regulations to improve the quality of life of foreign spouses and integrate them into Korean social life. As both countries nominally recognize the importance of multiculturalism in a globalizing world, the narrative of ethnic return migrants and their relationship with the social myths of homogeneity in their ethnic-based understandings of citizenship become lost in a generalized discourse about Japan and South Korea's embrace towards all its foreign-born residents. This is unfortunate, as the shared ethnicity between the diaspora and the homeland population challenges existing conceptions of what is foreign in ethnic societies.
Considering the parallel social histories of both the Brazilian nikkeijin and the joseonjok, and the broadly similar experiences – powerful visions of ethnic homogeneity, long-term demographic challenges, and a nascent recognition of multiculturalism by the respective national governments – in both country cases, I attempt to assess the national government level initiatives to support their social integration. It also hopes to continue the ethnic return migrants' narratives that Tsuda, Seol, and others began.
I argue that these national-level policy initiatives to integrate ethnic return migrants are incomplete. As token commitments to multiculturalism, the policies focus on rebuilding ethnic affinities that the homeland nation-state expects them to reproduce as descendants of the same ethnic group. However, the assimilationist ideology behind the policies perpetuate the marginalization of these individuals in a hierarchical nationhood by virtue of their shared ancestry but different cultural behaviors, because the migrants are unwilling to reproduce these expectations to earn their inclusion in their ancestral homelands. The policies also fail to reconcile the challenge to the presumed equation of ethnic identity and cultural behavior that the return migrants create for the homeland population. Since the policies are skewed in the homeland population's interests, the interests of the return migrants become invisible.
Return Migrants and Immigration in Ethnic Nations
Weber defines an ethnic group as one that "on the basis of similarities of exterior habitus, of customs, or of both…[shares] a subjective belief in communality of descent, whether an objective consanguinity exists or not."3 In the context of ethnic return migration, since both the homeland population and returning diaspora are descendants from the same antecedent ethnic group, the homeland population would believe that the return migrants share ethnic-based similarities. Thus, in countries with an ethnic-based understanding of citizenship, a returning member of the diaspora would be less disruptive to the ethnic organization of their societies than another immigrant with no relationship to that ethnic group. Diasporas respond to the homeland nation's call, because they originate from "massive emigration and dispersal – forced or at least propelled by considerable distress," and thus innately long to return 'home.'4
In theory, inviolable ethnic affinities would create large return migrant communities under preferential immigration policies. But that is not the case in either Japan or South Korea. Once the third largest group of foreign residents behind the Zainichi Koreans, the population of all Brazilian nikkeijin resident in Japan peaked at 313,771 in 2007, and fell by over 40 percent from 2007 and 2014.5 It fell over 40 percent from 2007 to 2014 (Figure 1). Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, even announced in a program 2009 to pay unemployed nikkeijin JPY 300,000 each to return to their home countries.6 According to the Migration Policy Institute, 12,356 Brazilian nikkeijin, representing 93.7 percent of the total applications, applied to leave Japan.7 On the other hand, the number of joseonjok brides entering South Korea has seen negative growth in recent years, leading some scholars to conclude that studies of the population "captures a moment in time that is now passing."8 Figure 2 shows that in recent years, international marriages have increasingly involved migrant spouses outside of China, especially from Southeast Asia, although joseonjok spouses remain in the plurality at 32.1 percent.9
The above data shows in practice the artificiality and elasticity of ethnicity critical to Weber's definition. A return migrant lacks absolute control over their ethnic identity, regardless of how much kinship they believe they have with the ancestral homeland. Who they are and how they can exist is "externally imposed by dominant society."13 The homeland state, as the collective entity with hegemonic ownership of "distinct ancestry and destiny definitions" over the ethnic group that occupies its territory, has the agency to define the expectations of who a legitimate ethnic group member is, and hence whether to embrace or reject its returning diaspora.14 Germany stopped its preferential immigration policy for ethnic Germans in 1992, because the Russian and Eastern European ethnic Germans who were "notionally co-ethnic but sociologically [not]" were experiencing "adjustment and integration problems similar to those of 'normal' immigrants."15 As the German ethnic group's dominant center, Germany unilaterally denied these ethnic Germans from legitimately staking ownership of their ancestry; they were a "conceptual anomaly."16 Return migrants who cannot reproduce the behaviors they should naturally know and should correctly perform, by virtue of their ancestry, face the "exasperation and disbelief " from the homeland population. Their existence challenges the binary classification that either one is part of the ethnic group or not: here is a group of migrants whose shared ancestry does not translate into shared cultural behaviors. Recalling how her Japanese informants judged how well she reproduced the behaviors they expected of a young Japanese woman, Kondo, a Japanese-American anthropologist, succinctly summarizes the homeland population's ethnically-conditioned puzzle: "How could someone who looked Japanese not be Japanese?"17
Seol and Skrentny define this dichotomy of being neither a complete outsider to or a pure member of the ethnic nation as "hierarchical nationhood." Traditionally, discourse on citizenship, such as Anderson's "imagined community," conceptualized citizens sharing "a deep, horizontal comradeship" to the nation.18 In "hierarchical nationhood," return migrants "do not share in the rights and opportunities of full members of the nation" because of their association with the second country that they emigrated to, rendering them "generations removed from the kin state."19
A nation-state can create hierarchical nationhood through legal and social means. Visas and work permits create structures to block return migrants from receiving the same economic opportunities as 'pure' members of the ethnic group. Social expectations for legitimate ethnic behavior render the returning diaspora in the eyes of the homeland population as cultural disappointments who have become "culturally contaminated abroad."20 The question then is whether an assimilationist integration policy can address the marginalization of return migrants by dismantling the social structures of ethnic hierarchical nationhood.
The Brazilian Nikkeijin: Alienation and Degrees of "Japaneseness"
The Brazilian nikkeijin return migrants are descendants of Japanese citizens who have emigrated overseas since the Meiji period (1868-1912).21 Fearing unrest from population pressures, the government provided ample logistical and financial support.22 188,209 Japanese citizens migrated from 1899 to 1941 to Brazil, whose coffee plantations needed labor following the abolition of slavery.23 After a brief hiatus during World War II, between 1952 and 1963 a further 46,000 Japanese immigrants entered Brazil.24 The Japanese International Cooperation Agency continued to support emigration to Brazil until 1993.25
By the 1960s, urbanization and rapid economic development produced middle class nikkeijin descendants who had "grown up in Brazil, spoke Portuguese and knew little of Japanese language and culture."26 But hyperinflation in the 1980s threatened the nikkeijin professional class. Japan was facing a labor shortage during the bubble economy period.27 Seeing an opportunity, the Brazilian nikkeijin began returning to Japan to earn higher wages than they would in Brazil. A network of recruiters and return migrants formed between Japan and Brazil, encouraging second and third-generation nikkeijin, especially those without Japanese language proficiency, to connect to employment opportunities in Japan.28 Despite the "relative absence of close economic or political relationships between the two countries," according to Tsuda, Brazilian nikkeijin kept a Japanese "ethnic consciousness" for socioeconomic status privileges vis-à-vis other Brazilians, leading to "feelings of nostalgic longing for the ancestral homeland" and therefore "a desire to visit the country of their parents and grandparents."29 By 1996, over 200,000 Brazilian nikkeijin had settled in Japan, representing 16 percent of the number of people with Japanese descent in Brazil.30 They settled as contract laborers in factories in cities, such as Hanamatsu, Shizuoka and Oizumi, which predominately contained small and medium manufacturing firms that had difficulty attracting enough Japanese citizen laborers since the 1980s, and were employing undocumented workers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.31
To simplify admitting the influx of Brazilian nikkeijin, the government revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in 1989. The law created a new teijusha ('long-term resident') visa status tailored specifically for second and third-generation nikkeijin. They could stay for up to three years with no restrictions on their employment activities and renew their status indefinitely.32 The teijusha visa effectively created a "side door" for unskilled labor without establishing a formal immigration policy.33 Ministry of Justice officials tailored the teijusha visa for nikkeijin because, according to one who spoke with Tsuda, "if people have blood ties or descendants from that nationality, the same nationality then of course it is easier to accept those people." Admitting nikkeijin aligned with the national interest, not only because the government could discourage firms from employing undocumented workers, but also "ethnic homogeneity and cultural continuity were crucially important to the public."34
The Nikkeijin Action Plan
The 2008 economic crisis disproportionately hurt the Brazilian nikkeijin. As contract workers in factories, they were the first to be fired.35 One survey in Hanamatsu by a local non-government organization (NGO) in January 2009 interviewed 2,773 Brazilian nikkeijin and found that 47 percent self-reported that they were unemployed.36 The remaining community was a shadow of its former self. Only one of the four Portuguese-language newspapers survived, sixteen schools for the Brazilian community closed its doors, and mainstream media ran feature reports on Brazilians living in abandoned karaoke clubs.37
In January 2009, the Cabinet Office established the Teiju Gaikokujin Shisaku Suishin Shitsu (Council to Advance Long-Term Resident Policies) to address the mass unemployment and poverty faced by the Brazilian nikkeijin who remained. To scaffold its policy of integrating the Brazilian nikkeijin, the Cabinet Office issued the Nikkei Teijyu Gaikokujin Shisaku Ni Kansuru Kinhon Shishin (日系定住外国人施策に関する基本指針, henceforth the Basic Guidelines) in August 2010. One year later, the Cabinet Office released the Action Plan, based on the Basic Guidelines (see Appendix 1). The Action Plan categorizes areas where ministries can enact policies to incorporate nikkeijin residents as members of Japanese society.38
The Basic Guidelines are the first national policy document that explicitly delineates not only the need for foreign residents to find their place in their local communities, regardless of where that community might be, but also a national obligation the government has to the Brazilian nikkeijin.39 Acknowledging that many nikkeijin desire to remain in Japan for the long-term despite the economic downturn, the Cabinet Office believes that is the "country's responsibility" to develop policies to incorporate these people as "members of Japanese society" and "not be excluded from society."40 The rhetoric is represents a reversal from the status quo. Previously, the Japanese government allowed Brazilian nikkeijin to enter without creating the supporting immigration integration infrastructure, because it expected the nikkeijin, by virtue of their ancestry, to exhibit Japanese cultural behaviors that would allow for seamless integration. Consequently, the government deliberately maintained a "policy of having no policy (seisaku teki musaku)" because the Brazilian nikkeijin were never formally laborers by immigration law, merely the children of citizens who wanted to return to their ancestral homeland.41
Assessing the Nikkeijin Action Plan
One major focus in the Action Plan is language education and access, the lack of which has contributed to the nikkeijin's unemployment postrecession.42 In fact, the first visual that visitors see in the Cabinet Office's online portal about policies for nikkeijin residents is an image of students learning kanji (see Figure 3). Traditionally, "expectations about what will/should come out of a foreigner's mouth – the pain when these expectations are not met" dictated the Japanese language's relationship with non-Japanese individuals.43 This social attitude views only people with Japanese 'blood' could speak fluent Japanese, and conversely, people without Japanese 'blood' are better off with only elementary or no knowledge of the language. The result is a "boundary-maintaining mechanism" which compartmentalizes non-Japanese people in Japan as transient guests viewed from afar.44
The homepage of the Cabinet Office's online portal on nikkeijin resident policy.
If knowledge of Japanese is a prerequisite for ethnic affinities, then language proficiency, or lack thereof, is an especially acute source of pain for the Brazilian nikkeijin. In a 2009 Sophia University survey on the living conditions of 683 labor migrants across seven prefectures, of which 583 were Brazilian nikkeijin, 46.7 percent said that they could manage only the most basic conversation levels in Japanese, and only 13.8 percent said that they could write hiragana and katakana, the two Japanese syllabaries.46 Seeing the nikkeijin's mismatching ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, the homeland population marginalizes them as 'conceptual anomalies' who cannot be "children and grandchildren of the Japanese" because they do not know their ancestral language.47 Broken language bonds discourage the homeland population from including the Brazilian nikkeijin in residential and workplace communities.48
Furthermore, as a 'positive minority' in Brazil's professional class, the nikkeijin had protected their "Japanese cultural characteristics," which draw admiration from "mainstream Brazilians…[for] their affiliation with the highly respected First World nation of Japan."49 Thus, language inability becomes a "stigma" that delegitimizes the Brazilian nikkeijin's stake to the Japanese ancestry that they had so treasured.50 The greater one held his/her Japanese identity in Brazil, the "more negatively [they react] to their ethnic exclusion as 'foreigners' in Japan, resulting in considerably greater inner conflict and identity dissonance."51
The government thus recognized the reality for language to be not only an obstacle for accessing social services crucial for the nikkeijin's health and safety but also a tool of social oppression that compartmentalizes the nikkeijin as "second-rate Japanese" or "inadequate Japanese."52 A language-focused policy can rebuild ethnic affinities and alleviate the Brazilian nikkeijin's status of cultural disappointment to the homeland population.
The growing age of the nikkeijin laborers undermine the efficacy of the language initiatives. The situation is ironic because the government imported the nikkeijin laborers to solve Japan's existing aging labor problem. Although Japanese government does not collect demographic data specifically on nikkeijin residents, a 2010 report by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare acknowledged that "unemployment and aging of foreign laborers could add pressure to social security and welfare measures in the future," suggesting that they are aware of the nikkeijin population's aging problem.53 Izawa estimates that if most Brazilian nikkeijin came to Japan in their 30s when the Diet revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in 1989, then they must now be in their 50s.54 Long work hours also eliminated opportunities for Japanese self-study. It is a burden to ask an aging population to commit hundreds of hours to learn Japanese, let alone participate in job retraining programs. For example, the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, an international benchmark of fluency for non-native speakers administered by the Japan Foundation, requires around nine hundred hours of study.55 They have already spent two decades in almost linguistic and social isolation from the homeland population, working in factory lines whose peers and supervisors were also Brazilian nikkeijin and living in apartments where their Japanese neighbors refused to communicate with them or moved out to avoid them.56
Another focus of the Action Plan, "Respecting One Another's Cultures," places the onus on the homeland population to diversify what it means to be a "member of Japanese society" and allow outsiders to assimilate.57 In the spirit of tabunka kyosei, Japanese citizens must accept that the nikkeijin are here to stay and are crucial for Japan's future growth.58
Many scholars have extensively studied the discourse of 'Japaneseness' in excluding and including individuals as "members of Japanese society," but a brief review here is worthwhile. It is not an overstatement to argue that the homogenizing characteristics of 'Japaneseness' is diametrically opposed to the homeland population's perception of the Brazilian nikkeijin, perpetuating a clear hierarchical nationhood. If Japan is a First World nation of prosperity, then Brazil is the "Amazon jungle, Indians, poverty, crime, drugs, political corruption, and samba."59 If all Japanese belong to the middle class, then the Brazilian nikkeijin are destitute, holding so-called '3K' jobs (kiken/dangerous, kitanai/dirty, kitsui/difficult) to escape from their poverty in Brazil.60 If Japanese culture is clean, quiet, and refined, then Brazilian culture is dirty, loud, and garish. The Brazilian nikkeijin cannot separate their garbage, "cluster in the dark and speak loudly," and wear vulgar clothes.61 If "the construction of the state in Japan was based on the idea of the nation as a family," then the Brazilian nikkeijin are not qualified to be part of that body politic.62 Although they have Japanese 'blood,' they have become "culturally contaminated and defiled through prolonged contact with an impure and unclean Third World country."63
Once a vicious cycle of fear and discrimination begins, it is difficult for the homeland population to stop asserting their cultural superiority and distrust towards the Brazilian nikkeijin. A June 2014 Asahi article about Oizumi during the World Cup in Brazil had the ominous sub-headline: "City and Prefectural Police on Alert for 'Overheated' Celebrations (「過熱」には警戒：町・県 警)."64 For an article that supposedly celebrated Oizumi's diversity during a major international event, the qualifying statement drew unnecessary attention to the worst fears about the Brazilian nikkeijin, compartmentalizing them as loud, unpredictable, and dangerous.
For a policy document that ambitiously aims to integrate nikkeijin residents as long-term "members of Japanese society," the Action Plan provides elementary policy details that do not liberalize the membership criteria. It abhors the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to continuing promoting the "Plan for the Promotion of Tabunka Kyosei in the Local Community (地域に おける多文化共生推進プラン)," an initiative it began in 2006 to encourage local governments to educate residents about the importance of tabunka kyosei through autonomous policy initiatives. The Plan's suggestions for how to do so include symposiums in schools and libraries about creating tabunka kyosei-centric environments and "exchange events" that introduce foreign cultures to Japanese residents, and Japanese culture to foreign residents.65
Such events are insufficient for Japanese citizens to understand the value that non-Japanese residents bring to their local communities. An "exchange (kouryu) event," for example, is inherently "divorced from the everyday," because it creates nikkeijin-homeland population interactions in artificial, controlled settings. Thus, the homeland population cannot envision non-Japanese residents as 'normalized' contributors to society.66 Kurimoto and Yamamoto characterize the ideology as the consumerist 'three Fs': food, festival, and fashion.67 Figure 4 exemplifies this tabunka kyosei ideology: Oizumi's government encourages Japanese tourists to spectate the samba carnival (festival), eat Brazilian gurume (food), and admire Brazilian 'traditional' dress (fashion). By commercializing non-Japanese cultures, tabunka kyosei hides the past and present of the Brazilian nikkeijin's structural inequalities, unemployment, and discrimination.68
Fashion, food, and festival on the homepage of Oizumi's tourism website.
Morris-Suzuki further characterizes the situation as "cosmetic multiculturalism," where "diversity is…a form of exterior decoration that does not demand major structural changes to existing institutions… divorced from politics and the mundane world of everyday existence."70 Indeed, in the two decades that the Brazilian nikkeijin have stayed in Japan, they have formed soccer clubs and made Oizumi the city of samba, but have neither created national organization focused on political advocacy, nor elected any Brazilianborn naturalized representatives to the Diet.71 When tabunka kyosei becomes a sterile celebration of the exotic, it no longer serves its original purpose of educating Japanese citizens on the importance of foreign residents to Japan's future growth. When the Japan Center for International Exchange surveyed all 47 prefectures and 20 major cities on tabunka kyosei policies in November 2015, all the responding governments said that they had some form of initiative that targeted foreign residents. However, none of them agreed that Japan should create an immigration policy, suggesting that as tabunka kyosei became mainstream public policy, it has become divorced from immigration integration.72 In effect, the homeland population's tolerance of them may remain a veneer, and they are free to harbor ethnic prejudices in private, although further fieldwork on attitudinal values would be required.73
Overall, the Basic Guidelines and the Action Plan show that the Japanese government is changing, albeit incrementally, its approach to engaging its foreign residents. In the 1980s, it tried to "internationalize" the country through foreign exchange: recruiting exchange students to Japanese universities, inserting foreign English language teachers into schools across Japan in the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) program, and encouraging overseas travel. Yet these interactions, centered on Japanese engagement with the exotic, were temporary, "not meant to diversify Japan, to address the diversity that already existed, or to confront questions of difference."74 The Action Plan and its commentary on improving the postrecession Brazilian nikkeijin condition reflect the new paradigm of "multicultural coexistence (tabunka kyosei)," specifically, "a shift in perspective from [foreigners as] 'visitors' to [them as] 'residents.'"75
However, the Action Plan presents an incomplete vision of the government's newfound responsibility to the Brazilian nikkeijin. While ambitious in recognizing the need for a path for them to become "members of Japanese society," the policy's linguistic assistance to them may merely be a cosmetic measure, and thus the nikkeijin languish as cultural disappointments to the homeland Japanese population. By inviting them to reproduce exotic experiences for the homeland population to consume, the Action Plan does not go far enough to challenge structures and attitudes that would otherwise open sociopolitical opportunity structures for the nikkeijin to address their marginalized status as a 'conceptual anomaly.'
Joseonjok: Made Invisible under South Korea's Multicultural Discourse
Korean migration to northern China has occurred since the 1200s, but grew substantially in the twentieth century during Japanese colonial rule in Korea. While some fled to plot the overthrow of the colonial government, the Japanese encouraged "entire villages to move" into farming work camps in Manchuria to supply resources for the Sino-Japanese War.76 The Korean population in China grew from an estimated 34,000 in 1894 to 2.2 million by the end of World War II.77 As a recognized shaoshu minzu (minority ethnic group in China), the joseonjok were able to maintain a distinct cultural identity in enclaves such as the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where they have passed on cultural language education to their descendants to distinguish themselves from the Han Chinese majority.78
Joseonjok women were the first group to participate in South Korea's international marriages. In 1992, South Korea and China normalized diplomatic relations. China's joseonjok and South Korea "rediscovered" one another.79 Since the 1970s, South Korea suffered from an imbalanced sex ratio where families prefer giving birth to boys, leading to a surplus of men, especially poor rural farmers, were unable to find marriage partners.80 Local jurisdictions helping these farmer bachelors looked towards Yanbian, "a specifically Korean geographic space."81 The homeland population thought the joseonjok women had "uncontaminated and pure 'Korean-ness'" and were "compatible with South Korean wifely ideals."82
Korea's humiliating past as a colonized nation heightened the homeland population's attraction to its joseonjok kin. To impose its claim that Koreans shared a common, but subordinate, origin with the Japanese, the Japanese empire forged a strong national consciousness of a unitary Korean race with a "common historic life, living in a single territory...[and] sharing a common destiny."83 The South Korean public saw marriages between Korean farmers and joseonjok women as fulfilling "the sacred goal of "restoring ethnic homogeneity" (minjok dongjilseongdo hoebok halsuitda) to the nation."84 Since joseonjok women shared the same Korean blood, "repatriating them to South Korea through ties of marriage was not simply pragmatic social policy but utterly patriotic."85 Joseonjok women also readily married Korean men shortly after meeting them for the first time. They were eager to move to a "wealthy 'Asian Tiger nation' where they would be received as equals and have the same economic opportunities and standard of living as South Korean citizens."86 According to qualitative interviews by Quan, for some, the most important element in their initial attraction to Korean men was that they felt "so familiar (wu moshenggan)" to one another, since, "after all, [they] shared the same ancestors (yinwei women bijing shi tong yige zuxian)."87
The first international marriage occurred in December 1990, when a former assemblyman aided the marriage of an old bachelor farmer and a joseonjok woman.88 In the following decade, agricultural associations and marriage brokering agencies created a rapidly growing, and lucrative, international marriage market.89 The literature has estimated that up to 100,000 joseonjok women have married South Korean men, a considerable number considering that the total Korean Chinese population is only 2.6 million.90
The Support for Multicultural Families Act
Domestic violence, cultural tension, and broken expectations have plagued joseonjok brides. In 2011, 10 percent of all divorce cases in South Korea involved international couples, and 73 percent of those cases were former unions between Korean males and migrant females.91 The rural bachelor farmers "who sought wives abroad were those who had more or less failed to do so in the domestic marriage market."92 It is also possible that joseonjok women strategically used international marriage to enter the South Korean labor market.93 Either way, the South Korean mass media spread the word about the failure of these cross-border marriages, describing the joseonjok either "as victims of abusive uneducated rural men or as manipulative visa-seekers who never intended to remain married."94
Under President Roh Moo Hyun (2003-2008), the South Korean government enacted the "Policy Plan to Support the Social Integration of International Marriage Female Migrants, their Families and Children," also known as the "Grand Plan," in April 2006. It was the first policy initiative to address international marriages since joseonjok brides arrived in large numbers in the 1990s. The Grand Plan addressed issues from regulating international marriage agencies to providing support for domestic violence survivors and orientations for newly arrived foreign wives.95 The Support for Multicultural Families Act, enacted in 2008, is intended to provide the 'Grand Plan' with a legal and institutional framework.
Between the 'Grand Plan' and the Act, the South Korean government's immigration integration policy towards marriage migrants had a subtle shift. Instead of supporting marriage migrants as individual women, the South Korean government subsumed them under a broader social group. Any immigration integration support the government gave was under the context of on what it called 'multicultural families.'96 The Act's first clause states the government's aims: "to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of multi-cultural [sic] family members and the unity of society by helping multi-cultural family members enjoy stable family living."97
The Act enshrines the fact that the marriage migrant is merely a tool for South Korea's demographic challenges. Many provisions center around supporting family units, not individuals: the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, for example, has to conduct a fact-finding survey on multicultural families every three years. The Act also imposes demographic obligations on marriage migrants. Article 2 defines a "multicultural family" as a unit comprised of either a "married immigrant or naturalized citizen" and a Korean citizen.98 The prerequisite is that one of the two parents must be Korean. When the marriage migrant enters a union with a Korean citizen, they are able to continue the Korean ethnic bloodline. Article 10, which requires the national and local governments to "prepare measures of educational support to children of multi-cultural families to help them quickly adapt to school life," hints that underlying aim that Korean children are clearly the desirable product of these 'multicultural families.'99 The faster these children can enter South Korea's school system, the sooner they can become socialized as a Korean citizen. On the other hand, the definition excludes families in South Korea where both parents are immigrants who are outside the ethnic group, even if such families are multicultural in the sense of adding to South Korea's ethnic and cultural diversity. They would be irrelevant to the South Korean government because their offspring does not contribute to the Korean biological bloodline, and therefore cannot be a part of Korean society. In essence, "the multicultural family has been appropriated by the South Korean government…in order to achieve the nationalist project of reproducing Korean families."100
Article 9, "Support for Health Management before and after Childbirth," is most revealing about the 'nationalist project.' It states:
The State and local governments may provide married immigrants and naturalized citizens, etc. with necessary services, such as nutrition and health education and provision of helper service before and after childbirth, medical examination, so that they can manage pregnancy and childbirth under healthy and safe conditions.101
Although the Act does not specifically define the gender of marriage migrants, it is clear that the South Korean government primarily desires 'multicultural families' of Korean men and foreign women. It is thus demanding the biological reproduction of Korean children in a patrilineal way, deemphasizing childbirths from Korean women and foreign men whose marriages fit in the legal, genderless definition of 'multicultural family.'102 Sookyung Kim argues that by framing the healthcare of marriage migrants around childbirth, the South Korean government does not "care about the health of a migrant woman unless she gives birth to babies."103 Indeed, the childbirth clause directly contradicts Article 7, which creates government programs for counseling to "help multi-cultural families maintain a democratic and gender-equal familial relationship." It is, after all, the migrant mother who the government requires to reproduce and bear children for the Korean nation – excluding them from other domains of Korean public life.104
The emphasis on motherhood continues in guidebooks for marriage migrants produced by the Korean government. An early English-language publication called Let's live a happy life in Korea, published by the Multicultural Family Support Centers, dedicates just three out of 48 pages to finding employment.105 The last page of the guide is most revealing in how marriage migrants are to become 'daughters-in-law' of a big national family:
You are a beloved wife.
The guide's longest section, on pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare, is titled "Congratulations and Welcome to Motherhood!" with the sub-text, "Becoming a mother is one of the most valuable experiences of a woman [emphasis added]."107 In effect, the government refuses to validate marriage migrants' lives, or be their "reliable friend," unless they are mothers. Indeed, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs asserted in 2008 that it only wants growth in multicultural families "to curb the low-fertility and the ageing trend in Korea, especially in rural areas, by increasing the fertility rate."108 Since marriage migrants are most likely to access these guides in their first days of Korean life to familiarize themselves with the social services available, the government, through such prescriptive messages, demands that they conform to expectations of birthing children and becoming mothers from the moment of arrival.
As Figure 5 shows, newer guidebooks have removed the explicitly gendered language, but a gendered target audience remains. The 310-page 2016 Guidebook for Living in Korea: Guidance for Multicultural Families and Foreigners Living in Korea contains an extensive 58-page section about childbirth and placing children in the Korean education system, and frames information about employment with the possibility of maternity while employed.109 Furthermore, the guidebook documents Korean domestic life in painstaking detail; for example, making sticky 'Korean' rice, preventing gas-related accidents in the house while cooking, and creating a savings account to "pay for your child's tuition."110 Implicit in the guidebook is that the Korean husband is absent to teach his migrant wife these crucial details, or even to share any of these household duties in the family. The government has to dedicate a ministry to intervene and publish this guide for migrant wives to navigate the demands of domestic life themselves.
Figure 5: Guiding a Marriage Migrant's Domestic Life (Sources: Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs111; Ministry of Gender Equality and Family112)
Assessing the Support for Multicultural Families Act
Idealized, neo-Confucian gender roles and family life form a major tenet of the Support for Multicultural Families Act. In the neo-Confucian family, the breadwinner father is absent because his engagement with work is unending. The mother, as a result, must "take care of every small emergency in the household," and produce children who are entirely dependent.113 Instead of accommodating different cultural values or lifestyles, the Act imposes a "matrifocal and childoriented [structure] that is attempting to preserve the integrity and continuity of the family" in a country that has rapidly modernized.114 Hence, under the Act, "social support for migrant women is conceptualized as a 'life-cycle service,'" from arriving in South Korea, becoming pregnant, giving birth, and entering motherhood.115 Ignoring their past careers or education, "such imagination on migrant women even justifies discrimination against those who don't fit into the norm" of knowing their domestic space in the Korean family.116 Migrant wives who face domestic violence, cultural tension, and isolation in their own homes turn to a government support system which coaxes them to remain as obedient wives, mothers, and daughters-in-law.
Gender roles have long been major sources of dissatisfaction with joseonjok women and their Korean husbands from the very beginning of the cross-border marriage phenomenon.117 Regardless of whether the family could realistically afford to be single-income households, some urban-based Korean husbands actively discouraged joseonjok wives to work because they "aspired to the middle-class ideal of maintaining gendered spheres of work and home."118 Their Confucian attitudes were fundamentally at odds with how their joseonjok spouses viewed gender relations. Under the rule of Mao Zedong, the Chinese education system championed gender equality (nannu pingdeng) to encourage women to participate in the public sphere, specifically to advance the Maoist revolution. In the modern day, "the Chinese media still valorize the 'superwoman' (qiangnuren) for her ability to manage both household and career."119
Scholars have differing views as to why joseonjok women retain strong emotional ties to China. Kim argues that joseonjok brides experienced a certain level of socioeconomic mobility that their poorer South Korean male counterparts may not have, because "the expense of the brokerage fees…meant that the poorest of the poor among the Korean Chinese were unlikely" to be in international marriages.120 Quan offers a more nationalistic view, arguing that Yanbian is the joseonjok's true home. The joseonjok, she argues, belong in the history of communist China, developing the northeast and joining forces with the communists to drive the Japanese out of Manchuria. Since "joseonjok culture has evolved from Korean culture (chaoxianzhu wenhua you bieyu hanguo wenhua), Quan finds little reason to doubt why Korean gender roles are alien to joseonjok women. Granted, it is impossible to generalize the experiences of joseonjok women. Further ethnographic research is needed to confirm or challenge both perspectives.
Nonetheless, joseonjok women struggled in a Korean society organized along patriarchal and hierarchical lines. In China, they supported "their families through both paid productive labor and unpaid domestic labor" in China.121 Some brides came from Chinese factories where they worked, ate, and spent leisure time alongside men as equals. Consciously being male or female was never a part of these friendships.122 Interestingly, Freeman found that some parents of joseonjok women in Yanbian drew on their diasporic bonds – specifically, their ethnic-based knowledge about the Korean family system and its wifely responsibilities – to discourage their daughters from even entertaining the idea of marrying Korean men.123 The flashpoint for domestic violence in the marital household was precisely the joseonjok women's competing construction of gender. According to one joseonjok wife informant in Quan's study, her Korean husband believed that verbally contending with him was not behavior fit for a woman, and that she would "definitely be soliciting violence (najiu kengding zao baoli)" if she lost her temper.124 The Support for Multicultural Families Act, therefore, is unlikely to reverse the alienation and tension joseonjok women feel with their partners. Whereas the Korean husband or mother-in-law privately enforced the joseonjok wife's demarcated space, the Act now officially endorses such rigid gender roles as a method of immigrant integration into Korean society.
Minjeong Kim provides a cynical view. Marriage is closely related to Korean hegemonic masculinity, which Korean men struggle to fill if they remain single. Bachelor farmers drew national attention to their suffering by committing suicide in protest in the 1980s.125 International marriage compensates for such "disabled manhood" by allowing unmarried Korean men to achieve "adult status by marrying, by fathering children, and by earning enough to provide for his family."126 Therefore, if joseonjok women were not obedient wives and reproductive mothers, Korean men stood to lose social acceptance in their families and communities. Thus, the Support for Multicultural Families Act is not so much reconciling the cultural tensions and potential for domestic violence as perpetuating a destructive vision of hegemonic masculinity.
Figure 6: Images of Race in South Korea's Multicultural Policy (Sources: Ministry of Health and Welfare127; Ministry of Gender Equality and Family128)
Another problem the Act poses is that it equates culture and race, thereby marginalizing the joseonjok out of the government's contemporary "multicultural" focus. While the Support for Multicultural Families Act is an integration that applies to the joseonjok, it is not tailor-made for them. It is for all marriage migrants, regardless of nationality. Korean government publications about multicultural families reinforce the notion that the foreign brides are not Korean and have to discard their non-Korean cultures to successfully integrate in Korean families (Figure 6). In the 2007 version of the Ministry of Health and Welfare's guidebook for marriage migrants, the foreign bride has a perceptibly darker skin tone than her Korean husband. The same ideology continues in a 2015 issue of a bilingual magazine on diversity called Rainbow+ published by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, an article about multicultural families ironically shows seven women in national dress and name tags with country flags to emphasize their non-Koreanness. On the same vein, the 2016 Guidebook for Living in Korea tells marriage migrants that it takes a week to get used to 'Korean rice,' which is "stickier than Southeast Asian rice."129 By emphasizing the differences between 'them' marriage migrants and 'us' Korean citizens, the images reinforce the notion of a distinct Korean race. The multicultural family, in practice, is in reality a multiracial family. The Support for Multicultural Families Act and its associated didactic guidebooks are supposed to help these women assimilate into the Korean ethnic nation and lose their distinctive, non-Korean characteristics.
It is unclear where joseonjok women fit in an integration policy focused on incorporating non-ethnic Koreans. The following quote in a 2015 study from a Ministry of Justice official is revealing: "Migrants with different ethnicities are enemies of national solidarity…By contrast, there is no need to worry about the adaptation of ethnically Korean migrants. They are just Korean like us [emphasis added]."130 The remark illustrates not only the depth to which that government official believes in a unified Korean race, but also the continuing reality of the joseonjok's hierarchical nationhood under a supposedly multicultural Korea. Despite extensive anthropological research in the past decade that points to the contrary, the government remains in a cognitive dissonance about the joseonjok's ethnic affinities. Precisely because they are ethnic Koreans, joseonjok women do not need any special attention – the Korean families they are marrying to in South Korea are no different than the families in Yanbian by virtue of their common ancestry. In this context, ethnic kinship is oppressive. The homogenizing discourse of the single Korean race is so strong that the homeland population does not even realize that the joseonjok have cultural differences.
Further fieldwork is necessary to answer why the government would introduce a policy that further marginalizes the experiences of joseonjok women and international marriages. In the meantime, Hyunok Lee and Sookyung Kim offer a bleak perspective. The Korean government's commitment to multiculturalism is not sincere, because it has an instrumental political goal. Politicians in areas with serious population decline will aggressively promote multicultural families to prevent constituencies from being merged, and therefore, elected positions from being eliminated.131 Nationally, the multicultural family "has been used instrumentally to project an increased openness of Korean society."132 If the union of a foreign bride and a Korean man represents a new, 'open' Korea in a globalizing world, then joseonjok brides are irrelevant to that project, since they do not appear 'foreign' in racial terms, and therefore cannot contribute to the national image of an internationalized Korea.
Analyzed holistically, the Support for Multicultural Families Act perpetrates a two-tiered hierarchical nationhood on joseonjok women. It first subsumes migrant women's issues into family policy. In creating support structures to support the women through the context of families, the government prescribes that the success of international marriages depends on whether the foreign bride is willing to fulfill the expectations of being a Korean mother for the family and for the Korean nation. Those expectations conflict with how joseonjok women view their roles vis-à-vis their husbands in a marital household. The Act then obscures their presence in Korean families through a broader focus on multiculturalism, even though the joseonjok were targeted as ideal brides with ethnic affinities. Although there remains a plurality of joseonjok brides in international marriages, the Act does not address the possibility that a person's ancestry and cultural behavior are unrelated. In other words, the needs of joseonjok women are rendered invisible. Political motivations, and not responding to problems foreign brides face in Korean families, perhaps explain why South Korea is interested in protecting and promoting international marriage through the Act. The ethnic return migrants therefore remain in a state of hierarchical nationhood, because the homeland population fails to consider the possibility that joseonjok spouses may not necessarily be socially compatible with their Korean husbands even if they are coethnics. As a result, the homeland population continues to create expectations based on beliefs of a Korean race that joseonjok women will not fulfill.
Two decades after importing Brazilian nikkeijin workers and joseonjok spouses for their respective national goals, both Japan and South Korea have each created national-level policies to address social problems that both groups of migrants have faced, representing a new chapter in both countries' relationships with their ethnic return migrants. I have attempted to demonstrate that the Nikkeijin Action Plan and the Support for Multicultural Families Act do not address thoroughly the structures and attitudes among the homeland population that invited prejudice and isolation when they first returned to their ancestral homelands. The policies set ethnic-based expectations that do not cater to the interests of the migrants themselves, especially when the return migrants no longer feel the ethnic affinities they once had with the homeland population. Barring no further changes to these policies, I predict that in the long run the Action Plan and the Support for Multicultural Families Act will continue to place both populations in a hierarchical nationhood, and they cannot achieve more than a superficial level of social integration.
One shortcoming built into this study is that because the policies are so new, their effects on return migrants are not yet fully stable. My assessment of the integration structures that the policies is based on past anthropological work conducted before the Japanese and South Korean governments made the policy pivot to multiculturalism. Evidently, further fieldwork is necessary to formally measure the degree to which the Nikkeijin Action Plan and the Support for Multicultural Families Act have facilitated integration along such dimensions such as civic and political participation, economic life, and the use of social services, which this paper did not have the benefit of accessing. However, I have also shown that discussions about integrating the nikkeijin and joseonjok require focus on not only socioeconomic indicators but also anthropological perspectives – reconciling intangible, existential questions of identity and belonging stemming from their ancestry and migration experiences. How integration structures affect the return migrants' self-identities, the homeland population's attitudinal values towards the return migrants, and the dichotomy of the return migrant as "conceptual anomaly" require attention in future anthropological research.
If globalization is the antithesis of nationalism, then the two policies present an apparent paradox: given that Japan and South Korea both have low birth rates and declining labor force populations, successfully integrating migrants into Japanese and Korean society is literally a matter of national survival. In addition, the normative question of whether and to what extent should migrant-sending states be responsible for their diasporas. After all, Japan was directly involved in creating the Brazilian Japanese diaspora, and the transborder joseonjok community in China expanded during a humiliating time in Korean history. What level of immigration integration is desirable, or even necessary to be considered integration beyond the 'cosmetic'? As both countries seek to attract and import more people from abroad, xenophobia, discrimination, and conflict could embroil these ethnic nations if the government does not work to broaden existing conceptions of citizenship and membership in mainstream society.
Kenneth Lee is a senior at Georgetown University from Hong Kong majoring in international politics and minoring in Japanese. He completed this paper as part of his Asian Studies Certificate from the School of Foreign Service.
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Appendix 1: The Cabinet Office's Action Plan for Nikkeijin133
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